October 21st, 2010
02:23 PM ET

My Take: NPR's firing of Williams imperils national conversation on Islam

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

I don’t know the heart of Juan Williams. Neither do I know whether NPR fired him because he said on the “The O’Reilly Factor” on Monday that seeing people on planes in traditional Muslim garb makes him nervous, or because of an accumulation of immoderate things he has said in the past on the Fox News Channel.

But NPR made a mistake either way. It was wrong to fire Williams for giving voice to fears that many other Americans, on both the left and the right, share.

Note what Williams was expressing. It was not a belief or even an opinion.  He was not saying, as the Reverend Franklin Graham has said, that Islam is "a very evil and wicked religion." He was expressing a feeling, a fear.

“I get worried,” he said. “I get nervous.”

Williams also took pains to tell O’Reilly not to blame all Muslims for the actions of a few “extremists,” any more than he would blame all Christians for the actions of extremists like the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Late last night NPR issued a statement justifying its decision to terminate Williams’ contract. “His remarks on The O’Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices," the statement said, "and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”

There are broader issues here about the crossover of people like Williams from delivering the news on one station to offering commentary on another. And any news outlet that attempts, as does NPR, to be unbiased is right to be concerned about public perceptions that its employees are shills for one political party or another.

In this case, however, NPR is undermining its own claims to be fair and balanced, prompting, for example, a statement by the former Arkansas governor (and Fox talk show host) Mike Huckabee, calling for federal funding cuts at NPR.

As I have said repeatedly, the United States desperately needs a public conversation about Islam that is informed and civil. In order to have that conversation, however, people of good will (and I include Williams in that category) need to feel free to express not only their beliefs and opinions but also their worries and fears.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Islam

soundoff (92 Responses)
  1. Islam

    Peace gained by submitting your will to god. The same message since Adam, just a different reminder until the last messenger sent to mankind "Mohammed".

    The prophets and messengers include noah, moses, abraham, jesus, isaac, Jonah and plenty others whose job was to remind their people to be mindful of god. They encouraged people to indulge in good to earn an ever-lasting paradise and to stay away from evil to save themselves from torment of hellfire.

    The pillars of Islam include

    1. Belief in god, his messengers and his angels
    2. Fast (Saum) like the messengers and believers did before you
    3. Pray to god like all messengers and believievers did (about half an hour of your 24 hour day)
    4. Give the poor his due (zakat), even a smile is a charity
    5. Make pilgrimage to Makkah if you are financially able to do so

    Thats how simple Islam is, dig in a little and you will find out that the negativity attributed to it based on false premises.

    January 12, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  2. s.rifenburg

    I disagree with the firing, what has happened to this country?? when are we going to close our borders?? and as far as islamic or muslim I found out all I want to know about both on 9/11 thank you very much. Where is common sense?? All he does is voice what everyone wants to voice but don't......I have come to realize there is no common sense in america anymore....enough is enough.............................

    January 9, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  3. kls817

    It's time to admit Islam is not just a religion but a terrorist organization. Many people assume that Islam is OK because most muslims don't personally carry out terrorist attacks. Yet these so called "peaceful muslims" have allowed their religion to be taken over by the extremists, and they never protest the terrorist acts, the persecution of religious minorities in islamic countries, or the horrible treatment of women.
    Therefore, essentially all muslims are complicit in the atrocities of Islam by providing moral, and financial, support to the atrocities.
    Islam should not be welcomed in civilized countries.

    December 31, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
  4. Coprolito

    I believe Muslim clerics (ayatollahs, muftis, mullahs, imams, sheiks, ullemas, etc.) are the roots of all suicide attacks and violence around the world. These evil creatures transform any ordinary person into an irrational beast. These AntiChrist followers exert absolute power on Islamic societies eliminating discontent and controlling tribunals, police, interpreting laws, becoming judge, juror & witness at the same time in their condemns of their own people. If they all were prosecuted by applying on them their own evil Islamic moral standards and punishments, most violence around the world would cease.

    December 28, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  5. Amer Odeh

    So, your argument is that i, as a muslim, will be taking over the world?
    Allow me to ask, have you watched a mother hold her child dying ini her arms? have you seen a small child with a gun wound? Or maybe, can you say that you have seen the films of U.S. hellfire missles crashing down on evil men, but at the same time killing the people in the building next to them? I have...

    ...and i am a muslim american, born in america, go to highschool in america, and hold true to the values of america. But at the same time i pray 5 times a day, i read and memorize the Quran, and I wake at night to pray to God. I, as a muslim, am not allowed to hate others, no matter the reason. So i have learned compassion and understanding, a lesson that would do well to all. Please, and i beg, do not be so narrow minded, the world is a cruel place with cruel people, but it is not fair to judge muslims due to a misinterpretation of others.

    and we speak of islam expanding, and perhaps you ask yourself why does islam expand, because people are forced? no, the fastest growing religion in conversion is Islam in America. Who forces them here? Islam grows because those who are smart enough to not critsize until they know the facts go and look up islam, and learn about the quran and its message. Before you critizise, please think of people like me, who are muslim, but in no way, shape or form are radicals.

