The firing of Juan Williams – a confused and confusing journalist for whom I have no use – by National Public Radio is not a boon for Islam in America. The hallmark of modern life is the willingness to be offended, thus the deference to Muslim sensibilities by the NPR apparatchiks is yet another roadblock thrown in the way of Muslim assimilation into the mainstream of American life. It was the expected thing of course that the “activists” of the Council on American-Islamic Relations would be quick to the draw, that they would see in Williams’s statement about his unease, while flying, with passengers dressed in Islamic garb, an assault on their faith. That is what these activists thrive on, that is how such organizations rally the faithful. They are forever vigilant and watchful, the flock must not stray, and the outsiders must be put on notice that the besieged faith is defended and upheld. One day, these self-styled defenders of the ramparts would be rendered obsolete, they would let people be, and the zeal would give way to the saving graces and frivolities of daily life. We are not there yet.
But the intolerance of the liberal custodians of NPR is cause for a deeper kind of concern. Plainly, Mr. Williams is not one of them, worse yet, he is a black man who does not partake of the ideology that black men and women ought to adhere to. He had strayed and crossed the line, and there he was on the television screen with Bill O’Reilly. No one who saw NPR’s chief executive Vivian Schiller explain the firing of Mr. Williams could have missed her sanctimonious zeal being passed off as a defense of liberal virtues. For Schiller and her colleagues, the drapery was the defense of the besieged Muslims in our midst. It was a drawing of the line against “Islamophobia” that had brought them to this regrettable decision they let it be known, they themselves would have been able to live with the heresies of Juan Williams, but there were those others out there, Muslims unnerved by the hostilities meted out to them in the run of daily life. It was in their name that Mr. Williams was given this summary dismissal.
But Vivian Schiller does Muslims no favor. She ought to leave them to the winds of modern life. There is no Islamophobia in America today. Millions of Muslims have made their way here, surely they would have stayed in Nablus and Amman and Karachi and Alexandria if indeed America was such a bigoted, unwelcoming land. They come here, with ample knowledge of what awaits them. They come for the liberties, the rule of law, the shopping malls, the jobs, the unmonitored life, the dignity of it all. (Doubtless, a handful must come for the soothing broadcasts of NPR, and its highbrow programming.) A decided minority of the newcomers, or their children, set themselves apart, the New World is theirs and not theirs, they come to a conviction that they are owed more than has been their lot. The protective deference shown them by the guardians of multiculturalism consigns them to the margins of American society, promises them a false shelter from the demands and stresses of modern life.
It is peculiar, this need to monitor what is said in the public space today. We have grown protective – the “watchdog” organizations have multiplied – at a time, in this culture of 24/7 ceaseless talk, amid blogs and their clutter, amid the shouting, when no one really remembers what is being said. In the stream of things, no one would have recalled what Juan Williams said, he himself had not paid much attention to what he was saying, he was a pundit making the trek between NPR and Fox News. With nothing serious pressing upon him, all he had to offer Bill O’Reilly during that particular “segment,” all that offered itself, was some mindless talk about how he felt when he encountered passengers in Islamic garb. But the guardians were on the look-out, and Williams would be gone. It was a case of a firing foretold, the wonder of it is that it took so long for the enforcers to pull the trigger. Some friends indeed has Islam acquired as it makes its way in this land.