In this morning’s Wall Street Journal Opinion, Emilio Karim Dabul writes about NPR’s Taxpayer-Funded Intolerance. Dabul begins with some refreshing honesty:
As an Arab-American of Muslim descent, I am not offended by this because in all honesty I have had the same reaction in similar circumstances. In Berlin a couple of years ago, my flight was delayed because, we were told, one of the passengers, who was in a wheelchair, needed extra assistance. When she finally was brought into the waiting area, she was covered from head to toe in traditional Muslim dress and only her eyes were visible. What happened? I grew nervous. I got on the plane just the same, but with trepidation.
Was my response rational? Yes and no.
Then he addresses a common criticism of Juan Williams’ comment.
It was not Muslims in traditional garb who hijacked those planes on 9/11, and it certainly was not Muslim women in veils and wheelchairs. If anything, an Islamist terrorist wants to blend in, not stand out.
However, it was not a traditional sort of terrorist attack I feared in this case, but perhaps something unexpected: a traditional Muslim woman in a veil, confined to a wheelchair, who was loaded with explosives.
That may make me guilty of an overactive imagination, but perhaps not.
I mention all this for one main reason. I grew up surrounded by Islamic culture, went to Islamic events, and was used to seeing women in traditional Muslim clothing, and yet when that woman appeared at the Berlin airport, I was scared.
Then he puts Williams’ comment into perspective:
That’s all Mr. Williams was saying. He didn’t say that they should be removed from the plane, treated differently, or anything close to that. He simply said he got nervous. And for that, he was fired.
Then he throws in this reality check:
The reality is that when Muslims cease to be the main perpetrators of terrorism in the world, such fears about traditional garb are bound to vanish. Until such time, the anxiety will remain. In the long run, it’s what we do with such fears that matters, not that we have them.
Here I think Dabul identifies the root cause of Williams feelings. The root cause is the behavior of some in an easily identifiable group, not bigotry. Rather than expecting folks like Williams to modify who makes him nervous, we should first expect the folks that caused his nervousness to change.