Terrance Heath

On Juan Williams & Our Inalienable Irrationality

Filed By Terrance Heath | October 26, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Fox News, inalienable irrationality, Juan Williams, Muslims, NPR

I think Ezra got it about right, re: NPR’s decision to fire Juan Williams, following his “Muslim=Terrorist” remarks on Fox News. juan-williams.jpgIt may have been that NPR was looking for a reason to fire Williams, and he gave it to them. They, however, acted too drastically and too quickly. As Ezra said, if NPR wanted to fire Williams the best option would be to simply wait out his contract and quietly declined to renew. Maybe people would have questioned whether it was his remarks to O’Reilly that put him over the top, but NPR could have simply declined to comment. (Heck, they wouldn’t even have to tell Williams himself.)

And, no, I don’t buy Williams claim that NPR’s decision is a “chilling assault on free speech.” I say the same thing to Williams I said to Dr. Laura.

This isn't about freedom of speech. It's about what it's always about when a conservative says something that gets an angry response, and maybe sparks a boycott or two. You don't want freedom of speech. You want the freedom to speak without consequences.

The problem is, freedom of speech works both ways. You can say what you want, and if people don't like it, they can use their freedom of speech to respond. Loudly. Now, if you're just sounding off to anyone who happens to be within earshot, that's probably not going to be a big deal. But if you're spouting off on a syndicated, sponsor-supported radio or television show, well, that's a whole different situation.

Oh, and one more thing. If you've decided drop your radio show, fine. But don't blame the rest of us for it. Take some personal responsibility.

…If what you want is freedom from having to worry about sponsors and boycotts, knock yourself out. You can probably afford to set up your own web presence with minimal reliance on sponsors (and far lower production costs). Get yourself a webcam and a YouTube account and knock yourself out. (I'd say be prepared for comments, but you'll probably turn them off, which -- by the way -- would not violate anyone else's freedom of speech.) Many of us have been doing it for years.

You have the right to freedom of speech, just like the rest of us. You always have. But, none of us have the inalienable "right" to a radio or television show, or the right to have someone else provide us a platform for our speech. And none of us have even a reasonable expectation of speaking our minds without a response, or opposition, from someone else.

Should NPR have fired Williams? Should NPR have quietly let him go at the end of his contract?

OK. Before I go there, let me go here.

Can we get a couple of things straight? And Messrs. O’Reilly and Williams, please pay attention.

It was not “Muslims” who “killed us on 9/11.” Not quite.

On September 11, 200, the United States was attacked 19 men affiliated with Al Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda is an international terrorist network led by Usama bin Laden [the "Osama" spelling is deprecated, because there is no letter "O" in Arabic). Established around 1988 by bin Laden, al-Qaeda helped finance, recruit, transport and train thousands of fighters from dozens of countries to be part of an Afghan resistance to defeat the Soviet Union. To continue the holy war beyond Afghanistan, al-Qaeda's current goal is to establish a pan-Islamic Caliphate throughout the world by working with allied Islamic extremist groups to overthrow regimes it deems "non-Islamic" and expelling Westerners and non-Muslims from Muslim countries.

In February 1998, al-Qaeda issued a statement under banner of "The World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders" saying it was the duty of all Muslims to kill US citizens--civilian or military--and their allies everywhere. Al-Qaeda would merge with Egyptian Islamic Jihad (Al-Jihad) of Ayman al-Zawahiri in June 2001.

After al-Qaeda's September 11, 2001, attacks on America, the United States launched a war in Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaeda's bases there and overthrow the Taliban, the country's Muslim fundamentalist rulers who harbored bin Laden and his followers. "Al-Qaeda" is Arabic for "the base."

Al-Qaeda affiliates itself with Islam. Al Qaeda is not Islam.Al Qaeda's members are Muslim, but not all Muslims are members of Al Qaeda.

As Illustrated by the Venn Diagram above, not all members of

As illustrated by the Venn diagram above, all members of Al Qaeda are Muslims, but not all Muslims are members of Al Qaeda.

Yes, the 19 Al Qaeda operatives who carried out the attacks on September 11, 2001, were Muslims, but they were hardly representative of the estimated 1.57 billion Muslims in the world. I can't even begin to calculate what a small fraction of the Muslim population those 19 men comprised.

