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Flippant Comment Upsets Local Muslim Community

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The comment on Fox News on Monday lasted all of ten seconds.

“When I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb, and if I think they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried,” said Juan Williams. “I get nervous.”

Immediately afterwards, the NPR news analyst said he is not a bigot and not all Muslims are terrorists, but the damage was done.

“Comments and things that people say,” warned Rugiato Conteh, Outreach Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Philadelphia, “they increase Islamaphobia. They increase hatred against Muslims. They increase hate crimes.”

NPR fired Williams for his comments on Wednesday.

“If you want to be a political analyst, you may not also be a reporter or news analyst for NPR,” said CEO Vivian Schiller.

Fox News then hired him, but said a reporter involved in the Civil Rights movement should have known better.

“I did not plan the terrorist attacks on 9/11,” said Conteh, “so why are people associating me with the people who did?”

Many Muslims who attend prayer services at Masjid al-Jamia of Philadelphia said they get along great with the surrounding community, but comments like Juan Williams’ let them know they still have to contend with discrimination.

“If I am flying, I do see people get nervous and that bothers me as an American, as a Muslim,” Conteh said. “It really bothers me that people would be suspicious.”

“I’m sure a lot of it goes back to people freaking out about Muslims in 9/11,” pointed out Jason McKenna, “but the truth is a lot of Muslims died in 9/11.”

Some said Williams had a right to make the comments, but chose the wrong place, and maybe the wrong profession to make them.

“It is inappropriate,” said Kitty Fung, “but it is freedom of speech. He has the right to say what he wants. If that’s how he feels, that’s how he feels. But it’s definitely not right.”

Williams comments about flying with Muslims come just before the Hajj season, when many Muslims will get on airplanes for their pilgrimage to Mecca.

Reported By: Oren Liebermann, CBS 3

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