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You have an opinion, but do you have what it takes to be heard?

Anthony Tata
Washington, DC

Anthony Tata

My experience as a deputy commanding general in Afghanistan and, later, COO for DC schools, give me a unique, balanced and well-informed perspective.

The last 100 meters

Editor's note: The contestants were given free rein for their second post of the day. You can read Anthony Tata's earlier post here.

 

Whether it's William Wallace and his Scottish rogues attacking the English at Stirling Bridge in 1297 or U.S. Army Rangers conducting an airborne raid on Kandahar airfield in 2001, the last 100 meters to your objective are always the toughest.

 

The closer you get, the tougher your fight. The more true your aim, the heavier the backfire.

Today, the latest casualty in an attempt to identify Islamic terrorists as our enemy was none other than the independent Juan Williams. He calls it like he sees it and, bam, he gets canned by National Public Radio. One more casualty for the truth.

Williams said on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor, "I mean, 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 a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they're identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous," Williams said.

 

For the record I think Williams' statement was over the top. People dress how they dress. We've got good security protocols in place around the country. Air marshals are active. It's not perfect, but it's good. Can something bad happen? Of course. Is it likely that someone dressed in Muslim garb is going to light his shoe? Doubtful, but possible. Remember, the 9/11 bombers did their best to blend in with society to avoid detection and that's what the sleeper cells continue to do.

 

NPR was wrong to fire a well-respected commentator for speaking his truth. Williams, one of the few journalists with the range to both write and speak in liberal and conservative forums, clumsily said what many Americans feel. The threat is an insidious virus lurking in the shadows waiting to reappear. That's not fear-mongering, that's just calling it like he sees it. Williams said what was in his heart.

 

Is he a racist? Of course not. Just look at his bio. He wrote Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965, a book detailing the key pivot points of the Civil Rights Movement. What should worry us is that if a man with Williams' pedigree feels that way, just imagine what people without his background and sensitivity might be thinking

 

The larger issue here is our oversensitivity to offending those practicing the same religion as the extremists who wish to visit harm upon us. Such hyper concern about not upsetting the bad guys leads us into half-baked security policy with no long-range vision, as I've now argued in two previous posts.

 

Further, by firing Williams, NPR helps to put this nation's collective head deeper into the sand. Instead of deep sixing the man, NPR should have said, "You know, we disagree. Let's do a show on this, Juan. Air out those feelings and see if others feel the same way. Let's get a national dialogue started."

 

These issues aren't going away by reinforcing a zero defects policy. Rather, Juan Williams was one more soldier inside that last 100 meters, storming the hill, trying to take out that nasty machine gun bunker called political correctness.

 

If we were as hard on our enemies, our friends might survive.

 

Read more posts from this round. See what the judges are saying. And cast your vote on Friday.

By Anthony Tata  |  October 21, 2010; 2:17 PM ET  | Category:  Blogging Challenge
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Comments

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Good post by General Tata, with predictable flak from the practitioners of political correctness.

What's lost among many of his most strident critics is the fact that Juan Williams wasn't expressing an opinion on "all Muslims"; he was admitting to an uneasiness that was his and his alone.

After a decade that has witnessed 9/11 and the failed shoe bomber and underwear bomber, American air travelers now face luggage searches, shoe removal and, perhaps soon, full-body scans.

With all that heaviness in mind, I tend to doubt the sincerity of anyone who claims to be completely unaffected by the sight of Muslims on the same airline flight.

It may not be entirely fair, but it's not much different from the reaction that 99% of us would experience if our car broke down on a remote road and we suddenly saw two dozen fully garbed Hell's Angels slowing down.

Sure, not all motorcycle gang members intend to do us harm, but in such a situation, a sense of nervousness at the sight of burly white bikers with tattoos is hardly a sign of bigotry.

That's all Williams was expressing, and we as a nation are in trouble if we've come to the point where the fear of offending someone is more important than our freedom to speak the truth as we see it.

Posted by: UponFurtherReview | October 22, 2010 12:16 PM
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I actually agree with the main point here. NPR overreacted, like an NFL team cutting a valuable player for getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The penalty was amply justified in this case, but the foul fell well short of being a firing offense.

