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Juan Williams Was Truthful, and We Need to Be As Honest to Understand Why

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The Juan Williams case shows once again the fraught arena of racial stereotyping. He was being undeniably honest when he said he felt a flicker of fear when spotting Muslims in garb boarding a flight he is taking. I do, too, in similar circumstances, feel a momentary tic of the Darwinian impulse towards self-protection, knowing what happened on 9/11.

We are not perfect human beings, no matter what NPR believes. The honesty of Williams did not deserve censure. I know I have been on both sides of the issue. Back in the 1970s, I worked in England for a year and was regularly the target of anti-Irish sentiment in the wake of IRA bombs going off. Some of the bombings were horrific -- in Birmingham and Guildford, innocent men, women and children were killed.

Innocent men were tried and convicted with false confessions for those deaths. The Guildford Four case became an Oscar-nominated movie, In the Name of the Father, starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

I was never subjected to any of that kind of abuse, but it was what was left unsaid, the waning of conversation when you joined a group of English people, the moment of silence when you ordered a drink at a bar, the girl who walked away despite flirting with you from afar when you opened your mouth.

It was more blatant on the construction site where I worked, where anti-Irish jokes were a staple, whether you wanted to hear them or not. I grew accepting of it. After all, some of my countrymen were trying to blow up the whole place and had expressed a desire to turn London into a parking lot. In time, and thanks to the Northern Irish peace process, that all faded and today Irish are welcome again in Britain.

There will come a day when Muslims do not instill fear in Americans like they do now. Demonizing a race, whether it is African, Chinese, Irish, or now people from Muslin nations, is a grand old American tradition, too.

But we get over it, which is a sign of our healthy democracy, and we will get over the Muslim "otherness" too. But we need to be as honest as Juan Williams in understanding our prejudice and discussing it openly. Pretending it is not there as NPR has done and acting so shocked is no solution either.