Juan Williams meets the Religion Expert

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JW: “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 airplane, 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.”

Now, imagine the Senior Analyst on NPR’s All Things Religious:

SA: “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of writing I’ve done over the years about religious pluralism. But…

when I run into a guy in a Roman collar and I think, you know, he’s identifying himself first and foremost as a Catholic priest, I get worried. I get nervous, thinking about all those altar boys;

and when a couple of clean-cut young men come to my door and ask what I know about the LDS Church, I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Mormons. I get worried. I get nervous, if my daughters are in the house;

and when I see some kids chanting “Hare Krishna” on a street corner and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Hare Krishnas, I get worried. I get nervous, thinking about the brainwashing that cults do;

and when a bearded guy in a turban walks past me and I think, you know, he’s identifying himself first and foremost as a Sikh, I get worried. I get nervous, thinking about that sword he’s carrying on his person.

and when two nicely dressed black ladies come to my door with copies of The Watchtower and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Jehovah’s Witnesses, I get worried. I get nervous, thinking about how they’ve got sick kids at home who will die because they won’t get to see a doctor;

and when I overtake a buggy driving through Lancaster County and I
think, you know, the driver is identifying himself first and foremost as
Amish, I get worried. I get nervous, thinking about how I’m going to
avoid hitting the sucker;

and when I pass a bunch of beards in black suits and fedoras walking into a shul and
I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as
Hasids, I get pissed off, thinking why don’t these jokers do some
honest work for a change.

Of course, those are nothing more than my involuntary reactions. Sharing them with your viewers naturally won’t hurt my credibility as a religion analyst, will it, Bill?”

  • Arthur Werry

    How silly.
    So no one is able to speak about real fears without being branded a bigot? A woman who has been raped better not express feelings of fear associated with her attack or she will be branded an anti-male bigot.
    Everyone knows that fears are not rational responses even if they are based in reality. Fears based on real historical experiences are visceral.
    We are so much better now because we can’t speak honestly, right?

  • Manuel

    Your analogies don’t hold water, with the possible exception of the first, if it was made more on point.
    You obviously had trouble coming up with something violent associated with any of those religious groups (again, with the exception of the Catholic priests). There’s a simple reason for that — those groups are not associated with a higher degree of certain kinds of violence than other groups.
    The reason the first was the closest is because, in the media and thus the popular imagination of late, Catholic priests have become associated with child molestation. (And I say this with great regret as a Catholic.) You don’t think people are more nervous nowadays about leaving their children in the care of priests? You don’t think they’ve ever expressed that concern openly? You think anybody who said such a thing should be fired from their job? You’re starting to sound like Bill Donohue now (which I know pains you greatly).
    Mr. Williams was talking about a specific situation, boarding a plane. People are irrationally afraid of flying. You can tell them how, statistically speaking, you are less likely to die in a plane accident than a car crash, but it doesn’t matter. When you board a plane, you pass through elaborate security measures that remind you, in case you’re forgotten, that there is the distinct possibility of terrorism every time you fly.
    Couple that with this undeniable fact: The great majority of hijackings in the past 30 years have been committed by Muslim terrorists. Your odds of being a passenger on such a plane are very slim. It doesn’t stop people from, rationally or not, worrying about these possibilities.
    If you don’t see a qualitative difference between, say, fear of driving near a horse buggy or of being on a plane that is blown up, then you’re simply being dishonest or dense. Mr. Williams was fired for being honest, not for being a bigot.

  • Mark Silk

    The point is not that “no one” can speak about his or her fears–or that these are perfect analogies. It’s that journalists–reporters and analysts alike–have a responsibility to keep under wraps their private feelings on subjects that they report and analyze. There’s a longstanding rule, for example, that newsroom employees do not publicly advocate for political candidates, including by putting signs in their front yards. It would have been fine if Williams, out of his own experience, had said, “Look, I understand that some people may get anxious when they see someone wearing Muslim garb on an airplane. But it’s precisely for that reason that it’s incumbent on us not to tar all Muslims with the brush of being jihadis. And I’d like to take this opportunity to compliment President Bush and his administration for their efforts to make clear that in combating Muslim extremists we weren’t declaring war on Islam.”

  • Mark,
    You did an outstanding job and should be commended (not trash-talked).
    By the way, Juan Williams said Bill O’Reilly was “right.”
    What Juan should have said was, “Bill, you are EXTREMELY right. And if all one did was to watch this libelous network, it would be understandable if he/she had irrational fears regarding Muslims. Fortunately not all Americans are dittoheads and can be, and are, better than that. I would like to include myself in this group and therefore, effective immediately, I am resigning my position at Fox News.”

  • Manuel

    I don’t think anybody “trash-talked” Mark here.
    Btw, Juan did say what you thought he should say. In the same conversation that got him fired, he also said this:
    “I think there are people who want to somehow remind us all as President Bush did after 9/11, it’s not a war against Islam. President Bush went to a mosque.”
    He also said this, in response to O’Reilly saying that “Muslims attacked us” on 9/11 on the View:
    Juan Williams: “Wait a second though, wait, hold on, because if you said Timothy McVeigh, the Atlanta bomber, these people who are protesting against homosexuality at military funerals, very obnoxious, you don’t say first and foremost, we got a problem with Christians. That’s crazy.”
    If you read the entire transcript, it’s quite clear that Juan did not intend to tar all Muslims as terrorists, that he thought this was unreasonable. However, he acknowledged that many Americans, even those who consider themselves enlightened, harbor fears toward Muslims, reasonable or not.
    Context. Give it a try next time.

  • Mark Silk

    I do recognize that Williams was making the point that his involuntary reaction to seeing garbed Muslims on airplanes should not be a reason to tar all Muslims with the terrorist brush. My point (perhaps not very clearly made) was that news organizations have a right to expect their reporters and commentators to keep such feelings to themselves when expressing themselves publicly.