Mr. Tata might want to be a little less hard on political correctness, though. After all, one component of modern political correctness is that American soldiers up to the rank of general are always honored for their service, but hardly ever judged publicly on their performance. After many years fighting two wars that have not gone well, a less politically correct nation might start to debate whether some of those generals were part of the reason. Mr. Tata, who advertises his experience as a deputy commanding general in Afghanistan, may have good reason to deplore political correctness in some contexts, but he may himself be one of its beneficiaries.

Posted by: jbritt3 | October 22, 2010 12:28 AM
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This is worse than Ms. Hogan’s post on “Having honest conversations.” I’m wondering whether you feel any kind of shame or guilt for condoning this type of racist discourse?

I find it fascinating how you imposed your own (faulty) narrative on Mr. Williams’ motivations—that somehow he’s being racist for the sake of our national security. While I understand that many people—quite cowardly—hide their racism behind the national security agenda, don’t you think that promoting Islamophobia in fact hurts our national security?

And by the way, in case you are toying with the idea of pulling a Juan Williams in the future, writing a book about civil rights (or having black or brown friends) does not entitle you to promote racism against other groups.

I must say though, that it takes a lot of courage to put your own ignorance on public display in a prominent forum like the Washington Post. I wish you the best of luck and hope that you’ll try to educate yourself on this issue.

Posted by: GamalElKhalsan | October 21, 2010 10:27 PM
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OMG, a woman in full Burka. Where can I run? Where can I hide? On no, I peed my pants. My God man, you are an embarrassment to the WWII generation who faced down the Nazis.

I was amused while in Brooklyn last year to see a Muslim woman in full Burka and a Jewish woman standing side by side, both pushing baby carriages, waiting for a stop light to turn green. That is MY America!

Posted by: chucky-el | October 21, 2010 7:33 PM
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@WalterSobchak, so glad to have you aboard!

Posted by: MsJS | October 21, 2010 7:32 PM
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@MSJS, I think I'm just kind of horrified by this. The General is obviously a brilliant man, with a brilliant record of service behind him. I simply can't imagine that he really believes this sort of thing, which leaves me thinking that he finds it somehow useful to advocate giving a free pass to bigotry.

I'm certainly not advocating that Williams be forbidden from speaking his mind (no matter how noxious its contents). However, why should NPR legitimate these views?

And the notion that there's only one kind of racist (presumably a white supremacist) is just laughable.

Every time that some radical Islamist spouts off hate speech, we demand that all "moderate" Muslims condemn it. Fair enough. But turnabout is fair play. When one of our public figures says something like this, it's incumbent on the rest of us in the sane majority to condemn it as well.

Posted by: waltersobchak2 | October 21, 2010 6:59 PM
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Wow...really? This and Hogan's post are so clearly uninformed. General Tata, yet again, you show that you have no clue re: the "Islamic" threat. How exactly does Juan Williams' statement against ALL MUSLIMS not equate to bigotry? So what, it's okay to imply that all Muslims should be feared? I'm just glad that the vast majority of Muslims don't think the way you do...they've got plenty more to be pissed off at America about than the other way around. Though I suppose you don't know any actual history (other than US good, everyone else bad) to go along with your Islamophobia. I pray to god you never make serious national security decisions. By the way, your defense of Williams is hilarious. He said things about civil rights, he can't be racist! Yeah, that's the same as arguing that Bennedict Arnold was a staunch American patriot because of his fighting at Saratoga.

Posted by: fp26 | October 21, 2010 6:58 PM
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My apologies for the 'correctness' repeat.

@WalterSobchak, the gloves have come off!

Posted by: MsJS | October 21, 2010 5:00 PM
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Ah, so it's not about racism, it's about political correctness. Then why does the author wait until the end to tell us?

In my view, we've got a lot more than 100 meters to go on both fronts.

Posted by: MsJS | October 21, 2010 4:03 PM
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Another one of these? Are you serious? I'd just refer people to my post on Lauren Hogan's piece. It's ludicrous to assume that a black man who has written on civil rights can't possibly be racist. Really? He can't harbor bigoted feelings towards Arabs and Muslims? Not sure I'm seeing the contradiction here. General Tata, you ought to know that there are more groups in contemporary America than just blacks and whites. Unfortunately, there are plenty of blacks who harbor bigoted feelings towards Hispanics and Asians and vice versa.

I'm starting to think that the Daily Show ought to start doing a special "cynical manipulation or ignorant ramblings" segment on each of your posts.

Posted by: waltersobchak2 | October 21, 2010 3:41 PM
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