CHICAGO (CBS) — Before a Palestinian boy was murdered in Plainfield over the weekend, Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities warned about a rise in hate rhetoric and its impact in response to the war between Israel and Hamas. Then, their worst fear happened.
Prosecutors said Joseph Czuba, 71, stabbed 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume 26 times in an attack targeting him and his mother, 32-year-old Hanaan Shahin, because of their religion and nationality. Wadea was laid to rest Monday, and Shahin is in the hospital recovering.
The hate crime sent shockwaves in the Chicagoland community – both because of its gruesomeness and also it underscored many of the fears residents had already been living with.
“The incident in Plainfield is both continuation but intensification of anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab racist acts that have been invisibilized,” said Nadine Naber, a professor of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) who’s also the founder of the university’s Arab American Cultural Center. “Most people don’t know these incidents are going on every day in Chicagoland.”
The racist rhetoric is intensified, she said, because of how the discussion of Palestine and Israel is framed by politicians and in news media.
“This did not have to be this way,” she added. “It was a choice made over the last eight to nine days, by political leadership and members of the press, to give Israel a complete unaccountable monopoly over the narrative and the framework of what’s happening in the region.”
Businesses on the city’s southwest side are concerned about retaliation given the events, and students at UIC said they are not coming to class over similar fears.
“I opened my email when I woke up this morning and a Palestinian student told me, ‘I won’t be coming to class today because my parents are scared for my life and want me to stay home,'” said Naber, who earlier this year co-authoredthat found Arab Americans across Chicagoland experience widespread discrimination in everyday life.
In part, the study found government agencies and organizations “are failing to meet the needs of Arab Americans,” in which there are more than 100,000 living in Chicagoland alone.
Some residents have also expressed concerns to Illinois State Representative Abdel Nasser Rashid (D-24).
“I had a Facebook message this morning from a woman whose neighbor asked her husband if he supports terrorism and she’s now worried about what she has to do to protect her family,” Rashid said.
“That atmosphere that has been created over the last week has now spilled right into our backyard, into our homes, with this killing of the 6-year-old boy.”
Naber added the exclusion of specific language, including Al-Fayoume’s full identity, exacerbates and also minimizes the impact on him and the broader community.
“I’m concerned that the dominant media is discussing it as an anti-Muslim hate crime. The correct explanation is that it is an anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim hate crime,” Naber said. “This is more than an act of hate. It’s an act of war in Chicago. Our community’s in a state of grief, loss, mourning as well as despair.”