Islamophobia Kills. Protect Your Neighbors

It was a matter of time before someone listened to the politicians and media figures dehumanizing Palestinians and took action. The victim was a six-year old boy 

Islamophobia Kills. Protect Your Neighbors
Sam Thielman

Edited by Sam Thielman

FOLLOWING A WEEK of extreme dehumanization of Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims, which built upon a generation's worth of such messaging throughout the War on Terror, an Illinois man on Saturday murdered a six-year old boy and put the boy's mother in the hospital. 

Wadea al-Fayoume will never grow up. The man who murdered him did so intimately—not with a gun, but with an unspeakable 26 stab wounds from what reports called a military-style knife. According to Ahmed Rehab, the president of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the killer stated during his attack, "You Muslims must die."

Wadea's mother was from the West Bank. The local ABC affiliate reported that she came to America "in hopes of avoiding the violence that continues today overseas." In other words, she sought the basic American promise, the hope for refuge that I consider the best thing about America, the declaration of purpose inscribed on a statue in New York Harbor. 

Instead, she got the vigilante promise of the War on Terror. It took her son from her. 

She and Wadea got what Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha got in 2015. They got what Ahmed Sharif got—thankfully Sharif was not killed—during the manufactured outrage around the "Ground Zero Mosque.” 

According to FBI hate crimes statistics, which admittedly leave a lot to be desired, over the past 10 years more anti-Islamic incidents (1927) took place at a "residence/home" (351) than at a "highway/alley/street/sidewalk" (263) or a place of worship (249). That shows us how deliberate and premeditated Islamophobic violence in this country is. Assailants victimize Muslims in their homes, which also suggests that a great many of them know their victims. 

The slaying of Wadea is so recent that what we don't know about it surely overwhelms what we do. His killer will have his day in court. But thus far the aspect of this case that chilled me most is something Rehab told reporters on Sunday. Rehab, relating an account from Wadea's father, Oday, said the man accused of killing Wadea had earlier "built a treehouse for the boy, and allowed him to swim in a makeshift pool and brought him toys." Oday gave a similar account to my former Daily Beast colleague Noor Ibrahim.

Very soon after Wadea's murder, Will County Sheriff's Office said detectives were able to determine he and his mother were "targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the on-going Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis." CAIR cited texts from Wadea's mother from her hospital bed indicating her assailant "had been angry with what he was seeing in the news."

The orgy of dehumanization of Muslims/Arabs/Palestinians, the ease with which people in positions of responsibility have converted grief and outrage over an unbearable number of Israeli deaths into bloodthirst for the destruction of Gaza, killed Wadea. This is where Islamophobia leads. It leads to the exact same place antisemitism leads. The place where the killers, who take seriously the messages their leaders send, believe they must become instruments of righteous vengeance. 

President Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland have said the right things about Wadea's murder. But the Biden administration has extended carte blanche to Israel during its reprisal against not simply Hamas but all of Gaza, and as a result, at least 724 Palestinian children are already dead, each one as precious as every Israeli child killed by Hamas. As my Nation colleague Jack Mirkinson writes, the administration is licensing that scaled violence.

Documented has a piece this morning about fears among Muslim New Yorkers of intensified law enforcement and vigilante repression. Beyond New York, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Community is getting reports of "Palestinian nationals detained by ICE, and/or visited by the FBI. The FBI has also visited multiple mosques today, in different states, as well as Arab inmates." That is nothing more than a reversion to form.   

This time, the repression and the violence is wrapped in the pretext of protecting Jews like me, who need no protection—Gaza needs protection; a protection that will save Israeli lives as well—and so we ought to take the lead in denouncing a bigotry that those of us who know our history cannot help but recognize. Two years ago, I interviewed the Brooklyn Muslim community activist Bobby Khan about his experiences resisting the post-9/11 roundups and police surveillance. "We expected some voice to support us," he told me. "We did not see solidarity here." 

Will our Muslim neighbors see solidarity this time? Will that be our legacy? Or will silence—our complicity—be our legacy? 

READ Abeer Ayoub in al-Monitor reporting the voices of Gazans trying to flee the Israeli assault while inevitably hearing echoes of the 1948 Nakba. Also read Jack's piece on American complicity in what the Holocaust scholar Raz Segal writes in Jewish Currents is "A Textbook Case of Genocide." Segal's piece is short, but if you're like me, you'll grapple with it long after you close the tab. 

You can also hear me talk about my Nation piece with my friend and Nation colleague Jeet Heer on Jeet's podcast The Time of Monsters. We recorded it on Wednesday, as the power went out in Gaza. I get a little emotional. You'll probably hear that in some forthcoming podcast appearances of mine.