Suffice it to say, we not "attacked by Muslims" on 9/11. We weren't even attacked by "Islam," which isn't an entity but a religion and thus cannot itself attack anything. Some of its adherents may attack others in its name, but even then the attack can't be credited to Islam or even to all of its adherents.

So, we were attacked by Al Qaeda on 9/11. Those attacks were carried out by:

  1. Khalid Al-Midhar
  2. Majed Moqed
  3. Nawaq Alhamzi
  4. Salem Alhamzi
  5. Hani Hanjour
  6. Satam Al Suqami
  7. Waleed M. Alshehri
  8. Wail Alshehri
  9. Mohamed Atta
  10. Abdulaziz Alomari
  11. Marwan Al-Shehhi
  12. Fayez Ahmed
  13. Ahmed Alghamdi
  14. Hamza Alghamdi
  15. Mohald Alshehri
  16. Saeed Alghamdi
  17. Ahmed Alhaznawi
  18. Ahmed Alnami
  19. Ziad Jarrahi

These 19 men are directly responsible for killing 2,934 people in the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Not just killing Americans, but people from more than 70 different countries. Some of the victims were actually Muslim themselves Those who orchestrated the attacks -- which are said to have been planned by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and approved by Osama bin Laden -- are, to my mind equally accountable.

That's it. Perhaps other members of Al Qaeda bear responsibility for joining and supporting a terrorist network. Some radical clerics and some Muslims may have cheered the attacks in the aftermath, and praised the hijackers. But that's it. They didn't fly the planes, take part in the hijacking, or help plan the attacks.

If any ever housed or otherwise aided one of the 19 men, while knowing their plans, we'll likely never know who they are. But even then the total number of people involved doesn't add up to all Muslims. It doesn't add up to most Muslims, a majority of Muslims, a significant percentage of Muslims, or even necessarily enough Muslims to fill up a city bus.

Not all Muslims are responsible. Period. "Muslims" didn't attack us on 9/11. "Islam" didn't attack us on 911. Al Qaeda attacked us on 9/11. Those attacks were carried out by 19 men, planned and approved by at least two more, and supported by others whose number and names we'll likely never know. They all add up to a small sliver of the 1.57 billion Muslims with whom we all share a planet.

Now, please. Enough. We have, in the wake of 9/11, attacked two countries. One we attacked for the purpose of destroying Al Qaeda's base. Yet, while doing so we let the leader of the Al Qaeda network and the buy who gave the go ahead for the 9/11 attacks slip by

We let Osama bin Laden waltz right by us.

President Obama got some political cover Sunday for his upcoming announcement on sending more troops to Afghanistan.

A report released by the Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee blamed the Bush administration for failing to capture or kill Osama bin Laden when the al Qaeda leader was cornered in Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountain region in December 2001. The report, released Sunday, said the situation in Afghanistan presented greater problems today because of the failure to nab bin Laden eight years ago.

Bin Laden had written his will, apparently sensing he was trapped, but the lack of sufficient forces to close in for the kill allowed him to escape to tribal areas in Pakistan, according to the report.

It said former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and top U.S. commander Gen. Tommy Franks held back the necessary forces for a "classic sweep-and-block maneuver" that could have prevented bin Laden's escape.

This is not news, though. We knew in 2002 that Bin Laden had escaped, because the Bush administration and Donald Rumsfeld failed to send in troops sufficient to stop him.

The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al Qaeda, according to civilian and military officials with first-hand knowledge.

Intelligence officials have assembled what they believe to be decisive evidence, from contemporary and subsequent interrogations and intercepted communications, that bin Laden began the battle of Tora Bora inside the cave complex along Afghanistan's mountainous eastern border. Though there remains a remote chance that he died there, the intelligence community is persuaded that bin Laden slipped away in the first 10 days of December.

After-action reviews, conducted privately inside and outside the military chain of command, describe the episode as a significant defeat for the United States. A common view among those interviewed outside the U.S. Central Command is that Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the war's operational commander, misjudged the interests of putative Afghan allies and let pass the best chance to capture or kill al Qaeda's leader. Without professing second thoughts about Tora Bora, Franks has changed his approach fundamentally in subsequent battles, using Americans on the ground as first-line combat units.

Further documents revealed not only that Bin Laden was at Tora Bora and escaped, and that he was wounded. Perhaps he limped away. One CIA commander admitted we let Bin Laden escape. [via Laurence Lewis.]

