Juan Williams’s recent termination from NPR provides yet another stark example of a hostile and intolerant political correctness. The left-of center NPR, after seemingly receiving pressure from a number of sources, fired Williams after he made comments regarding his personal reaction to certain Muslims on Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor.
Williams, who is also an analyst at Fox News, was challenging O’Reilly on associating terrorists with Muslims, stated, "Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”
Putting aside the specific discussion of Islam and terrorism, there is a profound irony that Williams was terminated in the name of political correctness, precisely for an astute criticism of the horrid practice. In his discussion with O’Reilly, the first point that Williams made was that “political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.”
This philosophy is unerringly correct. Faced by pressures from left-wing relativists and, in this instance, Muslim interest groups, America has been confined to speak only in narrow platitudes and “tolerant” talking-points. Deviations, whether right or wrong, are inexcusable. But, as Williams so eloquently concluded, this creates reality-distorting paralyses, where real issues cannot be discussed in any serious fashion. This banality not only handicaps America, but it is representative of a growing illiberal intolerance.
The illiberality of this type of political correctness is relatively clear. While NPR is correct to argue that “[Juan] does not have a First Amendment right to be paid by NPR for saying whatever he wants,” this fact ignores the underlying need for free speech and free press. NPR does not have any obligation to keep Williams on, but if they are committed to being a relevant source for honest news, they are foolish to silence legitimate, mainstream discussions for fear of offending those who would rather not talk about difficult issues.
This tacit illiberality is precisely why political correctness is such a handicap. Real dialogue is indispensable to the functioning of any democracy and essential for the successful handling of innumerable issues. However, it cannot progress when stifled by the heavy hand of political correctness. Williams’s fear, again regardless of whether right or wrong, is one that is shared by millions of Americans. And while, for the sake of the argument we will postpone the discussion of whether this fear is justified, there clearly are arguments to be made on both sides of the issue. Precisely because it is real for some many Americans, open discourse is necessary to address this trepidation – whether to assuage misguided fears or correct the circumstances that give rise to prudent concerns.
Williams’s honesty was exemplary of this type of dialogue. He was expressing a fact, not an opinion about what he felt (not a fact about Muslims being or not being a security threat). He was being honest and open. Furthermore, far from providing an opinion that such a sentiment was right, Williams was essentially offering a sort of confessional. He put forward, despite his belief that Muslims should not be categorically linked with terrorism, that he still felt something visceral.
More open dialogue of this sort is needed. By attempting to stifle Williams, NPR has contributed to a declining failure of American leaders and journalism in providing open forums for discussion about meaningful, but sensitive, topics. America’s progress will come to a crashing halt if prohibitions are continuously placed on this sort of dialogue.