Islam-o-phobia in America got ratcheted up several degrees today when NPR fired veteran journalist and commentator, Juan Williams, for stating on FOX news that he “gets nervous when he sees people in Muslim garb on an airplane.”

Williams made his comments on the O’Rielly Factor Monday where the uber-conservative host had invited several guests to discuss his own appearance last week on ABC’s “The View” during which Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walked off the set in protest of O’Reilly’s views on Muslims.

When learned and well respected reporters with pedigrees of scholarly writing and journalistic excellence in coverage of American civil rights state on national television that they get “worried” and anxious in seeing airline passengers who identify themselves through their clothing as Muslim, every one of us has cause for concern.  Should we fear equally large and burly black men (Williams is black) that we encounter on darkened city streets? What about Aryan skinhead types with tattoos, they must certainly pose a threat. And Jewish accountants, they’re likely to rob us with their pencils.

Where does the stereotyping and ingrained categorization end?

The paranoia that is rampant in the American psyche cuts at the very tolerance and religious freedom principles this country is built upon. The widening polarization occurring across our land between those that “look” and “act” like Americans and everyone else, is creating a homogenized “just-like-us” urban ghetto-ization that makes for less diverse, less enriching and ultimately, less fulfilling neighborhoods and communities.

We shouldn’t be angry that Williams feels this way or even that he expressed those feelings. We should be concerned and angry at the “why” behind Williams’ feelings, a much bigger issue that deserves exploring.

That’s not going to happen however. There is way too much positioning and posturing to be had.

From the right: “All Juan Williams did is say both exactly how he feels and how many, many other Americans feel on this subject,” wrote Erick Erickson on his “Red State” blog. “The man’s body of work makes clear he is no bigot. But we sure can’t offend Muslims can we?”

From the left: “NPR should address the fact that one of its news analysts seems to believe that all airline passengers who are perceived to be Muslim can legitimately be viewed as security threats,” Council on American-Islamic Relations National Executive Director Nihad Awad was quoted as saying.

You haven’t heard the last of this. The talking heads will be talking (likely shouting) AT each other for weeks to come. Therein lies the problem.

What happened to dialogue in this country? You know, the type of discourse where people actually listen and consider other perspectives.

Perhaps that is what people are really afraid of.

Michael J. Solender

Michael J. Solender

Michael J. Solender is a recent corporate refugee whose opinion and satire has been featured in The Richmond Times Dispatch, The Winston-Salem Journal, and Richmond Style Weekly. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for The Charlotte Observer and is the City Life Editor for Charlotte ViewPoint. His micro-fiction has been featured online at Bull Men’s Fiction, Calliope Nerve, Danse Macabre, Dogzplot, Gloom Cupboard, Full of Crow, Pangur Ban Party and others.

You can find more of his work at his website and also at his blog.