ISHOULD have been gleeful when NPR fired Juan Williams.

He not only insulted me personally by taking a verbal swipe at the cultural attire worn by Muslims when he admitted that he "gets nervous and worried" when he's "on a plane with people who are wearing Islamic garb," but he also offended millions of other Muslims like me who pray five times daily to Allah.

Shame on him for stoking the flames of fear that continue to spread throughout the Western world against Muslims who aren't responsible for the horrendous acts of terrorism committed by a few fanatics.

But, instead of being happy about his ouster, I was incensed by NPR's hasty action - especially in light of the fact that Williams spoke as a commentator who's paid for his opinions, and not as a reporter who is supposed to present balanced journalism.

So, yes, I was personally offended by the content of Williams' comments, but not by the larger context. He said only what, unfortunately, many Americans also believe - that all Muslims are potential terrorists.

For some, the all-too-quick question was how dare he break all the rules of journalism and speak from his heart and not his head? But to pretend that people don't hold these fears is even more wrong.

Unfortunately, NPR missed a big fat opportunity to address a poisonous plague that's pervasive throughout this country - that of bigotry and intolerance.

And, worst of all, NPR missed a prime opportunity to use Williams' political gaffe as a teachable moment for the entire country.

Instead, the network lost the thoughtful contributions of a valuable journalist who brought a rare blend of diversity to their mostly lily-white airwaves.

I've never really believed that NPR is as liberal as some of its fiercest critics say it is. I'm an avid listener of public radio, yet it always leaves me hungry for more diverse voices, even when I agree with it.

Williams' politically incorrect slip of the tongue was consistent with the fact that many Americans really are afraid of Muslims, thanks to the Islamic fundamentalists who continue to shield their diabolical acts behind false propaganda.

But the truth of the matter is, those jihadists who blow up people and places don't represent the world's 1 billion Muslims any more than Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and his like-minded cohorts represented Christians or the U.S. Army when they blew up the federal building in 1995.

It's wrong to look at every Muslim with fear because of the acts of a few. And I believe that if Williams had been allowed to continue his train of thought on NPR, he would have recognized how wrong his fears were.

Instead, NPR brass dumped him from their airwaves before even giving him an opportunity to explain himself. And, in the end, the network lost him to Fox.

But the fact that NPR fired Williams for thinking outside their well-insulated box shows that they too aren't really open to other points of view - while losing a golden opportunity for further dialogue about the wrongness of prejudice and racial profiling. In reality, the public-broadcasting network has shown us that they really aren't the tolerant liberals that a huge swath of their audience believes them to be.

The truth is, the horrific deeds that fundamentalists commit do not represent Islam. Williams actually did us all a favor by being so brutally honest about his own tendencies toward racial profiling.

Bigotry is rampant throughout this country, and we can't just avoid talking about it by quickly changing the subject and pretending that these sentiments have no place in public debate.

NPR's firing of Williams won't make these realities disappear, and the problems of religious and racial profiling is a conversation that America needs to have. It's irresponsible to avoid having it just because it's uncomfortable.

Daring to be honest about his own prejudice was a decidedly brave move on Williams' part.

NPR should have seized the moment to launch an important dialogue about diversity.

Racism and bigotry will never go away just because we wish that they didn't exist.

Fatimah Ali is a regular contributor. E-mail her at fameworksmedia@yahoo.com.