We invaded and occupied another country based on claims of ties to Al Qaeda and the existence of weapons of mass destruction. In truth there were no ties to Al Qaeda.

So, say you're the Bush administration. If you've invaded a country and launched an occupation that's cost thousands of American lives, untold Iraqi lives, and shattered others, and left some damaged beyond repair, what do you do if -- after pouring over 600,000 documents -- you get a report saying there were no ties between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda? One (more) of your reasons for going to war didn't exist? If you're the Bush administration, you just "lose" the report.

The Pentagon on Wednesday canceled plans for broad public release of a study that found no pre-Iraq war link between late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the al Qaida terrorist network.

Rather than posting the report online and making officials available to discuss it, as had been planned, the U.S. Joint Forces Command said it would mail copies of the document to reporters -- if they asked for it. The report won't be posted on the Internet.

In making their case for invading Iraq in 2002 and 2003, President Bush and his top national security aides claimed that Saddam's regime had ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorist network.

But the study, based on more than 600,000 captured documents, including audio and video files, found that while Saddam sponsored terrorism, particularly against opponents of his regime and against Israel, there was no evidence of an al Qaida link.

It's a "no brainer". Right?

That connection was also dismissed by the 9/11 Commission report back in 2004, and was doubtful even before that. And this is the commission that covered for and carried water for your administration.

Nor were there any stockpiles of WMDs, but we knew that before going in. But we went anyway, and the consequence was unspeakable horrors visited upon countless lives.

There was no humanitarian imperative either.

None of it had to happen because there was no humanitarian imperative to go to war in Iraq. There was no mass slaughter underway and no mass slaughter on the way. If we wanted to stop Saddam from committing mass murder, we were over two decades too late to stop it, but at least we finally got around to digging up the victims. (Two thirds were children, by the way, including 10 infants.) I've heard people point to those mass graves as justification for going into Iraq, even going so far as to say "those people want us there", as if we went to war to rescue a hundred or so corpses, 20-plus years after they might have needed our help.) The humanitarian crisis in Iraq today is a direct result of our war.

None of it had to happen, because even if we'd gone to war knowing all of the above, we might have at least gone to war with a plan for the post-war scenario to minimize the amount of suffering experienced by the Iraqi people. But we didn't. And when yet another report verified that lack of planning, the administration buried another embarrassing report.

Funny thing, that. Post-war panning might have made this post and the stories in it non-existent. Not to mention the pictures.

If anything we created a humanitarian crisis by invading and occupying Iraq.

Imagine if we’d just sent in the troops necessary to capture Bin Laden, hunted down the remaining members of Al Qaeda and brought them to justice.

But we didn’t.

Instead, now we blame all Muslims.

Some of us do, at least. And when we do, where ever he is right now, Osama Bin Laden smiles. Because in our irrational fear, we will very likely say and do things that ultimately send more recruits his way.

I didn’t get to write about the Park51 community center, when that controversy was roiling. Time didn’t permit, and I was so appalled I didn’t think I could write about it coherently. Now, all I have to say is this.

When we reach a point where we are willing to say, and justify saying, to a group of American citizens:

“You can’t be here. This part is ours and not yours. You can’t sit here. You can’t build here, and because of who you are or what you believe you don’t have the same rights as the rest of us. And even if you do have the same rights, you’d better not act on them or use them, because we won’t let you, because you are not like us. Because how you look and what you believe, you must stand apart. You may be American, but you are not as American as we are. Not here, at least. Not on this spot. You can’t be here. It’s ours, and not yours.”

We cease to be America, which is exactly what Bin Laden and Al Qaeda want.

Remember this?

Do we need to edit it now? Or just throw it out?

Equating all Muslims with terrorists is, as Williams later acknowledged, irrational. And perhaps NPR should have called Williams on the carpet and given him a chance to make a statement to this effect, albeit less defensively.

It’s like treating all black men as criminals because some of us are. It may be human to do so, and it may be “honest” to say so, as Williams claimed he was being. But then let us be honest and admit that in such cases our fears are irrational. Particularly as someone in the media, with some degree of influence, Williams may have even had a duty to make the rest of that statement.

Of course, O’Reilly didn’t encourage him to do so, whereas a actual journalist might have. NPR, however, might have even kept Williams on, used this whole incident as a “teachable moment,” and tasked him with covering anti-Muslim sentiment, its roots and its consequences. Both, in the end, missed an opportunity to move us forward.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Williams episode is not what he said or the consequence of losing his job at NPR, but that it reflects what’s most disturbing about our discourse now.

