Juan Williams has become a victim of the crossfire of a war within Islam, a war among extremists and moderates that is not going well right now for the latter group.
NPR's sudden dismissal of Williams, for his daring to confess to some jitteriness around Muslims who seem foreign, has given Fox News a chance to crow about being the more tolerant media outlet. It's an odd exclamation mark on an extended season of Islamophobia in America.
As an American of Muslim background, I don't feel Williams' candor merited a dismissal, and I don't think NPR helped either its brand or the cause of religious tolerance.
Islamophobia, in one sense, is much like bigotry aimed in the past at Irish and Italians and countless other groups who eventually were integrated nicely into American society, with one key difference: None of those groups had a visible subgroup that claimed to speak for the larger group and which threatened to destroy America and the larger West.
None of those groups had a Faisal Shahzad, threatening to destroy the United States, or a Nidal Malik Hasan, turning on America's own soldiers at Ft. Hood.
In one sense, the closest analogy would be to Japanese-Americans during World War II, who were suspected of loyalty to a motherland that was waging war against the United States. And we know the result wasn't pretty.
This adds urgency to the need for progressive Muslim-Americans to push back against extremists. Groups such as CAIR spend a great deal of time claiming that any discrimination against Muslims is unwarranted. But they could spend a little more time discriminating against the fundamentalists who quietly support the murderous nihilism of the violent extremists.
This battle among Muslim progressives and Muslim "fundos," to use the Pakistani term, is a family affair at heart. I've argued to progressive Muslims that the battle needs to be fought within families, beginning with simple candor on the part of progressives.
Progressives tend to sit quietly at the dinner table when their fundo-fanatic uncle or mother rages about the evils of the West. Then, the progressives may go out to a bar and lead secret lives away from the fundos. The simple truth is that the progressives' self-serving silence has emboldened the fundos to believe that there is a fundo consensus within their own communities, whether they be in Michigan, England or Pakistan -- a fundo consensus that blurs the line between sharia and secular democracy, between ordinary political grievances and violent struggle.
If these fundamentalists realized that there is no consensus even within their own families, they would realize how far they are from imposing their will on the rest of humanity.
But progressives and moderates are shy about this. Most fear the drama that can result. And, since many Muslims hail from shame-bound cultures, they feel special guilt about causing family rifts by revealing their secret open-mindedness.
When I gave a talk about this last summer at a largely Pakistani-American gathering in Washington DC, a well-dressed young man rebutted me. "Confronting our family members is easier said than done for most of us. I don't think it's going to happen. The better way to fight extremism is to offer a pluralistic, progressive education to young people in Pakistan."
I responded that we can't always offer a progressive education in Alabama or Texas, given creationist lobbies here. How then can we count on Pakistanis to offer a progressive education in their own land? Besides, the Najibullah Zaziwon't be affected by future educational approaches in that part of the world.
Time may be running out for moderate Muslim-Americans to avoid the sort of fate that befell so many Japanese-Americans during World War II. Another major attack on American soil may spur ordinary Americans (and especially their opportunistic politicians) to act like cornered animals.
For moderate Muslims, their own way of life is threatened by the extremists in their camp. As such, a bolder and more radical centrism is necessary in response. This is not the time to be timid.