I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they're identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.Mr. Williams's first mistake was prefacing his comments with "I'm not a bigot." Whenever someone prefaces a comment with, "I'm not X", at best, it means that he/she fears that his/her comments will be interpreted so as to paint him/her as X and, at worst, that that person really is X. It's sort of the same way that the phrase "with all due respect" is interpreted as "I have no respect for you".
I have to admit, though, that I don't really see what the uproar about this particular comment is all about. The September 11th attacks were carried out by Al-Qaeda, a militant Islamic group. The Christmas Day bomber and the Times Square bomber both cited their religion as reasons for their actions. The U.S. continues to agitate Muslims around the world with its continued presence in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan in addition to indefinitely detaining and torturing people without charges when it is not just killing them both on and off the battlefield. In light of those actions, it seems reasonable to expect further violence to be attempted, if not perpetrated, against the U.S. by the very recipients of this U.S.-style democracy. I'm not sure that being nervous about flying with a Muslim is entirely irrational.
Glenn Greenwald takes up the case against Juan Williams this morning. In his article, some more context is provided for Mr. Williams's comments. Immediately prior to the earlier quote, Mr. Williams said this:
Well, actually, I hate to say this to you because I don't want to get your ego going. But I think you're right. I think, look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality.This was said in response to Bill O'Reilly's "Talking Points Memo" which had aired just previous to Mr. Williams's comments in which Mr. O'Reilly had said:
The world is on edge because millions of Muslims accept violence and enable jihad. In order to correct the economy and the terrorist threat, those [referring also to the fact that private businesses are not hiring] things must be understood and stated.These two statements properly deserve all of the outrage, in my opinion. Millions of Muslims do not accept violence and enable jihad. The U.S. government, itself, says that there are probably less than 100 Al-Qaeda members fighting in Afghanistan. It admits that many are probably hiding in Pakistan, but even being generous would probably place the total number under 1,000. Muslims make up almost a quarter of the world's population. If they all really supported violence and jihad, even if merely millions of them supported it, they would have destroyed the U.S., whose military only numbers about 1.4 million, quite decisively a long time ago. In fact, most (the percentage of "radical" Muslims is almost infinitesimal, but still prevents one from saying "all") Muslims are peaceful, preach peace, and abhor the violence perpetrated in their religion's name.
I'm not really sure how I feel about Juan Williams being fired by NPR. To be honest, I don't care enough to try and decide. He may have been a good reporter, but I never cared too much for his opinion pieces on various Fox shows. What is interesting to me is the outcry from the political right that his free speech rights are being violated because NPR gets a significant portion of its funding from the federal government. (Funny, that in this instance, they are, all of a sudden, civil libertarians.) Eugene Volokh contends that acceptance of government funds does not, on its face, make one a government actor and therefore obligate one to protect the free speech of others. I tend to agree. To argue the opposite is to open up a Pandora's box of (further) government intrusion into private affairs. As Mr. Volokh reasons, there is nothing preventing Congress from attaching strings to funds that it allocates (which it has not done in this case), but I would argue that Congress shouldn't be allocating funds to private businesses in the first place.