Are You Afraid That Muslims Are on Your Plane?

Has this been a hidden blessing? Conservative commentator Juan Williams lost his job at National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States where he hosted the program “Talk of the Nation.”

The reason stems from a remark made by Williams while on Bill O’Reilly’s (author of a pornographic novel turned conservative commentator) program on Fox News Channel in which he stated: “When I get on a plane … (and) 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.”

By the way, immediately after his dismissal from NPR, Fox News offered Williams $2 million. With a sum like that, Williams is unlikely to miss his old job, especially since he will be surrounded by politically like-minded colleagues at Fox — the exact opposite of NPR. The transition, however, has been anything but calm. In a country as politically polarized as the U.S., it’s almost unsurprising that there was even a bomb threat at NPR headquarters in Washington. Many attribute the threat to the decision to oust Williams.

Some Muslim groups have validated Williams’ point. Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, stated: “I am scared when I see women in burkas, how do I know what is behind that? We are victims of these guys [fundamentalists]. A number of suicide bombers who have attacked, have killed people [while] wearing the burka.”

Stephen Schwartz of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, has expressed that “American Muslims have so far failed in our duty to prevent negative perceptions among our non-Muslim neighbors, and many, unfortunately, have taken the existing concerns among non-Muslims as a challenge to assert Muslim identity more aggressively, through forms of dress as well as speech that are often extravagant and excessive.”

It is, as always, a problem of perceptions. In fact, it is almost statistically impossible that a Muslim does not fly on your airplane (there are between 1.2 and 1.5 billion followers of this religion worldwide; if we were to live through a clash of civilizations, we would have a September 11 every Tuesday), much less that a Muslim would wear a tunic to make a terrorist attempt. But the bottom line is that fear is prevalent and that, if one sits next to an Orthodox Jew or a priest, he or she would not feel the same if their seatmate were a Muslim.

Unfair? Absolutely. Inevitable? Possibly. But it is also true that, though Westerners have been victims of fundamentalists’ attacks, their principal victims have been, are and will be Muslims who are not “devout” enough. That is why I consider Muslims coming to Williams’ defense so significant: Many of them know that those who will suffer to a greater extent at the hands of the fundamentalists are they themselves.

As Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy noted, it always comes down to political correctness in the end. Williams was fired for saying what he thought. It does not cease to be paradoxical that his statement would result in just that: a debate about political correctness.

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