Saturday, October 29, 2011

Juan Williams

So everybody's been commenting on the Juan Williams affair. It really got me thinking. Personally, I read through the transcript of the interview which got him fired, and I can't say that when I was younger, I didn't feel the same way he did. He expressed a feeling he has, an emotion: "...when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous." He even said later in the interview that we need to be clear that our problem isn't with Muslims or Islam, but with extremists per se. Seems that his firing was completely unfair and handled unprofessionally.

But then again, there are those who make the case that we're applying a double standard to Muslims. Robert Wright writes:

Suppose Williams had said something hurtful to gay people instead of to Muslims. Suppose he had said gay men give him the creeps because he fears they’ll make sexual advances. NPR might well have fired him, but would Fox News have chosen that moment to give him a $2-million pat on the back? I don’t think so. Playing the homophobia card is costlier than playing the Islamophobia card.

I think Wright might have a point, so I present his comparison so you dear readers can show me if I'm wrong. Is there a significant nafka mina between what Williams said and an imaginary scenario where Juan says that he's creeped out by men who are openly* gay because the only sort of men who generally hit on other men happen to be* gay?

I'm brought to consider Wright's view after reading Rabbi Shafran's piece defending Williams. Originally, I was on Williams' side too. But I think Shafran's poor defense has brought me to reconsider Wright's view. Shafran wrote:

It is true...as Mr. Williams’ critics have duly and repeatedly noted, that most Muslim terrorists on murder missions are sufficiently sharp to dress in Western-style clothing...But it is no less true that the declared motivation of the vast majority of terrorists who have harmed Americans in recent years, and of those who seek to harm more of them, has been an understanding of Islam. One rightly feels sympathy for the many Muslims of good will who are viewed fearfully by others. But only someone drunk on a misguided notion of liberalism could fail to recognize that such nervousness [as Mr. Williams has experienced] is rooted, for better or worse, in unfortunate actuality.

So our fear of Muslims dressed in Muslim clothing and clearly dressed as Muslims "is rooted...in actuality." Yeah, except for one thing, which Shafran himself noted at the beginning of the piece, but somehow waved away: "most Muslim terrorists on murder missions are sufficiently sharp to dress in Western-style clothing." So it would appear that we have allowed our fear of extremists to turn into a fear of Muslims per se, because speaking in terms of the actual situation we're faced with today, nobody on an American plane should be fearing Muslims dressed in Muslim clothing. Haven't we just generalized our fear of extremists to general Muslims? I can't speak to "Muslim doctrine," particularly since I don't know the differences between the general sects well enough. I do think the Koran and the Hadith are filled with primitive ideas from man's dark ages. But as long as the people themselves are secularizing and not taking those ideas truly seriously (i.e. they're Reform or Conservative Muslims!), even if there are ideas which are popular in even moderate Muslim communities which are contemptible, isn't saying how we fear them stereotyping a religious culture based on the extremists?

But maybe I'm just drinking liberal kool-aid. Thoughts?
*warning: foul language

9 comments:

  1. If he had said Black (or better yet, Hispanic) would the reaction have been different? From what I can tell by reading my (admittedly liberal biased) sources, Williams was already in trouble at NPR and this was more of a last straw than the sole cause of his firing. See for example here here and here.

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  2. Um, gay advance is completely different and here is why. Have gays publicly made advances on straight men against their will? But have Muslims highjacked airplanes and killed people? Let's be honest, this is not exactly the first time Muslims have highjacked airplanes. For example, do you remember something called entebbe?

    Anyway, I am not saying all Muslims do this, but there are enough Muslim countries out there that openly express hatred towards America that it is a rationale fear. Syria, Iran, the Taliban, Alquida, etc.. There are not Gay people openly saying they want to rape heterosexual males, as far as I know.

    Here is a better example that I think is comparable to this case. If a white guy said he gets nervous when a black guy wearing a black panthers outfit walks behind him in a dark alley. Why? Because there have been declarations by the black panthers that they want to kill white people and their babies. Would this white guy be fired for making that remark? I don;t think so, but I could be wrong. A legitimate fear for real reasons shouldn't be denied.

    That is just my opinion.

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  3. I don't know much about this case, but if Williams worked for NPR and NPR is committed to having its listeners believe they are an unbaised news source then it is totally appropriate to fire people who express views that NPR views as being extreme. I think the nature of the business makes this acceptable. If the Williams was fired from his bus driving job for expressing these opinions outside of the workplace then I would have a problem with it since his social/political opinions have no relation to his job performance or to the image of the bus driving company. But as I said I don't know many details of the story.

