An Illinois landlord murdered a 6 year-old Muslim American-Palestinian Wadea Al-Fayoume on Monday, October 16 by stabbing him up to 26 times, and seriously injured his mother.
The murderer was subsequently charged with a hate crime after police and relatives said “he singled out the victims because of their faith and as a response to the war between Israel and Hamas.”
President Biden condemned this act and called against the rise of islamophobic sentiments. Biden had spent the last week encouraging Israel’s ethnic cleansing camapign in Gaza, sending out naval support to its close ally and biggest recipient of military aid.
This act comes as a consequence of the increasingly violent, inciteful, anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic discourse in mainstream Western media and political scenes, propagated not only by politicians and policymakers, but also by social media platforms.
A Discourse of Dehumanization
To examine the full extent of the issue, we have to divert our focus on to the sentiments being raised by Israeli politicians and media platforms, which have sought to dehumanizie the Palestinian people and struggle, victimize the Israeli population, and assert the narrative that Israel is acting in “its own interests and for its self-protection.”
One such sentiment emerged at the onset of the occupation’s aggressions against Gaza, when the Israeli Defense Minister stated that they’re fighting “human animals.”
Similar sentiments have spread like wildfire on social media, particularly in the United States or Europe, where people have often likened Palestinians to terrorists.
In other cases, American celebrities and social media users have often confused the images of mass destruction and genocide coming out of Gaza as images of Israelis “targetted in Hamas terror attacks.”
For example, Jamie Lee Curtis and Justin Bieber both shared images out of Gaza with the statement, “pray for Israel”. When the posts are proven to be images of Gaza rather than Israel, they are quickly taken down and substituted for others.
The sentiment they demonstrate is clear: Israelis are worthy of sympathy, but Palestinians are not. In many ways, this feeds back into the Islamophobic rhetoric which was rampant in America post-9/11.
Many have highlighted the orientalist and racist brushings that took place against Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims throughout the last ten days and likened them to the discourse propagated prior and during the Iraq invasion.
During Donald Trump’s presidency, these sentiments were at an all-time-high, demonstrated most evidently with the “Muslim Travel Ban” put into effect.
On January 27, 2017, Trump signed an executive order that banned travel to the United States for 90 days from seven predominantly Muslim countries–Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen–and suspended the resettlement of all Syrian refugees.
Various articles and studies online have argued that even after the termination of Trump’s presidency, racist sentiments are still alive and well in the United States. The onset of aggressions against Palestinians therefore provided an opportunity for people to proudly display these sentiments, thinly veiling them as support for Israel in various cases.
In another shared social media story, Instagram user @weworewhat wrote: “FYI: leaving the house today is f****** terifying as a Jew. There’s threats all over especially in nyc for a global day of jihad. As always just be aware and stay safe.”
This is in spite of copious photographic and videographic evidence of mass air raids targeting Palestinian residential areas, medical crews, ambulances and social service centers in what are clear violations of international humanitarian law.
This discourse not only seeks to dehumanize the Palestinian people and their fight for freedom, but also serves to distract away from the mass atrocities being committed by Israel on the hour.
Just three days ago, Israel stated that it had dropped over 6,000 bombs on Gaza in an attempt to eradicate Hamas officials and destroy their infrastructure.
But under this thinly veid excuse for genocide, around three thousand civilians have perished, half of which are children. To further contextualize this statistic, that means around 14 individuals every hour.
The killing of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume can be directly connected to the state of impunity that anti-Palestinian actions enjoy.
Turning the conflict into one of religion is exactly what many pro-Palestinian supporters try to challenge, offering facts, statistics, and evidence to what the reality of the situation truly is.
What proponents of these hateful sentiments refuse to acknowledge is that they are not defending “Israel’s right to exist and fight against terror”, rather, they are encouraging ethnically cleansing a whole people.
Palestinians come from different religious backgrounds and many Jews support the Palestinian people in light of the ongoing genocide, refusing to let such actions be attributed to Judaism.
What history has repeatedly shown us is that rhetoric has an important role to play and is at the core of societal power dynamics which dehumanizes some and grants a seeming aura of impunity to others.