Anti-Muslim Bigotry & Double Standards
Except that I do not think the Juan Williams Incident qualifies as outright bigotry, I do agree with Greenwald on this point:
The double standard in our political discourse — which tolerates and even encourages anti-Muslim bigotry while stigmatizing other forms — has been as beneficial as it has been glaring. NPR’s firing of Juan Williams threatened to change that by rendering this bigotry as toxic and stigmatized as other types. That could not be allowed, which is why the backlash against NPR was so rapid, intense and widespread. I’m not referring here to those who object to viewpoint-based firings of journalists in general and who have applied that belief consistently: that’s a perfectly reasonable view to hold (and one I share). I’m referring to those who rail against NPR’s actions by invoking free expression principles they plainly do not support and which they eagerly violate whenever the viewpoint in question is one they dislike. For most NPR critics, the real danger from Williams’ firing is not to free expression, but to the ongoing fear-mongering campaign of defamation and bigotry against Muslims (both foreign and domestic) that is so indispensable to so many agendas.
Anti-Islamic bigotry and fear-mongering comprise a large portion of the right-wing blogosphere, and indeed there have even been splits and divisions within the right-wing blogosphere over just how far one goes before one should draw the line. So you have respectable mainstream publications such as Weekly Standard and The New Republic which frequently publish pro-Israel content which borders on anti-Islamic propaganda, a bit further down the totem pole you find blogs like Atlas Shrugged and Jawa Report. Dig a bit deeper you get into the really terrible neo-fascist European stuff which is both anti-Islamic and anti-Jewish (though the anti-Semitic elements have been pushed beneath the surface to some degree since Muslims are perceived as the more immediate threat, and anti-Islamic neo-fascists want the neocon’s support). All these layers of hate and fear.
Which is one reason I find the whole hullaballoo over Juan Williams so frustrating. I’m not going to go back into the argument exactly – I’ve said all that needs to be said about the O’Reilly segment. I stand by my initial argument that Williams was using his own fears to make a broader point about how we shouldn’t say or do things which play on those fears and lead to violence or the denial of civil rights to Muslims.
But to further that argument a bit, I think when we react so strongly to anything that could possibly be seen as prejudicial or bigoted regardless of context, we risk creating a discussion of race/religion/bigotry/etc that is far too black and white, that makes true dialogue over these matters nearly impossible.
There is something of a holier-than-thou side to this also, as though these fierce critics of Juan Williams have never once harbored their own fears and prejudices, have waltzed through life with the most open of open-minds. I don’t buy it. I’d be willing to bet that a good number of the vocal critics of Williams have had the exact same fear when on a plane. If we’re realistic with ourselves, we’ll realize that we have more than one way of thinking. We have two brains, so to speak: the thinking brain and the doing brain – the brain which processes intellectually and analytically; and the brain that reacts, the survival brain – the one which triggers fear or passion or grief. These two brains are often in conflict with one another. So on a purely intellectual level, your thinking brain sees an obviously Islamic person on a plane and thinks, "It’s stupid to be afraid of that person, because any terrorist that’s going to dress like that isn’t going to make it past security (where, naturally, they’ll be far more prone to profiling)" whereas your doer brain might be setting off old alarm bells that maybe should have died out a couple years after 9/11 but don’t because quite honestly, we have very little control over the surviver side of our brain, the side that sets off the adrenaline and the nervousness and starts mapping out escape routes when it perceives a threat – even if that threat is totally irrational to our thinking brain.
Incidentally, I think Fox News traffics in setting off that doer brain as much as possible. The entire point of the network is to get people upset and angry and frightened and to cut them off from anything analytical or fact-based or well-reasoned. NPR, on the other hand, panders to the thinking brain. Unfortunately, much of the response to Williams from both the right and the left have followed the Fox model: on the right, the whole incident has been used as a weapon against NPR itself with calls to defund it and silly blathering about free speech; on the left, the incident has been used either to simply stomp on Williams who many liberals loathe for his participation at Fox News, or to complain about double-standards while essentially engaging in one. Look, I understand that there are double-standards and Greenwald is right to point them out – but he’s done so in such a way as to reveal his own double standard.
As Michael Drew notes in the comments:
Greenwald can’t come after Williams as hard as he does in the beginning of his piece today and then claim that he doesn’t support a standard where opinion talkers lose their jobs due to mistaken, but he does support this firing because if that’s the standard, then it should be applied uniformly across the board. That’s a legit position (I’d argue it’s the right one), but if you want to make it, you need to argue forcefully up top why the standard in now place is wrong otherwise you’re just contributing to the atmosphere of approval for such short leashes. Greenwald leads with colorful approval of this move (“That double standard suffered a very welcome blow last night(!)”), which allows his typical overexuberance to expose what is an unfortunately common duplicitousness in his argumentation, despite his almost uniformly sound fundamental positions.
I’d say that’s exactly right.
Update. I’ve removed some of the more colorful language from the post. Far be it from me to call other sites racist. Let them speak for themselves, and let readers decide with no help from your humble narrator.