Yes, I know it’s hard to enlighten Bill O’Reilly. Especially when he manages to offend millions of people with one statement. But there is something to be said for standing ground. It is difficult to change someone’s viewpoint in an aggressive arena; but it is impossible to change someone’s viewpoint when you’re outside of the arena completely.
Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg, who recently hosted Bill O’Reilly on their talk show, The View, walked off the stage in protest to O’Reilly’s ignorant comment, “Muslims killed us on 9/11,” which came about in a heated debate about the proposed Islamic center in downtown Manhattan. They both returned after an apology from O’Reilly, Behar taking a seat at the edge of the couch instead of her original seat directly next to O’Reilly.
Let’s be straightforward. The comment was offensive, probably one of the most blatant accusations against Muslims as a generalized group I’ve heard in a long time. It shocked me as much as it shocked me when, on September 12, 2001, the boy that sat in front of me everyday in middle school English class, with whom I joked around, asked me if I was an Afghani spy. (I said yes; his reaction was, I must admit, hilarious.)
Joy and Whoopi, I know it’s infuriating. Sometimes it’s better to walk away from an intense debate, when you know the debate is, essentially, futile. But an intense debate on national television, on a show called “The View,” with millions of Americans watching (63% of whom know little to nothing about Islam, according to a recent Gallup World Religion survey), is not one of those debates. This is a debate worth having.
As millions of moms say to their frustrated 2-yr-olds who can’t quite create complete thoughts yet, “Use your words.”
When people disagree, it’s not necessary that they should stop talking about the issue. Most people understand this, but it is hard to carry out when you’re involved in something that you care about. Jon Stewart expresses his frustration with people’s inability to disagree without villifying their opponents with one of the signs he made for his Rally to Restore Sanity that states “I disagree with you but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.”
It’s very easy for anyone, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, to “Hitler-ize” someone by refusing to even discuss a disagreement with them. We should be able to speak to anyone who is not Hitler. And Bill O’Reilly is not Hitler. And yes, that is the extent to which I will defend him.
Our fight is against extremism, not otherness. If extremist Republicans bombed New York tomorrow, would we stop dialogue with all Republicans? No. Just as we don’t want to categorize and stereotype all Muslims, we don’t want to categorize and stereotype people on the other side. They may not be extremists; they may just be moderates with a different opinion. So let’s try to stay in our seats and listen to Barbara Walters.