    December 11, 2010 at 9:22 pm |
  6. Idea

    Islam will breed itself to majority in the world in not too distant future.

    December 4, 2010 at 5:23 am |
  7. madeleine cape

    I'm afraid for this country. Letting Islam getting their way is a future destruction of our American Values. Islam is not only a religion but a political ideology opposite our way of life. See what is going on in France and other countries where they blockade streets in order to have midday prayers to Allah with no regard to the laws of the country they adopted????
    It bears repeating. We cannot ignore the ideology and be lax about it trying to infiltrate itself in our lives. Don't censor mr. This is America

    November 23, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  8. madeleine cape

    gainst the prevailing laws...

    November 23, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  9. Wake up America

    While Obama is sharing the religion of Islam with Muslims, Al Qaeda is killing innocent christians in Baghdad thanks to bush! What protection do the Iraqi christians get from the UN, Iraqi government, or the United states? Nothing! Wake up America you invaded Iraq for oil, and now innocent lives are being killed. WE need protection for Iraqi Christians in Baghdad and we need it now! How can iraqi soldiers refuse to rescue the christians that were held hostage on 10/31/10. This was all planned to happen, the christians in iraq are suffereing and their people in America are standing up for them. Wake up everyone and help speak the word. Protect the Iraqi christians!

    November 11, 2010 at 1:37 am |
  10. Bill

    Say what you want, but Islam is a religion of violence... recently the ISLAM channel in Great Britian was censored because the presenters condoned marital r ape and wife beating. They qualified it .... a man has a right to force his wife... and you can't damage here eyes, teeth or her beauty .... come on .... R ape is R ape and hitting a woman is completely unacceptable.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  11. neal2350

    It's funny how NPR receives aid from the government, yet it aims to control its image to maintain political correctness by restricting free expression. It falls short of its purpose – to allow each side to express its opinion publicly without penalty – so a cut in funding seems appropriate.

    November 6, 2010 at 8:56 pm |
  12. Mirza

    I am a Muslim am i offended by Juan's comments ?No. I am hurt by his comments. I wish we can see people like Fareed Zakaria, Mohammad Ali, Mohamed Oz, Ali Velshi and countless other high profile American Muslims and know that all of us are not bombers and terrorists. I actually agree with Juan most of the time and I think he is a good democrat who allowed fear to control him instead of him controlling his own fears. They should not have fired him from his job!

    October 30, 2010 at 11:59 pm |
    • kls817

      If you are actually good, why don't you do something about the extremists that control your religion? Why do you not protest against them? Why do you not feel that their actions defile Islam? Why do you not protest the oppression of religious minorities in Arab countries?Why do you only protest when someone draws a cartoon of your prophet or threatens to burn a Koran?
      The obvious reason is that you, like all muslims, approve of terrorism.

      December 31, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
  13. ChipH

    Washington State on full terror alert

    Washington State and Canada went on full alert today, after discovering evidence that
    Al-Goa'ta terrorists may have infiltrated the state, and begun training camps for local
    residents. A Ferndale man was accused by DHS agents of sεxually abusing a goat,
    and has pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and your basic, like, ana| terrorism.

    The 27-year-old fundamentalist radical goat-fcuker, Gary Veldhuizen, was sentenced
    Monday to a month in Goatmo. He was arrested by DHS agents after a relative caught
    him having unprotected Islamic-style sεx with the innocent Chritsian free-spirit animal.

    G-d, you just can't make this stuff up!!

    October 29, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  14. Dean Johnston

    It is hard for me to feel sorry for Mr. Williams. He broke established rules that he was hired under. Every job has its rules. As a professional journalist he knew exactly what he was doing when he made this comment on Fox News. If he didn't like NPR's rules, he could certainly have found employment elsewhere. In the end he got a $2 million contract.....wow! and he still gets to blast NPR and feel sorry for himself! There a lot of unemployed americans, losing their homes and struggling to feed their families who wish they could be "discriminated" against that way!

    October 29, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  15. Iqbal khan

    The fact of the matter is Islam is the fastest growing religeon, no matter how much you hate the truth, but Truth will prevail.

    October 28, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  16. omida

    Compare Mr. Rick Sanchez and Mr. Williams cases. He was fired and there was no outcry from left or right. Why? because he allegedly offended a strong minority. Here, Mr. Williams offended American Muslim or Muslims in general. To many, Muslims are fair game. You can draw cartoons insulting their prophets. You can compare them to Nazis, no problem. Mr. Williams was shocked to see something as benign as bigotry against Muslims may have some consequences. It is about time to consider American Muslim for what they are: American.

    October 27, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
    • Visitor

      The other difference is the very visible double standard NPR sets by firing one person for remarks talking to a known conservative network about those who are their "pets", yet allow and promote those on their network who slander and wish death on conservatives.

      Part of what Mr Williams said is exactly what needs to be addressed in shared dialogue, and is the question he has put forth – "What will it take to get past this mindset, and how can the two societies and communities of muslim & non-muslim come together to solve this?"

      October 29, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.