The real danger from NPR’s firing of Juan Williams

Posted on October 25, 2010

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Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com

I’m still not quite over the most disgusting part of the Juan Williams spectacle yesterday:  watching the very same people (on the Right and in the media) who remained silent about or vocally cheered on the viewpoint-based firings of Octavia Nasr, Helen Thomas, Rick Sanchez, Eason Jordan, Peter Arnett, Phil Donahue, Ashleigh Banfield, Bill Maher, Ward Churchill, Chas Freeman, Van Jones and so many others, spend all day yesterday wrapping themselves in the flag of “free expression!!!” and screeching about the perils and evils of firing journalists for expressing certain viewpoints.  Even for someone who expects huge doses of principle-free hypocrisy — as I do — that behavior is really something to behold. And anyone doubting that there is a double standard when it comes to anti-Muslim speech should just compare the wailing backlash from most quarters over Williams’ firing to the muted acquiescence or widespread approval of those other firings.

But there’s one point from all of this I really want to highlight. The principal reason the Williams firing resonated so much and provoked so much fury is that it threatens the preservation of one of the most important American mythologies:  that Muslims are a Serious Threat to America and Americans.  That fact is illustrated by a Washington Post Op-Ed today from Reuel Marc Gerecht, who is as standard and pure a neocon as exists:  an Israel-centric, Iran-threatening, Weekly Standard and TNR writer,  former CIA Middle East analyst, former American Enterprise Institute and current Defense of Democracies “scholar,” torture advocate, etc. etc. Gerecht hails Williams as a courageous “dissident” for expressing this “truth”:

[W]hile his manner may have been clumsy, Williams was right to suggest that there is a troubling nexus between the modern Islamic identity and the embrace of terrorism as a holy act.

Above all else, this fear-generating “nexus” is what must be protected at all costs. This is the “troubling” connection — between Muslims and terrorism — that Williams lent his “liberal,” NPR-sanctioned voice to legitimizing.  And it is this fear-sustaining, anti-Muslim slander that NPR’s firing of Williams threatened to delegitimize.  That is why NPR’s firing of Williams must be attacked with such force: because if it were allowed to stand, it would be an important step toward stigmatizing anti-Muslim animus in the same way that other forms of bigotry are now off-limits, and that, above all else, is what cannot happen, because anti-Muslim animus is too important to too many factions to allow it to be delegitimized.  The Huffington Post‘s Jason Linkins explained the real significance of NPR’s actions, the real reason it had to be attacked:

Yesterday, NPR cashiered correspondent Juan Williams for doing something that had hitherto never been considered an offense in media circles: defaming Muslims. Up until now, you could lose your job for saying intemperate things about Jews and about Christians and about Matt Drudge. You could even lose a job for failing to defame Muslims. But we seem to be in undiscovered country at the moment.

There are too many interests served by anti-Muslim fear-mongering to allow that to change. To start with, as a general proposition, it’s vital that the American citizenry always be frightened of some external (and relatedly internal) threat. [Please click here to read the remainder of this article.]

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