By The Rev. Madison Shockley
Juan Williams is living evidence that watching too much Fox News will rot your brain. Williams has been a voice of reason in what is otherwise a virtual tsunami of rhetorical nonsense. Williams has often held the center on Fox in discussions revolving around race, religion and culture generally. That is why his capitulation to his host (and boss), Bill O’Reilly, was so sad.
Williams stated on “The O’Reilly Factor” on Monday night, “Political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality ... but when I get on a plane and 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.” He then quoted a statement by the Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, that the “war with Muslims is just beginning” and gave that remark the status of “facts” while ignoring the real fact that Shahzad, himself, looked like an average middle class American, dressed in “American garb,” when he lit the fuse on his SUV in the middle of Times Square.
The idea that a black man in America should condone blatant racial and religious profiling as a reasonable way of navigating life in our diverse culture is tragic indeed. I would be surprised if Williams, like many, many other black men, including myself, has not been the victim of racial profiling. He should read Harvard professor Charles Ogletree’s recent book, “The Presumption of Guilt,” which chronicles the failure of racial profiling and examines how this practice corrupts the entire criminal justice system.
Williams seems to make some point about religious garb being a sign of fanaticism rather that what it is, a sign of obedience and consistency in one’s faith. Whether it’s the Christian who wears the cross or crucifix, or the Jew who wears a yarmulke or the Muslim who wears a taqiyah, each, contrary to Williams’ interpretation, is first and foremost showing respect to his faith and piety to a secular world around him.
If Williams actually believes what he said, he should be one nervous cat. His reference to the peculiar vulnerability of an airplane also fails to be compelling because it is commonly known that since 9/11, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups have consistently used non-Arab looking personnel to commit their heinous deeds. Remember the shoe bomber, Richard Reid (Afro-Anglo descent)? Remember the underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, from Nigeria? Most of the 9/11 bombers themselves had shaven off their beards to avoid notice. I just don’t understand Williams’ “facts” or logic.
I get on airplanes and assume that we all want to live. I expect that the spirit of flight 93 would prevail and everyone, white, black, secular, religious, male, female, gay and straight would band together to save one another. Williams needs to relax and get on the plane trusting that those above his pay grade (think screeners at the gate) have done their jobs and everyone on the plane is expecting to get to their destination.
Unfortunately, I have been uncomfortable with what others have thought of me when I get on an airplane. Thirty years ago, dressed in my finest preacher-go-to-meetin’ three-piece black suit, I was asked by a white passenger to pour him a glass of white wine. Five years ago, flying on a Sunday in my religious garb, the screener at the gate read out loud my “Blues Brothers” tie that said, “On a Mission from God.” Ten paces past the metal detector I went into a nervous panic expecting air marshals to swoop down to prevent me from boarding the plane in case my “Mission from God” was not so holy. Ironically, I probably attracted more attention with my furtive looking about as I made my way to the gate than with my enigmatic tie.
So today, we should not perpetuate the racial, religious and cultural profiling of minorities just to provide a false psychic security for the majority. I am not nearly as afraid of the pious and their prayers on airplanes (whether nervous prayers or faithful prayers). I am much more afraid of the muddled thinking that resulted in the bomb that Williams exploded on “The O’Reilly Factor.” NPR was right to terminate an analyst and commentator whose skills of critical thinking have clearly deteriorated after a decade of drinking the Fox News Kool-Aid.
AP / Richard Drew