Yalla Peace: Racism is in the eye of the beholder

Juan Williams and the fear of flying with those dressed in Muslim garb.

Juan Williams, the well-known NPR radio and TV commentator, recently told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that he gets nervous boarding planes when he sees people in “Muslim garb.” Williams said the fear stems from the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 when 19 Muslim Arabs hijacked four planes and crashed three of them into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
But there is much wrong with what Williams said, beyond his prejudiced fears.
I’ve been to many clothing stores, including many at the world’s largest mall, the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. When I ask for the Muslim garb section, they look at me strangely. They don’t have a Muslim garb section.
I was more disappointed in Williams because he is African-American, although his first name is Hispanic.
When I was growing up in America in the 1960s, most white people used to say that they feared going into black neighborhoods because, well, you know, blacks spend all their time murdering people to pay for their drug habits.
It was this kind of racist stereotype that roused fear in the minds of most Americans and resulted in racial clashes and conflict for years, forcing the government to adopt civil rights legislation. That legislation which protects black Americans today helped Williams make millions as a media superstar.
Williams knew he was walking into bad territory when he said it, and tried to soften the blow, adding that of course everyone in America has rights, including those Arabs and Muslims in their Muslim garb.
But it doesn’t cut it.
Williams was fired by NPR, although it appears that his racist comment wasn’t the main reason. NPR, a liberal media institution, is upset because Williams appeared on a competing network.
Many Americans are upset that Williams was fired for making these comments. They were not upset when allegations of racism, prejudice and inappropriateness were directed against people like Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr and Rick Sanchez. All three were fired because they made comments critical of Israel, or that Israelis and American Jews were not happy with.
There is a campaign in the US now to boycott NPR for firing Williams, because, well, most Americans don’t care when you are racist against Arabs or Muslims.
I GUESS racism in America is a lot like beauty; it’s all in the eye of the beholder. It’s racist to criticize Israel or express sadness at the death of a Muslim leader, but not racist to criticize Arabs and Muslims who terrorize America in Muslim garb.
The only problem in all this is that I saw the pictures of the 19 hijackers – crazed fanatics who claimed their actions were done in the name of Islam. Who appointed them as spokespeople for Islam? I don’t know, but that doesn’t seem to matter.
Yet I don’t think they were dressed in Muslim garb at all. In fact, if I remember correctly, most were wearing blue jeans. One had a cardigan college sweater. Another few had two-piece pinstripe suits, the kind you find on the nefarious characters in the banking industry who rip Americans off by charging excessive interest rates on credit cards, or their robber baron cousins in the insurance industry, who do the same.
I’ll remember to shiver the next time I am boarding a plane and see someone next to me wearing a college cheerleader’s outfit.
Oh, those people in their Western garb. They can be so frightening sometimes.
The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. www.YallaPeace.com