The First Amendment to the Constitution reads simply this:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
"Congress shall make no law..." That does not apply to private, or rather public-funded companies, and taxpayer-funded NPR fired longtime analyst and senior correspondent Juan Williams, who also contributes regularly to Fox News, for expressing the simple sentiment that he feels a little anxious seeing someone wearing traditional Muslim attire on an airplane with him. NPR did so in response to a deluge of "listener email." Here are a few snippets from commentary on the topic, well worth considering.
From Emilio Karim Dabul, journalist, in today's Wall Street Journal:
I grew up surrounded by Islamic culture, went to Islamic events, and was used to seeing women in traditional Muslim clothing, and yet when that woman appeared at the Berlin airport, I was scared.
That's all Mr. Williams was saying. He didn't say that they should be removed from the plane, treated differently, or anything close to that. He simply said he got nervous. And for that, he was fired.
The reality is that when Muslims cease to be the main perpetrators of terrorism in the world, such fears about traditional garb are bound to vanish. Until such time, the anxiety will remain. In the long run, it's what we do with such fears that matters, not that we have them.
CAIR has taken it to another level by denouncing an "sizeable minority" of Americans who "think it is legitimate to single out Muslims for special scrutiny." Unfortunately there's a "sizeable minority" in their own backyard that should be highlighted, as Geoff at Ace of Spades identifies.
But you also have a sizeable minority of Muslims who think it is legitimate to indiscriminately kill peaceful folk and deny them the lives all other people hold dear. That viewpoint expresses intolerance and bigotry on a level far beyond "special scrutiny."
Until CAIR acknowledges the sizeable minority that concerns us, I don't see why we should acknowledge the one that concerns them.
A WSJ editorial points out the obvious - that Mr. Williams association with Fox News likely was the heavy load, and one additional brick caused the collapse.
They finally found a way to get rid of Juan Williams.
It has long been one of the most open secrets in the world of punditry (which needless to say, includes NPR's "analysts"), that NPR's progressive political base was unhappy with Mr. Williams's appearances on Fox as existentially incompatible with their worldview.
Mr. Williams and I disagreed on many things; I found particular disagreement with his acceptance of unsupported accusations of racism from Democrats, such as those that arose in connection with the "n-word" being allegedly hurled at congressmen in Washington last spring.
It is a fact that the tea party is an overwhelmingly older, white and suburban crowd. It is true that Republicans in Congress are almost completely white. And it is also true, according to some black and gay Democrats, that a tea party rally against health-care reform at the Capitol degenerated into ugly scenes in which racial and homophobic epithets were used and spit flew on some members of Congress. There are suspicions that tea party anger boiled over into the spate of personal threats against Democrats who voted for the health-care bill.
There's still no evidence whatsoever to support those accusations, which should not be taken at face value. In fact, the evidence is strong that it did not. Still, to Mr. Williams credit, he defended the tea party against the blanket smear of racism.
The tea party is not the problem. Whether you like them or not they do seem to have captured the political angst in the electorate, without regard to skin color.
Mr. Williams has the right to express concerns regarding the presence of Muslims on airplanes. Given the history - 9/11, the underwear bomber, the shoe bomber - those concerns are not unreasonable by any stretch. And NPR, publicly funded though it is, has the option of terminating his employment.
Of course, even-handedness could have caused them to terminate his employment for participating in the smear of the tea party last march with his support of the false accusations. Taken together they betray what NPR has become, an organization that is not committed to freedom of expression that offends liberals.
10/22/10 1340: More, from Juan Williams himself:
Yesterday NPR fired me for telling the truth. The truth is that I worry when I am getting on an airplane and see people dressed in garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims.
I took Bill’s challenge and began by saying that political correctness can cause people to become so paralyzed that they don’t deal with reality. And the fact is that it was a group of Muslims who attacked the U.S. I added that radicalism has continued to pose a threat to the United States and much of the world. That threat was expressed in court last week by the unsuccessful Times Square bomber who bragged that he was just one of the first engaged in a “Muslim War” against the United States. -- There is no doubt that there's a real war and people are trying to kill us.
Mr. Williams is a rational, very slightly leftist thinker who throws no bombs, eschewing the outrageous, and carefully considering the worthy arguments of both sides. I still disagree with him at times; I rarely find his arguments wholly irrational or without basis in at least some fact. The disagreements usually stem more from interpretation. Here he's being rational once again.