Jacob Heilbrunn

The Martyrdom of Juan Williams

Juan Williams should be grateful to National Public Radio for firing him and allowing him to snag a two-year, $2 million contract from Fox News. Williams deserves it. He is one of the most reasonable and fair-minded commentators on the air.

Ostensibly, NPR terminated his contract for his comments about him gettin' the willies when he sees Muslims flying on airplanes. It was a foolish thing to say. But in no way did it rise to the level of a firing offense. As the Washington Post editorialized, the imbroglio is reminiscent of the Obama's administration's rush to fire Shirley Sherrod. Dumping Williams, in short, is a case of political correctness run amok.

In many ways, though, the affair isn't about Williams. It's about the overblown fear of Muslims and the hypertrophied war on terror that the Bush administration inaugurated after September 11. The administration, which had ignored the threat until September 11, preferring to concentrate on toys like missile defense, promptly proceeded to hype it. Now that President Obama, supposedly a Muslim in mufti, is in office fears of the Muslim "threat" have risen exponentially, as the flap over the so-called mosque, which wasn't a mosque at all but, rather, a community center, in New York demonstrated.

The problem with the Williams remark, which obviously came from the gut and in the form of trying to explain why Muslims shouldn't be demonized, is that it does, in fact, label Muslims as a group. It categorizes them. Yes, the principal terrorist threat does appear to come from Muslims. But not all Muslims are terrorists. Just as the fear of domestic communism was grossly exaggerated in the early 1950s in America, so the peril from Muslims is being wildly overblown.

Liberals are apparently reacting, at least in the case of NPR, by cracking down on any stray remark that carries the whiff of demonizing Muslims. Williams didn't. He made a silly remark. NPR should have moved on. Instead, it transformed Williams into a cause celebre.