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Katarina Rothhorn
Katarina Rothhorn
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The first message I ever sent from my Northern Michigan University sanctioned email was to the editor-in-chief of the North Wind asking if there was any way I could join the staff. Classes hadn't even...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

NPR Analyst was fired for the wrong reasons

Last week, NPR news analyst and respected civil rights writer Juan Williams was fired for remarks he made on “The O’Reilly Factor.” Since then, the controversy over his firing has been discussed by news media relentlessly. It has ushered in a discussion about everything from whether NPR should continue its federal funding, whether Williams was out of line and whether this is an issue of free speech. What many are disregarding is the question Williams seemed like he was about to raise before he was interrupted by Bill O’Reilly on the show.

Melissa Pinskey/NW

The often-quoted excerpt from Williams’ Oct. 18 appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor” is his remark regarding Muslims on planes: “When I get on a plane, I gotta tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.” For this small quote, Williams, who worked for NPR for over ten years, received a phone call two days later in which he was informed his contract was terminated.

He followed his remarks about Muslims on planes with a mention of the Times Square bomber, who said, according to Williams, that “America’s war with Muslims is just beginning.” Shortly thereafter, he was interrupted by Bill O’Reilly. It seems to me Williams was commenting on the wider issue at hand here in the “War on Terror.” At what point does this become a war of us versus them?  Radical Muslims like the Times Square bomber see the war as Islam versus America. In turn, the majority of Americans who are not Muslim sometimes make the mistake of confusing all Muslims as terrorists.

It’s the same situation we saw with the mosque in New York. The arguments primarily against the mosque seemed to be that because the people who flew the planes into the World Trade Center were Muslim, it is offensive to have an Islamic community center near Ground Zero. It didn’t seem to matter to critics of the mosque that the Muslims in New York building the mosque had no connection to al Qaida and instead were just as American as the people speaking out against them. There’s a word for the kind of logic that disregards facts to associate all members of a social, religious or racial group as being exactly the  same –– it’s called bigotry.

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In May, Williams said on Fox News that he understands “the instinct that says, look, these people are Muslim radicals, why don’t we just call it for what it is? But if you are politically savvy, you want to make sure that people who are simply faithful Muslims don’t think that we’re going after them.” To me, all of this speaks to the wider issues here. If al Qaida is saying that this is a war between Islam and the West, at what point are we buying into that delusion? Clearly, we are at war with al Qaida. When a nation goes to war against an organization, especially one which identifies itself as the true representation of a religion, there’s an inherent danger there that we might begin to see all the adherents of that religion as the enemy. Even Williams, a respected civil rights author who, by all accounts, is not a bigot, sometimes makes this mistake, which is exactly what he was speaking to in his Oct. 18 appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

He was saying that the paranoia that has developed as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent wars in the Middle East has created an uneasiness in some Americans, including Williams, who may be a little nervous when they see a Muslim on a plane.

The problem here comes in when one begins to consider whether or not he had a right to say it. Is it right to point out a deep-seated bigotry that might be hiding in the minds of a lot of Americans, especially on a cable news channel? NPR says no. But I think the wider point Williams was making was a valuable one, something that we should all think about. Otherwise, the terrorists win, because we’ll only be fighting ourselves.

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