The Defenders of Free Speech

I am so thrilled to hear that Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich are going to come out against the irrational firing of CNN Journalist Octavia Nasr. Octavia was fired in July of this year after a two line tweet in which she said she was sad to hear about the passing of Ayatollah Fadallah. Those who called for Nasr’s head blasted the journalist for praising the unofficial spiritual head of Hezbollah, but failed to realize that the contrarian cleric was also an outspoken supporter of women’s rights and represented a moderate strain of Shia Islam. Many analysts pointed out that Nasr’s two-line tweet was nothing in comparison to the sycophantic eulogy issued by U.S. ally Nour Al-Maliki, but apparently it was enough for her to lose her job.

This brings me back to how excited I am about Sarah Palin’s and Newt Gingrech’s stance on freedom of speech, and how outrageous it is for journalists to be fired for sharing their views on a subject. Sarah and Newt have apparently become defenders of freedom of speech, as indicated by their defense of Juan William’s Islamophobic commentary, words which eventually led to his sacking and the end of a long career at NPR. Oh wait, it turns out that Newt and Sarah never said a word in defense of Octavia. Apparently for them you have to be bashing Muslims, not praising them, in order for your freedom of speech to be defended. My bad.

And I love how Juan claims that he is not a bigot. In an interview with Bill O’Reilly, he discussed how he is not a bigot even though he lumps all Muslims in with the handful of people who committed the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

“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,” Williams replied. “But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

First of all, I would love to get a more detailed explanation of this “Muslim Garb.” For all we know, Williams is getting nervous when a young Muslim woman, wearing a chic Spanish-style hijab and rocking a Gucci purse sits next to him on the airplane. Or maybe he is quaking when a businessman from Doha, wearing a sharply starched white galibiya, gets up to use the restroom on the 15 hour flight from Qatar to DC. Second of all, when you smear an entire group of people with the actions of a few individuals, that’s bigotry. I don’t understand why this word seems to lose all meaning in the context of growing Islamophobia in the United States.

I don’t think Juan should have been fired for his bigoted comments, just as I don’t think that Octavia should have lost her job for marking the passing of a significant historical figure. I wish Newt and Sarah would be as consistent with their views. By choosing to only defend Williams, they make it clear that they aren’t about protecting freedom of speech, but rather defending freedom to irrationally fear.

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