Firing Juan Williams Was Wrong, Despite His Offensive Comments

MPAC Calls for Meeting with Commentator Regarding Offensive Remarks

October 21, 2010


The Muslim Public Affairs Council today called the firing of commentator Juan Williams a mistake by NPR, despite his offensive remark about Muslim airline passengers. MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati also sent a letter to Williams calling for a meeting in order to advance the public discourse on Islamophobia in America the comments he made on "The O'Reilly Factor."

SEE: "The O'Reilly Factor" Interview with Juan Williams (video & transcript)

NPR's decision to fire Williams was a poor decision with poor timing. While Williams expressed his anxieties toward Muslim airline passengers, he then went on to stress that it is the responsibility of O'Reilly and other media commentators to be specific in identifying the threat as coming from extremists rather than any group as a whole and said America has "an obligation to protect the constitutional rights of everyone in the country."

"We need to use this moment as a catalyst to open a national debate about the grievous misconceptions, fear and suspicion about Islam and Muslims," said MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati. "This discussion needs to be elevated to ethical discourse beyond biases and prejudices."

Williams' description of Muslim passengers who "identify themselves first and foremost as Muslims" making him nervous because of their "garb" was not only wrong, but presents a false choice between being outwardly religious and being fully American. Such sentiments further contribute to the troubling current climate of xenophobia and Islamophobia. People can and should wear whatever they choose as a reflection of their American identity.

Bill O'Reilly's statements during the same interview were grossly offensive and bigoted, as he painted Muslims at large as a suspicious population because "Muslims killed us on 9/11," and said he would no longer qualify that he was referring to "extremists." O'Reilly is sanctioning blanket suspicion of all Muslims, which is bigoted and dangerous. Furthermore, the Fox News Corporation's decision today to hire Williams for a 3-year contract with a substantial pay increase is grossly opportunistic and offensive.

In the past few months, a number of high profile commentators and journalists -- including Rick Sanchez, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and Helen Thomas -- have been fired or quit due to offensive comments they made. These incidents have made it clear that more discussions need to take place addressing race, religion and American identity in the face of xenophobia and fear.

SEE: "The Juan Williams Treatment: Five Other Ousted Media Personalities" (Christian Science Monitor)

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