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October 28, 2010

Juan Williams and Muslims and Bears, Oh My!

In case you haven't heard yet about Juan Williams being fired from NPR, here's a quick summary of what happened: Bill O'Reilly went on The View and spouted some ignorant, bigoted bullshit about how "Muslims killed us" on 9/11. Juan Williams went on O'Reilly's show The O'Reilly Factor and said:
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 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. [full transcript]
And then NPR fired him. NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said that his firing was the result of a "series of deeply troubling incidents over several years."
He was explicitly and repeatedly asked to respect NPR's standards and to avoid expressing strong personal opinions on controversial subjects in public settings, as that is inconsistent with his role as an NPR news analyst. After this latest incident, we felt compelled to act. [mediaite.com]
I just flipped past Fox News a little while ago and they're still talking about this story. (Good thing there's no other news going on in the world.) Not only has Williams not apologized for what he said, but he's certainly milking the situation to his benefit by playing the martyr. It's really kind of ridiculous. Not only was what he said offensive (and wrong) but apparently he has a history of crossing the line on controversial topics, something that was specifically prohibited by his contract as a news analyst... At this point I think he just should just own up to the fact that news analyst (with its required impartiality) was the wrong job for him. And apparently he just signed a huge new deal with Fox, so it's not like 'Oh poor Juan, how will you feed your family now?' He should be happy that he no longer has to restrict himself from saying bigoted things on TV because Fox News clearly loves that kinda thing.

We're not going to give a full-on commentary here, because well, what is there really to say? But based on what we've been seeing other people say about it (on places like message boards, blog comments, and Facebook) it seems that a lot of people out there just aren't getting it. There have been a few recurring 'themes' in response to this issue and frankly, it's frustrating...

We've seen the "he was just being honest" argument, as if we should reward all honesty even when it is inappropriate and violates your contract.

We've seen the "this should've been a learning experience" argument, as if it's somehow NPR's responsibility to 'educate' Juan Williams while continuing to pay him a salary for violating his contract.

We've seen the "America is too politically correct" argument, which is often just code for 'I'm upset that it's not socially acceptable for me to say the N-word anymore'.

We've seen the misguided "freedom of speech" argument which just shows a clear ignorance of what our free speech rights actually entail.

We've seen the "but ____________ does the same thing all the time" argument (with Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and even Katie Couric used as examples) which fails to recognize the differences between their individual job titles and job requirements.

And of course, we've seen the "we should fear Muslims because Muslims killed us on 9/11" type of ignorant comments. (Those are the ones that piss us off the most.) But we've never seen that argument made exactly like this... so we're going to share one particular conversation that just kind of blew our minds a bit. Below are excerpts from an actual 'fight' I had on someone's Facebook wall. We hope you're as confused and outraged by it as we were.

Idiot: If I see a bear in the woods, I get nervous. It could be the greatest bear ever. But SOME bears have been known to attack randomly. A human reaction to a POSSIBLE reality. So fire me.

Evil Slut: It would be just as POSSIBLE that a non-Muslim would commit a terrorist act, do you fear ALL people? Do you get nervous everytime you see a human being on an airplane because of the possible reality? But wait... did you just compare Muslims to wild animals? And... fuck you.
Idiot's Friend: She did not compare Muslims to wild animals. She used an analogy.
Now, maybe I'm just a stickler because I'm a writer... but um, doesn't anyone know what an 'analogy' is!?

a·nal·o·gy (noun): 1. a similarity between like features of two things, on which a comparison may be based; 2. similarity or comparability [emphasis mine]
So she wasn't comparing them, she was just... comparing them. Okay!

Idiot: Thanks for clarifying that Muslims are not bears and telling me to fuck myself. I think you just disqualified yourself from all future intelligent discussions. Reactionaries resort to extremist aggressive behavior when threatened. (Like she just did getting angry, like some cultural groups that get violent.) To have an opinion you must be able to comprehend the issue.
You know what that means right? If you get a little mad at me because of the totally offensive thing I said, then you're no better than the terrorists!

Evil Slut: No, but a bear is a wild animal... its in their inherent nature to attack and it's a rational, reasonable fear to be nervous around them. Being nervous around Muslims on airplanes is not reasonable nor rational, nor is it in their nature to be violent. So the analogy makes no fucking sense. Unless you want to compare ALL people to bears. It's unreasonable and irrational to live in fear that ANY and ALL human being might possible kill you, but that is way more close to the actual reality than the 'Muslims might kill me' theory. Your comparing Muslims to wild animals deserves a 'fuck you'. In fact, I consider it to be extremist aggressive behavior, so um, yeah... fuck you.

