Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Saying The Wrong Thing

In a sense, NPR's decision to fire commentator Juan Williams, for saying, as a guest commentator on Fox's Bill O'Reilley show, that he finds himself feeling nervous when he sees people on an airplane flight dressed in traditional Islamic attire, is entirely explicable and normal. Most cultures punish people for saying or doing things that violate cultural taboos. It is most unquestionably a major cultural taboo of the American Left (of which NPR has long made itself both spokesman spokesperson and totem) that one may not admit to being scared of non-white people who show signs of belonging to particular cultures through their dress or demeanor. Thus, you can admit to being scared of a white person in a religious t-shirt because you're concerned about "right wing violence", but you can't admit to being scared of a non-white person dressing in a way that suggests to you correlation with criminal or dangerous activity.

Williams violated this taboo when he talked about being nervous when he saw people in traditional Muslim attire on airplane flights and so it's not surprising that NPR chose to ritually drive him out.

What I find rather less believable is the extent that people have managed to work themselves up into a near-Victorian case of the vapors over the idea that someone could be made nervous by this kind of thing. Though admittedly, some people have managed to find mildly amusing ways of channeling their outrage such as the website Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things.

Perhaps I'm an cynical sort of fellow but it strikes me that beneath all this protest is an uncomfortable truth -- those in the secular left most outraged at Juan Williams daring to say such a thing (especially as a self-identified liberal and African American serving as the "balanced" part of the "Fair & Balanced" on the hated Fox News) feel just a nervous on flights with people in traditional Muslim garb as Juan Williams himself does. They don't admit to it, and they know that (as has been pointed out many times now) none of the people who've actually attempted to disrupt flights have been wearing anything other than normal Western clothing, but they do know that people who are Muslim have attempted to hijack or blow up flights in recent memory and that wearing certain types of clothing is a way of identifying oneself culturally with Islam. Although they may know intellectually that the individual person they are seeing is highly unlikely to be a threat (terrorists may not be brilliant, but they're smart enough to try to blend in when staging an attack) seeing someone in traditional Islamic garb reminds them that there are in fact people out there in the world who wish they could blow up the plane they are on, and that makes them nervous. Depend upon it.

Frankly, these folks are selling their ideals of tolerance short when they pretend that they aren't made nervous by the dress of certain cultures, whether that's an Arabic-looking man in a dishdasha or a young black man with low slung pants and a couple gold chains. Tolerance lies not in never having an emotional reaction to seeing someone, but rather in whether one treats all people as innocent and equal until proven otherwise.


Foxfier said...

How about white guys with shiny bald heads, lots of iron crosses?

How about while guys with long hair, poor personal grooming, wearing wife-beaters and ragged pants and smelling of beer-sweat?

How about any group of young men of similar race and highly similar dress who are paying unusual attention to you?

Biker gang? (I don't mean the good ones, that are obviously rather well-paid professional folks who enjoy the open road-- the only times I was ever tipped at a fast food place was with those folks!)

I don't know what the word of it would be called, since I'd call it "threat detection"-- if folks, by dress or behavior, call attention to themselves, it's probably a good idea to say "Hm. They obviously are making some unusual choices that are consistent with a known threat. Are they a threat?"

(Of course, the next step is 'is there anyone unusual,' then 'is there any detail that seems odd.' This is a variation on basic "don't get killed overseas" tactics, along with "don't be predictable.")

KyCat said...

Really. I have only recently started reading your blog, but I think that I'll stick with NPR and let others get their reporting from Fox.

Darwin said...


Agreed, though I'm not sure much of anyone feels guilty about feeling unsafe around white guys with shaved heads and iron cross pendants...


Personally, I don't see/hear either one above once every couple of months. I'm an all-print kind of guy. My interest is more in the cultural phenomenon than out of support for either one. NPR's bias annoys me, but so does Fox's populism.

Foxfier said...

How about "no-one with any sense"? It's a well-established threat without obvious social ramifications if you follow it.

Darwin said...


M. said...

Those pictures of muslims wearing things are kinda funny though :D