It is driven by two of our most irrational responses to change: fear and anger. But instead of honestly facing up to our fear and anger, and understanding why and how both drive us to speak and act irrationally, we defend it.

In the same way that the right has successfully enshrined belief so that anything may be made unassailable if based on belief and defended with “This is what I believe,” so now has the irrational become defensible if one says “This is just how I feel. I’m just being honest.”

But belief is not truth. Feeling is not fact. And honesty requires us to examine and question our fears and beliefs, and to move beyond them if they are not supported by fact and have no basis in reality -- so that we do not act irrationally, bringing consequences upon ourselves and others. At least, if we are to continue living in some semblance of civilization, rather than being driven by irrational fear and anger.

But today, instead of facing the irrational nature of our fear and anger, we give voice to it and defend it as our absolute and inalienable right.

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NPR could have taken Juan off the air. Instead, they wanted to make a "statement." It was stupid.

When the NPR CEO "apologized" for "doing the right thing" and then making a reference to Juan's "psychiatrist" she simply made it worse.

NPR should know by now (unless they haven't been paying attention) there is way too much bull-shit and bias in the media. When you fire someone for expressing authentic feelings - that most of us would reluctantly admit - you stifle honest conversation. That's a big mistake. NPR should know better.

I totally agree. Williams did not say that "all Muslims are terrorists" -- he simply said that when he gets on a plane with men in Muslim garb, he has private concerns that he might not have otherwise. He was not making a statement about Muslims, he was making a statement about himself.


Wow, just wow! Powerful, informed, compelling. You've religiously covered every logical permutation this malodorous argument can take and crushed it. Just crushed it. I'm posting it to Facebook now.

Thank you for all your efforts.

Victor H.

Tony Soprano | October 27, 2010 3:55 AM

"9/11" was an 'inside job'.

Muslims, Arabs, etc. were only scapegoat boogeymen.

The United States Government conceived, organized, and carried-out the events of that day in order to justify growth of the 'Prison Planet' they are making for us all.

Don't believe me? Look at:

patientobservertwo | October 27, 2010 6:38 AM

I think you might enjoy this little video joke about Williams

Juan Williams spending too much time around and around NPR

Dark humor: a bird, a wind turbine, Pop the Goes the Weasel music and News Hour sound alike music. (no ambient sound )


Great analysis, Terrance. You always tend to cut to the quick of the matter.

Juan Williams wasn't that great of a pundit from what I've been reading about him, and I don't think he was being honest in that moment like he said he was being (and I disagree with Andrew that we all think that muslims are going to kill us all when we see them on airplanes). That statement, when taken in context, was part of a larger speech where Juan Williams was kissing Bill O'Reilly's ass, a typical move by second-rate pundits to keep on getting invited back on the air. Since O'Reilly doesn't like Muslims, Williams went right along with him.

It's just silly that he's using the "I was just being honest!" excuse after the fact to justify those statements.

Alex, Juan didn't say he thought Muslims were going to kill us and neither did I. He said that when he sees passengers in traditional Muslim "garb" on an airplane with him, he feels "nervous."

Honesty means that we accurately quote people. Many people have expressed being nervous because of 9-11. That's a fact. That doesn't make those people bigots, it's more about ignorance.

I heard a great quote from the daily show that addresses a double standard you're working on here.

"If they're not going to make a distinction between Muslims and violent extremists, then why should I take the time to distinguish between decent fearful white people and racists."
-Aasif Mandvi

Juan Williams was the "pundit" who actually described Michelle Obama as 'Stokely Carmichael in a dress.'

Good riddance Juan... no doubt you'll have more fun over at Fox where they'll pay you far more to be another conservative house negro apologist in a pathetic attempt to distance themselves from their own racist policies.

I like the article. Let me share with you, though, a nifty Venn diagram designed to scale:

Lee Sonoflaw | October 27, 2010 4:32 PM

There is a major misconception about Free Speech in America. The first amendment says: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech” .

This does not apply to people, or corporations with-in the United States. It only pertains to the Government of the United States. People and business can limit your rights thru any legal means they can enforce. ie: They have the right to fire you.

Similarly, each States Constitution limits the State Governments, but again, they do NOT apply to people, or businesses.

Mr. Williams rights were not assaulted. He did NOT have the “right” in this case.