Idiot: I compared irrational fear to irrational fear. And I DO NOT fear ANY human. We are all capable of harm. Some MORE so than others, as history documents. Is anyone handing out clues?

Evil Slut: Yes, who is handing out clues? Fear of a wild bear in the woods = RATIONAL fear. Fear of a random Muslim on a plane = IRRATIONAL fear. We are all capable of harm, some more than others... but there is no evidence to support the claim that Muslims are more capable of harm than non-Muslims. Prove that.

Idiot's Friend: She's not saying Muslims are more capable of harm than non-Muslims...the only thing is a Muslim in Muslim garb stands out. I basically look at all people with the same suspicion, when something stands out about one in particular, I tend to focus on it, rationally or irrationally. And guess what, I bet the people on the planes that went down on 9/11 had no nervousness about the "Muslims" on their planes.
Ah, the whole 'if someone looks different than me, I should be suspicious of them' stance. Is she suspicoius of people with unusual haircuts? Is she suspicious of people with physical deformities? Is she suspicious of people who dress like Lady Gaga? (She certainly stands out.) Sorry, but if you're suspicious of Muslims because 'Muslim garb stands out' then... that makes you a bigot.

Evil Slut: I believe she is saying that Muslims are more capable of harm than others. "We are all capable of harm. Some MORE so than others, as history documents." What 'more' is she referring to? If she's not suggesting that Muslims are more capable of harm than non-Muslims, then why use the stupid bear metaphor to defend the irrational fear of Muslims? I've seen and experienced so much crime and violence at the hands of white Christian men... but I would never say "gee, when I see a white guy with a cross I get a little nervous because he's really putting it out there there he's first and foremost a Christian". Some Muslims may be more easily identifiable by the way they dress (although tell that to all the Sikh Indians who were attacked after 9/11) but it doesn't mean they are more likely to commit an act of violence. Most likely if someone really was going to try to commit a terrorist act they would dress in a way so as to NOT stand out... so the argument makes even less sense and then it just amounts to racial profiling.


Kza said...

Would you also agree that anyone who gets a bit nervous when they are walking a city street and crosses paths with a man is an idiot if they wouldnt have been nervous had that man been a woman?

Anonymous said...

I'm not nervous every single time I cross paths with a man, because that's not rational. But your example is less irrational than the Muslim example. While ANY gender could commit an act of violence, as a woman, I will admit that I am more nervous when I'm alone in a secluded area with a strange man than with a strange woman. It doesn't mean that I think that all/most men are likely to sexually assault me (and I certainly do not get 'a bit nervous' anytime I cross paths with a man) but men are more likely to - and more capable of - sexually assaulting me than most women. Is it sexist? Probably. But it's certainly different than if I felt more nervous around a black man vs. a white man or a man in 'Muslim garb' vs. a man wearing a cross. Juan Williams didn't say he feels more nervous around Muslims than non-Muslims, he said that seeing someone in 'Muslim garb' makes him nervous. That... is irrational.

roxythekiller said...

I completely agree with you. Juan Williams's comments do not surprise me one bit, given his history of verbal sexual harassment.

There are some people who enter the historical field just to cover up what bigots they are.

katy said...

The comparison to bears was really out of line... but it's just another way to apply "Otherness" to fellow human beings. And thank you for pointing out that if there really WERE a terrorist on a plane, they would most likely be doing everything possibly to blend in, not to stand out!

Andrew said...

I have a question for you: 20+ years ago, provided you were alive then, when you saw an Irishman did you automatically make the assumtion that they were with the IRA? It's the same mind-set with Muslims today. Oh, and using foul language in no way validates your argument. It destroys it. The true bigot is the one who refuses to have a CIVIL discussion. The world isn't considerate of other people's feelings or faiths. The attitude that you have actually emboldens the terrorists, the majority of whom are Muslim. They aren't going to throw down their weapons, dance, make love, and sing Kumbaya, because you want everyone to be hyper-sensitive towards their religion. They're going to KILL you!! THAT'S what people don't understand.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's the same mind-set. It would've been an unfair generalization then and it's still an unfair generalization today.

Even if most terrorists are Muslim (maybe), most Muslims are not terrorists. The point of being considerate of other people's feelings and faiths (or in more accurate terms not being racist and Islamophobic) isn't for "the terrorists". It's for everyone else!