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  4. First of all the Entebbe Hijackers were not Muslims. The Palestinians were part of the Popular Front For the Liberation of Palestine, which Wikipedia describes as "a Palestininan Marxist Group;" There were also hijackers present from the West German Revolutionary Cell's group -whose ideology Wikipedia describes as "an amalgam of radical left anti-imperialist liberation doctrine mixed with strong anti-Zionist, anti-patriarchal feminist, and anti-racist elements".

    Secondly the 9-11 hijackers did not wear Muslim garb. It seems likely as a general rule that Muslims in mufti (civilian garb) are more likely to be hijackers than Muslims wearing hijabs and whatever you consider to be male Muslim garb.

    Consider the following scenario: You are walking down a street in the city after dark. A bunch of identically clothed black men are emerging from a door on one side of the street; a bunch of identically clothed white men are emerging from the other. Which side of the street do you walk on?

    Now add some facts - the black men are wearing identical suits and ties and the building they are emerging from is a church; the white men are all skinheads and they are emerging from a biker bar. Which side of the street do you walk on now?

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  5. Interested ObserverOctober 30, 2010 at 11:00 PM

    Sorry, off-topic, but you need a link to the debate with Rabbi Kornreich sitting somewhere on the mainpage so it is easily accessible. Even if it was a clunker or perceived as such! (And even if it's only the first in a series of debates).

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  6. Larry:
    The Hitch has an excellent response to the questions you pose (which I assume you got from Prager?) in god is Not Great.

    Interested:
    I have to add a couple things to the sidebar, certainly on my list. Hope to do it within the next week...

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  7. This incident is an example of the confused priorities of political correctness.
    For example, at the same time NPR was firing Juan Williams because he expressed fear about Muslims being violent, the city government in London Ontario was cancelling Mark Steyn's booking of their convention centre for fear that his speech would lead to - wait for it - Muslim violence. So which is it?
    In addition, while other commenters have mentioned blacks, gays and skinheads, they have not really addressed the problem since each of those groups has its status clearly defined by the tenets of political correctness. Let's cut to the chase - if Williams had said that seeing Catholic priests in their outfits made him nervous because of the pedophilia scandal, would NRP have fired him? Who are you kidding? They would have given him prime time exposure!
    This whole scandal is about favoured and disfavoured groups and their difficulties reconciling their conflicting priorities (eg. they like gays and feminism but they also like militant Muslims who hate gays and feminism)

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  8. >Skeptitcher Rebbe said...

    I don't know much about this case, but if Williams worked for NPR and NPR is committed to having its listeners believe they are an unbaised news source then it is totally appropriate to fire people who express views that NPR views as being extreme. I think the nature of the business makes this acceptable. If the Williams was fired from his bus driving job for expressing these opinions outside of the workplace then I would have a problem with it since his social/political opinions have no relation to his job performance or to the image of the bus driving company. But as I said I don't know many details of the story.

    So I guess you are ok with Fox news firing someone for being too liberal?

    Larry Lennhoff said

    >First of all the Entebbe Hijackers were not Muslims. The Palestinians were part of the Popular Front For the Liberation of Palestine, which Wikipedia describes as "a Palestininan Marxist Group;" There were also hijackers present from the West German Revolutionary Cell's group -whose ideology Wikipedia describes as "an amalgam of radical left anti-imperialist liberation doctrine mixed with strong anti-Zionist, anti-patriarchal feminist, and anti-racist elements".

    Right, but some of the highjackers were. So, what is your point? My point was just to bring up other incidents where plane highjackers were Muslim. Am I wrong? No.

    >Consider the following scenario: You are walking down a street in the city after dark. A bunch of identically clothed black men are emerging from a door on one side of the street; a bunch of identically clothed white men are emerging from the other. Which side of the street do you walk on?

    >Now add some facts - the black men are wearing identical suits and ties and the building they are emerging from is a church; the white men are all skinheads and they are emerging from a biker bar. Which side of the street do you walk on now?

    Are you serious? This is exactly what I said, the black men are wearing black panther outfits. The black panther outfit is THE REASON you would be afraid. Your skinhead example is proficient as well. So what is your point? I am asking, is it incorrect to say you would be afraid or is it politically incorrect to say the skinheads frighten you purely because of their appearance?

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  9. >For example, at the same time NPR was firing Juan Williams because he expressed fear about Muslims being violent, the city government in London Ontario was cancelling Mark Steyn's booking of their convention centre for fear that his speech would lead to - wait for it - Muslim violence. So which is it?

    I guess London, Ontario and NPR do not coordinate their decisions, strange as that seems.

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