Muslim “Garb” and the Firing of Juan Williams

Flying While Muslim

There has been a slew of debate about the recent firing of Juan Williams (from NPR) for his comments about Muslims made on the Bill O’Reilly show.  Here is the quote that prompted NPR to “can” him:

“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’ve 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.”

Hmmmm….where does one begin?

1)  Ignorance is still alive and well in America.  (And keep in mind, the definition of ignorance IS:  “lack of knowledge, information or education.”  I’m going to assume that Mr. Williams simply didn’t understand how completely offensive his statement is.

2)  I wonder if he gets nervous when other people express their spirituality.  For example, when a Christian wears a cross on a chain on his/her neck, does this worry him?  Or when a Jew wears a yarmulke, does he get freaked out?  What about a Jain wearing a mask?  Or better yet, since some people consider sports worthy of worship, I’m guessing he gets very nervous in airports around the time the New York Yankees make it to the baseball playoffs.  They do have some pretty rowdy fans after all.  (You get my point….)

3) And what exactly is “Muslim garb”?  Some brilliant person put together a wonderful sequence of photos on the web site “Muslims Wear Things” to illustrate how ridiculous the use of the term “Muslim garb” actually is.  (Kudos to those folks!)

4) Mr. Williams lives in the USA and works for a publicly funded American media outlet.  Yes, we have freedom of speech here. It is not up to me to determine if he should or shouldn’t have been fired – that will end up in the courts. But what is my role, as a US citizen, to take a few minutes out of my day to again encourage anyone who listens to the media to carefully consider the impact of his words.  He has stated that he fears Muslims on planes.  Is it a coincidence that a lot of news outlets have planted that seed, watered it and given it plenty of media sunlight to grow? I say SHAME ON THEM.

I have Muslim friends.  I have been to mosques.  I have broken fast with Muslims during their holy month.  I am NOT afraid of Muslims and I am certainly NOT afraid to get on a plane with them.

I do, however, have concerns about getting on planes with the following:

1) people who don’t bathe enough for my standards.

2) people who bathe themselves in cologne/perfume.  That is painful to sit next to. It makes my nose run, my ears hurt, gives me migraines, and at times, sends me to the hospital or bed for days.

3) planes with not very good pilots or grumpy air crew.

4) planes that look like they haven’t been cleaned or maintained in a reasonable standard.

5) planes that insist on taking off when there is a torrential rain storm.

6) and finally, planes full of ignorant people.


Ok, I’ll say it again.  Read up on the project by the guys.  If you really want to know what it is like to get on a plane with a Muslim, you can ask Aman and Bassam…heck, they travel a lot! And if you’re interested in bringing them to your campus for a presentation about their 30 mosques in 30 days in 30 states roadtrip, contact me and I’ll be happy to facilitate a booking at no additional fee to Melibee.


Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq, 30 mosques (photo courtesy of "the guys")


  1. David says:

    I can’t say that I find anything offensive or ignorant in Juan Williams’ Muslim garb comment (keeping in mind that the definition of garb is: a distinctive style or form of clothing, or dress. ex. clerical garb, Muslim garb, Renaissance garb, etc.). Seems like an apt description to me. In fact, nothing that Williams said is indicative of ignorance or any particular phobic malady. Truth be told, the trepidation that he expresses is likely shared by some in our own community (Gasp!). To act as if any such apprehension is only born of ignorance, runs the risk of stifling needed debate (or worse) offering an ahistorical interpretation of the statement at issue.

    • Hello David. Thanks for your note. I have to disagree, respectfully, with you. I understand that he is expressing his fear of what he perceives as a symbol of the traumatic experience 9/11 (as kindly noted to me by a friend who emailed her comments), but the wording of his awareness of his fear was simply poor at best in my opinion. It was worded in a manner that implies that if you are Muslim (a religion), one should be afraid of you, and that you wear “garb” that identifies you as such. The terrorists did not wear religiously affiliated clothing on the planes on 9/11 – they wore street clothes that you would see in any American city. To imply that there is “Muslim garb” is a statement that reflects an ignorance toward the type of clothing worn by people of a certain faith, which is why I inserted the link to the site that shows how a variety of Muslims dress around the world. I also ask you to keep in mind that there continues to be ignorance toward how people dress and what it means -think of the # of Sikhs who were attacked for wearing their traditional turbans bc people thought they were Muslim. I don’t have a problem at all with anyone addressing their fears – 9/11 caused a lot of trauma indeed to so many. But I do have a problem with someone making a comment of such magnitude without careful thought on O’Reilly’s show when just last week O’Reilly stated that “Muslims killed us on 9/11.” Mr. O’Reilly needs to be corrected – TERRORISTS killed people on 9/11. There is a difference, and Mr. William’s comments did not acknowledge this. In my opinion, if fed into this misinformation that is so widely spread by the media. I specifically did not give my opinion on whether or not Mr. Williams should be fired – and per some of the other comments, there is certainly plenty of debate about this. What I am pleased about is that people are discussing the issue – and ultimately dialogue with appropriate time for reflection is what will help us all to heal. Thank you again for writing.

