Last week journalist Juan Williams was fired by National Public Radio (NPR) over comments he made on the Fox News Channel regarding his nervousness when he sees Muslims in traditional attire on airplanes. According to published reports, Williams had been in conflict with NPR’s management over his opinionated rhetoric on the conservative news channel. Though Williams now has fallen on the First Amendment sword and is playing the role of martyr, his comments were demeaning and incendiary at a time when anti-Muslim sentiment is running high in this country. He should know better and his rhetoric seems more an effort to please the suits in the corporate suite at the News Corporation than a sincere effort to spark a dialogue. Claims by many of his defenders that Williams was simply echoing what’s on the minds of many Americans, is just further proof of how deeply ignorance cuts in America.
I can think of many more things that make me nervous than the practitioners of Islam. For starters, the adulation of Sarah Palin and the fawning of the news media over the former Alaskan governor make me extremely nervous over the direction of our nation. If a personality as shallow as Palin can be taken seriously, and deemed presidential material, we have truly reached the bottom of barrel. Likewise, the attention paid her right-wing cable news demagogue Glenn Beck is equally disturbing to me. Beck’s brand of gutter talk has far-reaching implications as his uninformed and misinformed rhetoric filters into the mainstream. Much like Lou Dobbs, Beck has found success on-air with a mix of ignorance and hate, a toxic brew that too many Americans consume for us to ignore. The deliberate spewing of ignorance by these pseudo-journalists prevents us from finding common ground to the most pressing problems facing our nation.
What also unnerves me is the naiveté of Americans and the ease at which we resort to scapegoating. Was Juan Williams nervous when he saw young white men in government buildings after the Oklahoma City bombing? While Juan Williams sees trouble when Muslims are in his presence on planes, he must have missed the young white men who look like Tim McVeigh who make me nervous. Like the Oklahoma City bomber, they casually blend into society while harboring hate and resentment toward anyone who falls outside of their white supremacist worldview. Some of them wear suits and ties to work, don police uniforms, teach our children, are professed “liberals” and some, like McVeigh, are in our nation’s military.
The same is true of young white men with shaved heads, another group that Williams expresses little concern while he engages in fear mongering against Muslims. When I see young white men tattooed, with shaved heads and dressed in black, my suspicions run deep. White hoods may no longer be in fashion, but hate against Blacks always seems to be in season. Sadly, the same anxiousness I feel toward skinheads extends to young Black men who flash gang symbols, and who use colors, as a way of carving out turf that in no way belongs to them. The trail of blood and innocent lives lost in our community due to gang violence is long. We witness our children sacrificed in the name of gang-loyalty and whole neighborhoods live under the threat of gang terrorism. Skinheads and Black gang members are simply different branches of the same tree of self-hate. If this many young men are engaged in self-destructive behavior, we should all be nervous.
The fact that a large contingent of people still believe that President Obama is not a citizen and that he is a Muslim, as if there is something wrong if he were a practitioner of Islam, reveals the depths of our ignorance and mistrust. Our march into Iraq was the result of a lie about that nation’s possession of “weapons of mass destruction” as our leaders on Capitol Hill succumbed to the hysteria of a presidential administration that was hell-bent on proving a connection that did not exist between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Likewise, too many Americans fixate on blaming those who are trying to fill the economic hole we are in rather than honestly critique the actions of those that dug the trench in the first place. The greatest tax we pay as Americans is for ignorance.
While Juan Williams pictures “terrorists” when he sees Muslims on airplanes, there are far greater threats that I believe should concern us all. His admission is a teaching moment. If someone of the stature and intellectual gifts as Williams can succumb to ignorance, what chance do we really have to create the “beloved community” of Dr. King’s vision? How do we immunize the less learned among us from falling prey to the same unfounded fears? Rather than focus on NPR’s canning of Juan Williams, our time would be better spent having an unambiguous discussion about the type of nation we desire in the 21st century. Time is running out on our country and we had better tackle our demons before we become a footnote in history.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.