On Juan Williams’ Firing for Islamophobia and how Most European Terrorism is by European Separatists

A Europol report on terrorist attacks in Europe in 2009 [pdf] says that out of hundreds of terrorist attacks iin Europe in 2009, most were the work of ethnic separatists. About 40 were carried out by members of the extreme left. A handful by the European far right. See also this analysis.

One terrorist attack was carried out in 2009 in all Europe by persons of Muslim heritage (I do not say ‘by a Muslim’ because terrorism is forbidden in Islamic law).

That is right. Out of hundreds. Exactly one.

After all that nonsense spewed on the internet and Fox Cable News about the danger of Muslims to Europe, and all the ethnic profiling and other discrimination against Muslims, it turns out that not only is their religion not dangerous, even the persons who depart from it into extremism and terrorism are tiny in number. Now it would not be right to profile or generalize about Basques, the Real IRA, etc., either. But even by the lights of the bigoted, it would be a waste of time to obsess about Muslims on this evidence.

As for the European far left and far right, those it is all right to generalize about and to conclude that they are, like, very dangerous. Two words: Stalin and Hitler. Extremists of Muslim heritage have killed a few thousands of people over the past century. European political extremists have killed tens of millions.

This sort of datum is why National Public Radio was right to fire commentator Juan Williams for saying he gets nervous when he sees people in Muslim garb on an airplane.

Think Progress has the video of Williams’ weird appearance on the odious Bill O’Reilly.

Next Williams will be announcing that he sympathizes with the white police officers who get nervous when they see people dressed like African-Americans traveling in automobiles.

(Some commenters brought up free speech! No one has a ‘right’ to be hired by NPR, so this is not a free speech issue.

Generalizing about entire ethnic groups in a negative manner is bigotry, of which Williams is guilty. The airwaves in the United States are technically a public good, like the water, which the government has licensed. We don’t use public goods for racist purposes in this country, and shouldn’t. The Muslim-American community has a right not to be characterized as being in general dangerous, since almost none of them is dangerous. Substitute any other American ethnic group for Muslim in what Williams said (“I get nervous when I see x on airplanes”) and it is easy to see how wrong it is. Think about all the airplane hijackings you’ve heard of and you’ll see that stray members of various ethnic groups have been involved, but no one would tar everyone in that group with a desire to take planes to Havana at gunpoint. If anyone cannot see how wrong it is to generalize from small numbers of deviants in a marked ethnic community to everyone in that community, they need ethics 101.)

25 Responses

  1. Maybe it would be OK for someone else on the plane to “get a bit nervous” with a black guy on the plane like Juan…..

    One would have hoped that Juan would have been able to see through his own BS as a black man, who are subjected to comparable nonsense, whether “driving while black” or elsewhere. The mindlessness that underlies these kinds of comments is a sad commentary on the relative ignorance of Americans.

  2. It’s pledge week at our two local NPR stations. I have called in to contribute, thanking NPR for the firing of Juan Williams.

  3. I think i am fairly certain that none of the US airplane terror incidents in the last decade included “people dressed a Muslim” (whatever that really means). And, for the most part, only devout believers in Islam ask that their females dress in appropriate attire (hijab, burka, etc.), then it would only be the female Muslims that would make Mr. Williams nervous. Again, as yet, there have been no female terrorists aboard airplanes in the US.

  4. I’m not sure that stifling free speech; even if that speech is racist; is the right thing to do. Was his comment racist, ignorant, and offensive? Of course. But firing Mr. Williams for having opinions, even wrong-headed ones, from his employment with a radio network strikes me as both ironic and wrong. Freedom of speech means tolerating the bad as well as the good. It’s better for this sort of thing to come out and be confronted, rather than be stifled in public and yet whispered and hinted about in back rooms. Since Mr. Williams was not ‘on the job’ at the time he made his ill-considered comment, the punishment seems extreme. In fact, it would seem to support the idea that employers may punish employees for exercising their Constitutional rights (no matter how foolish it may be) when the employer feels those ‘rights’ are inconvenient.

    I find your site to be informative and entertaining; a welcome change from the tirades of second-rate demagogues which seem to dominate the airwaves these days. I hope you do not find my disagreement with you on this matter to be a sign of disrespect or lack of regard for your informed comment.