  2. Techjob4u says:

    I think a public apology was in order for his opinionated comments but firing him based on an opinionated comment might be a little too far. I am sure that Juan being of a dark completion has been the target of racial profiling at sometime in his life and I do not think he meant to offend others. Its great that we are sensitive of others feelings however sometimes political correctness is overboard, and most who prend to be politically correct are hate mongers behind closed doors. So with that being said I prefer someone who speak their mind! I think its all up to the person to accept or reject this mind set.
    I flew a few weeks after 911 and a well dressed man with a turban walked on to the plane. As he found his seat 90% of the plane was staring him down. I thought to myself, this poor guy he is probably a well educated, normal US citizen who has absolutely nothing to do with what just happened. No one would have looked him twice a few weeks before. Here he is today and everyone is staring him down based on his clothing. Maybe I am more accepting cause I work in the IT world and work with all types of people from Whites to Black to Asian to Muslims etc. Juan should not be fired for expressing his opinion even he came off as a racist like I said maybe an apology and some future understanding is more in order, In my opinion.

    • Greetings Techjob person! I agree that Mr. Williams did not at all intend to offend. I don’t know that anyone truly ever intends to do so. I will not comment on my personal opinion about the firing – as I stated in the posting – that is for others to decide. I do agree that Mr. Williams was attempting to share his fear, but sadly, did not think it through carefully and worded it in a rather poor way. Perhaps in time, with some reflection, Mr. Williams will agree that an apology for his poor choice of words, is appropriate. Sadly, I expect that his attorney(ies) will strongly disagree!

  3. Not going to dress like Juan says:

    Oh come on David – what if he had said he found “ghetto garb” scary – would that be considered offensive? (Yes, it would be.) It is ignorant to assume that if one is dressed in clothing that suggests you’re Muslim, that you’re inherently dangerous and should be feared. It is not being ahistorical – it’s being phobic and bigoted. I suppose we could all go around dressing like Mr. Williams to make him feel more comfortable but I think that’s a bit much to ask. If he wants dialogue then he should say something that doesn’t make the listener know that he is afraid of those who show they practice one of the major religions of the world because of some criminals who represent the smallest minority of practioners. (They were criminals in most peoples eyes, including the Muslims who lost loved ones in the attacks.)

    • Hello Not Me! Thank you also for chiming in. You make a good point about the bias of his statement -inserting nearly any stereotype into his statement would have caused outrage amongst other groups. I completely recognize that there are challenges with the trauma of 9/11, and I wrote this post out of the frustration that I feel about the continuing dehumanizing of this population. I will continue to ask anyone who challenges these points whether they have had a conversation with a Muslim about their faith and what it means to them, and whether they’ve received their news from an unbiased source. In most cases, sadly, it is no and no. And I hope that by writing my reactions to these types of incidents, people will challenge themselves to reflect on their own biases.

  4. VahideHojreh says:

    Muslims destroy every nation they enter when they finally get significant numbers. They use idiots like this Gluckmann to help do them by using the Western values of tolerance against itself. Wake up and smell the kabab. Their intolerance versus the West’s tolerance means they will continue to grow…Sharia law coming to a town near you…God help us all in 2050. In large numbers, there is no such thing as moderate Muslims…the extremist take over. The moderates fold…. I should know, my family is from Iran and I am a first generation Iranian-American. I thank God everyday that my father left Iran and came to America. But I also know well that radical Muslims will become a greater and greater threat to the West as time goes on.

    • Anonymous says:

      Please do not write insulting remarks on my blog in the future. I appreciate the dialogue, but we are here to elevate it, not name call. I grew up in a relatively tolerant nation and I continue to hope that fear of others does not drive how we behave in the US. Your parents experience in Iran was, i expect, is a very different experience from the freedoms we experience in the US, and I expect that in 2050 the core values of our nation will remain.

  5. I want to add that I did hear on the news today that Mr. Williams made several other statements that were certainly less inflammatory – and that, as usual, the media didn’t report the full story (his quotes) from the start, which is a shame. I do, however, want to emphasize that I still believe that his choice of words were poor at best and that I hope that the media will report everything that he said in the context to the quote above and offer him an opportunity to clarify what he was intended to express – hopefully, in a manner that provides for a learning opportunity for all of us. Missy, Melibee Global.

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