More than a thousand people attend a vigil remembering Wadea Al-Fayoume on October 17, three days after the six-year-old Palestinian American boy was stabbed to death in Plainfield, Ill. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
I attended the Janazah and burial of Wadea Al-Fayoume on October 16. In the first weeks of Israel’s assault on Gaza, the six-year old Palestinian American boy, from a suburb of Chicago, was stabbed 26 times by his family’s landlord in a hate crime.
The United States is currently awash in rhetoric justifying Muslim and Arab deaths. Joseph Czuba, 71, the landlord charged with killing Wadea and gravely injuring his mother, was on the receiving end of that rhetoric.
Czuba was reportedly an avid listener of conservative talk radio. According to Czuba’s wife, he’d grown irate over supposed plans for a “national day of jihad,” a mistranslated call for mass protests that was weaponized by rightwing media to cause panic.
While the overwhelming support for Israel — from Republicans and Democrats — makes for an increasingly rare point of consensus, the Right is using this moment for its own scaremongering agenda. That includes vilifying Muslims and tearing apart the Left through a new red scare.
“Terrorist” was already a favorite jeer to discredit the Left, right up there with “socialist.” Far-right Republicans, like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, have repeatedly charged that left movements like Black Lives Matter are terrorist groups. Occupy Wall Street demonstrations were monitored by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Donald Trump sought to declare anti-fascist groups as terrorists, too.
Christopher Rufo is seizing the chance to further that association. He’s perhaps the chief crusader against critical race theory and now an advisor to 2024 presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.). Days into Israel’s incursion on Gaza, Rufo called for the Right to “create a strong association between Hamas, BLM, DSA and academic ‘decolonization’ in the public mind” to “make them political untouchables.” It’s hard to imagine a clearer or more cynical expansion of the Right’s strategy.
Leading Republicans followed Rufo’s advice. Greene declared progressive Democrats “the Hamas Caucus.” DeSantis called pro-Palestinian protesters “part of this Hamas movement” and threatened to revoke the visas of foreign exchange students who joined the cause. He also pushed Florida universities to “deactivate” chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine — a major hub of left activism which shaped students like me across the United States.
Workers have been fired or forced to resign for expressing support for Palestine. Law students have lost job offers. Students and activists have been harassed, with billboard trucks featuring their faces and names circling their campuses and places of work. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the sole Palestinian American representative in Congress, was censured for speaking out on behalf of Palestine after Republicans falsely charged she’d issued a “call to violence.” Rep. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) called for banning TikTok, charging the app was making young people “support pro-genocide Hamas.”
What we’re seeing is not only the manufacture of consent for genocide against Palestinians, but an attempt to stifle the Left — particularly, the Muslim Left — globally. Germany and France have banned pro-Palestine demonstrations entirely.
When Wadea’s tiny casket was transported to the burial site, so many people came to pay respects that police had to close off the road in front of the cemetery. What I saw in the crowd were people not only devastated, but angry and ready to fight — against oppression, occupation, an unrelentingly brutal siege.
For many Muslims, after 9/11, being politically vocal meant being labeled a terrorist and subjected to surveillance, or worse. Now, imams and shuyukh are defiantly calling Muslims into the streets. In the Right’s fearmongering, they see fear — proof their voices are prevailing.
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Nashwa Bawab is Assistant Editor at In These Times. She is an organizer and reporter with bylines in The Intercept, Electronic Intifada, Texas Monthly, The Texas Observer and more.