    • Generalizing about entire ethnic groups in a negative manner is bigotry, of which Williams is guilty. The airwaves in the United States are technically a public good, like the water, which the government has licensed. We don’t use public goods for racist purposes in this country, and shouldn’t. The Muslim-American community has a right not to be characterized as being in general dangerous, since almost none of them is dangerous. Substitute any other American ethnic group for Muslim in what Williams said (“I get nervous when I see x on airplanes”) and it is easy to see how wrong it is. Think about all the airplane hijackings you’ve heard of and you’ll see that stray members of various ethnic groups have been involved, but no one would tar everyone in that group with a desire to take planes to Havana at gunpoint. If anyone cannot see how wrong it is to generalize from small numbers of deviants in an ethnically marked community to all members of it, they need Ethics 101.

    • I’d like to add that Mr. Williams’ freedom to speak was not denied or abridged; he can still say whatever he wants, but the Constitution doesn’t require that NPR pay him for doing so.

    • Moreover, NPR’s ethics policy prohibits their journalists from opinionating — Mr. Williams was warned previously that providing opinions on FOX violated that policy, but he continued to do so. He chose to breach NPR’s ethical guidelines, and now he has a much bigger paycheck to continue opinionating on FOX. This is not a free speech issue.

  5. Prof. C, thx for the link to the europol data.

    Robert Pape lays out the rigorous evidence-based US research, that suicide terror isn’t a moslem thing. Not even a ‘mostly moslem’ thing. It’s a (perceived) high value territory thing. The linked video is very concise and listenable, obviously a practiced brief that Dr. Pape’s done many times.

    link to political-science.uchicago.edu

    link to c-spanvideo.org
    Robert Pape on Suicide Terrorism
    Oct. 7 2010

  6. Why don’t people understand free speech in this country? There is nothing in the constitution that says you are immune from being fired from you job for speaking your mind. And it doesn’t matter if you work for a private company or for the government. You have the right to say whatever you like, and the government won’t prosecute you. That’s it.

  7. No need for tears; Juan Williams has catapulted himself into a cushy gig at FOX.

    • Well, what do I know? He already works for Murdock, and has already been rewarded.

      From the LATimes:
      ” Fox News Chief Executive Roger Ailes handed Williams a new three-year contract Thursday morning, in a deal that amounts to nearly $2 million, a considerable bump up from his previous salary, the Tribune Washington Bureau has learned. “Juan has been a staunch defender of liberal viewpoints since his tenure began at Fox News in 1997,” Ailes said in a statement, adding a jab at NPR: “He’s an honest man whose freedom of speech is protected by Fox News on a daily basis.”

  8. Placing Stalin on the “extreme Left?” Juan Cole, learn some history.

  9. Juan, you skip one of the most disturbing oversights in all of this:

    While Williams is talking smack on Muslims who signal a strong affinity for traditional Arab garb, history shows that terrorist groups often favor highly Westernized Muslims.

  10. Ethics 101 is a good idea, as it would “remind” us all of the duty to respect each other as basic human beings. the idea of respect for all by all, is not diminished by the acts of the crazy few.

    that’s what isn’t taught in schools anymore. Civics and respect for Civil Society have been discarded as bad things. Right now, it’s “My Way or the Highway.” the rot of disconnect is pervasive today.

    • I think the whole point of teaching Civics in the ’50s and ’60s was to propagandize for one culture and one political mainstream ideology, insinuating that they are superior to all other lands’. When minorities and activists got public schools to present a more complex view, it added to conservatives’ grievances over their loss of moral monopoly. Apparently civil society was never meant to be shared.

  11. I think the most important context here is the cultural war complex of which Faux is a hub. The themes that Williams touched upon and from which his comments were informed came from that pool. His firing comes as he was ready to ink a long-green deal with Faux, so he kinda knew the chips were falling this way anyhow.

    My impression: Williams wanted a splash, Faux wanted to reignite the culture war front on NPR, and the former stabbed his original employer in the back.

  12. Good point about the “free speech” issue. Of course nobody was defending Williams’ despicable comments; I for one just wanted to hear your take on that piece of the argument.

  13. Olbermann and Maddow regularly have to go over this issue of “free speech”. Mr. Williams did not lose his right to free speech, just a venue to do that.
    I wish NPR would hire me. I have a large supply of things to say.
    Anyway, more reason to catch those 2 on your TV.

  14. ‘As for the European far left and far right, those it is all right to generalize about and to conclude that they are, like, very dangerous. Two words: Stalin and Hitler. Extremists of Muslim heritage have killed a few thousands of people over the past century. European political extremists have killed tens of millions.’

    Juan,

    I have been reading your blog for some 5 years now and generally think you’re doing a great job, but your comment stating that it is alright to identify everyone on the extreme left with Stalin (or anyone on the extreme right with Hitler) is way over the top, and shows the same extreme generalisation and typecasting that you rightly condemn in anti-muslim bigots. Just like any old muslim is not responsible for whatever Saddam Hussein or the Saudi security services do, let alone Al Qaeda and related or unrelated jihadis, you cannot hold any and all ‘extreme leftists’ responsible for the state terrorism of Stalin, Ceausescu or Pol Pot. And lumping the extreme left and extreme right together in one category, by the way, may be a very American thing to so, but it is very irritating and misguided too.

  15. cnn recently published an article entitled Study: Threat of Muslim-American terrorism in U.S. exaggerated according to a study released by Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -

    the terrorist threat posed by radicalised Muslim-Americans has been exaggerated.

    according to this data, there were more Jewish acts of terrorism within the USA than Islamic (7% vs 6%). these radical Jews committed acts of terrorism in the name of their religion. these were not terrorists who happened to be Jewish rather they were extremist Jews who committed acts of terrorism based on their religious passions just like Al-Qaeda and company.

    another and recent RAND report for example finds of the 83 terrorist attacks in the usa between 9/11 and the end of 2009 only three…were clearly connected with the jihadist cause. (the RAND database includes abdulmutallab’s failed christmasday attempt to detonate a bomb on an airplane.) the other jihadist plots were interrupted by authorities.

    europol publishes an annual report entitled EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report. in fact, a whopping 99.6% of terrorist attacks in europe were by non-muslim groups a good 84.8% of attacks were from separatist groups completely unrelated toislam. leftist groups accounted for over sixteen times as much terrorism as radical Islamic groups. only a measly 0.4% of terrorist attacks from 2007 to 2009 could be attributed to extremist muslims.

    all reports available online for those interested

  16. Mr. Williams’ most disgraceful comment was that he felt uneasy about people who he could miraculously ascertain were dressed in muslim garb and viewed themselves as muslims first.

    could one similarly feel uneasy about those who dress ‘african american’ and are black first?

    • Muhammad Ali needs to give Mr. Williams a talking-to.

      30 years ago, I used to see a public service ad that involved interviewing kids about how they would react to being called a racist name. One little boy concluded the ad by saying, “I would tell God, I would tell my Dad… and I would tell Muhammad Ali.”

  17. Juan Williams was clearly in the wrong. But give the man a warning. But what is especially absurd to me is that NPR has allowed one lie after the next to be repeated about Iran. I have heard NPR’s Fresh Air host Terri Gross not only allow guest to repeat the debunked “Iran wants to wipe Israel off the map” I have heard Terri Gross repeat this hooey many times herself. Along with referencing Iran’s nuclear program as a nuclear weapons program. (not a mistake, intentional) I have heard Scott Simon do the same. I have heard NPR’s Talk of the Nation host Neil Conan allow John Bolton to repeat one lie after the next about Iran on his program and never challenge Bolton. NPR has been allowing one Iran basher after the next on their programs for the last seven years. No challenges.

    NPR reports in very biased way in regard to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. So hearing them say that Juan is not living up to their “standards” and “ethics” in journalism I almost choked. NPR has no room to talk at all.

    NPR has had quite a few employees claim that there is “pervasive cronyism” at NPR in regard to who gets to climb the ladder or able to get into the host spots of many of the news and information programs. Allegedly there was an outside group brought into investigate these repeated claims of “pervasive cronyism” That report has never been released.

    I did some digging into this story about 10 years ago. I was able to ask Juan Williams if these claims had any substance to them. Asked him this during a question and answer period at Ohio University. He said these repeated claims did have substance.

    link to current.org
    link to current.org
    link to current.org

  18. The extreme left is the IWW, Pannekoek, Gorter, Marty Glaberman, Rosa Luxemburg, Emma Goldman, Marx, The Situationists, C.L.R. James, Loren Goldner, Paul Mattick, George Orwell in Spain in the 1930s, and so on.
    The class struggle lives.
    For a classless society
    Against the extremism of the moderate Left and Right Wing of capital, those historical murderers of the social revolution.

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