Levi Meir Clancy
Between Erbil, Jerusalem, and America.

How the United States manufactures its islamophobia

A depiction of Iraq at a war memorial in the United States. Photo by the author.

Wadea Al-Fayoume, a Palestinian Arab boy killed by his landlord, is the first American to be killed in a hate crime connected to the current Arab-Jewish conflict.

Will County investigators stated that Joseph Czuba stabbed six year old Wadea Al-Fayoume more than twenty six times. Also, Joseph stabbed Wadea’s mother Hanaan Shahin more than a dozen times. She barely survived.

Wadea was the third person overall to be killed in any hate crime related to what is happening right now, following the murder of two Israeli Jews who were visiting Egypt.

Joseph was incited to violence by what he was seeing on the news.

Patterns of stochastic terrorism against American Muslims reveal that a lot of islamophobic messaging is promoted not only by the news, but by politicians and other authoritative figures, as well.

The top-down style of islamophobia in the United States is different than the bottom-up violence against Jewish people and LGBTQ people, which is largely drive by “grassroots” extremism as well as government inaction. (In contrast, anti-Black violence comes from multiple angles.)

The screenshot below shows one of the top results for “Muslims” on Truth Social. It expresses islamophobic paranoia about Muslims posing something like a civic or political threat — at best, it alleges that Muslims are different and incompatible, and at worst, it alleges that Muslims inferior or evil.

Screenshot of a post alleging that Muslims are inherently anti-American.

This type of hate speech is deeply rooted in messages from American politicians about Islamic extremism. White nationalists and other racists then project these messages onto all Muslims.

When September 11 happened, I was only ten years old, but because I was already in college, I was in an “adult environment” that exposed me to the islamophobia that was sweeping across the country.

One of my clearest childhood memories was my Spanish teacher telling us that the United States should turn Iraq into “glass” and that there was “nothing but sand there” anyhow.

Even eleven year old me know that something was seriously wrong. It was a shocking experience, but I was not old or informed enough to understand why. In retrospect, I think to myself about how unsafe my Muslim classmates must have felt, as they would have known exactly what this professor meant.

That was not the beginning of islamophobia in the United States, though. It was already deeply  embedded long before September 11.

Another one of my early memories is from when I was nine years old. I remember going to see The Rules of Engagement in the movie theater. There was an extremely violent scene of Muslim civilians being massacred. The scene itself upset me, but what stunned me even more was the indifference of the audience.

The questions that these two memories planted in my mind have influenced my life ever since.

The American brand of islamophobia is powerfully manufactured by cultural, civic, industrial, governmental, and military authorities.

Islamophobia is potently traded for views, votes, and valor by politicians and popular media. Movies, shows, news channels, elected politicians, political candidates, and appointed officials have all done this.

This same phenomenon applies in different ways to other forms of hatred, as well. There are politicians building their entire careers on anti-LGBTQ views; the Supreme Court overturned Roe V Wade; antisemitic conspiracy theories are purveyed by authorities and laypeople alike; and there are high-ranking officials trying, regardless of popular criticism, to increase funding for violent, failed, anti-Black policing and incarceration.

However, what distinguishes islamophobia, in my opinion, is how unanimous, specific, and unvarnished the message is from authorities: “Islam is a threat. Muslims are a threat.” There is no obfuscation.

Joseph Czuba was incited to violence by these signals.

He was watching reports from people he trusted, specifically from news anchors and elected politicians within his carefully curated bubble of right-wing extremism.

One of the most dangerous messages has been from White people trying to compare  the Jewish experience of the Simchat Torah massacre to the American experience of September 11.

First of all, the population dynamics and power dynamics are fundamentally different. White, Christian Americans governing the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world, covering an area 400 times larger than the State of Israel, are simply not “the Jews” in any way whatsoever.

Suggesting that the Simchat Torah massacre and September 11 are comparable is only effective if someone accepts White supremacist paranoias about White genocide and White victimhood.

Second of all, the United States’ response to September 11 was extraordinarily harmful. Overseas, the government chose extraordinary violence, and never followed through with an equally extraordinary commitment to support and reconstruction. Domestically, the government launched a regime of mass surveillance and illegal assumption of guilt against Muslim communities, while dangerous White nationalist groups accelerated recruitment and armament.

That selectivity sent the message that prejudice against Muslims was tolerated or even justified.

Within that context, Joseph Czuba went to kill his Palestinian Arab tenants.

This reminds me a lot of the recent case of Travis Ikeguchi, who killed a woman displaying an LGBTQ flag at her business. That killing came at a time of heightened anti-LGBTQ rhetoric by politicians. Both Joseph Czuba and Travis Ikeguchi were directed by signals from authorities, specifically from media figures they respected as well as some politicians.

Stochastic terrorism against Muslims in the United States centers around portraying Muslims as threatening.

The murder of Wadea is a Al-Fayoume is a call-and-response type of dialogue with stochastic terrorism.

Hate crimes are message crimes.

Sometimes, a perpetrator publishes a manifesto with a clear “thesis” to be reported in the news. Other times, as with Joseph Czuba, a perpetrator does their “messaging” with the act itself.

Hate crimes are contextually aware.

In unpremeditated cases, the perpetrators try to gain support from enablers in the court system by leaning into well-known prejudices. An example of this was how the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery tried to claim that his Black presence was threatening.

Premeditated hate crimes are different. Rather than just taking advantage of prejudices to the perpetrator’s advantage, they are often designed to generate a carefully engineered shockwave of specific headlines, ledes, and sound bites.

With that in mind, when looking at a hate crime, it can be helpful to look at search results — not in spite of their subjectivity, but because of their subjective attributes, which give an insight into the broader context in which a hate crime occurred.

Screenshot of a headline about Trump’s islamophobia.

At best, leaders like Obama have minimized the civilian toll of war actions such as air strikes. At worst, leaders like Trump have maximized the sense of a Christian-vs-Muslim or White-vs-Arab holy war.

The type of language used by Trump and other United States presidents places official and unofficial targets on Muslims. We see policies around surveillance, incarceration, and immigration reflect broader paranoias. In addition, White extremists claim they need to “punch back” against the day-to-day Muslims they view as forerunners of a broader threat to come.

Interestingly, antisemitic violence expresses a very different ideology than islamophobia.

Antisemitic violence is consistently framed by its perpetrators as revolutionary or liberationist, i.e. as “punching up” against supposed Jewish power or Jewish conspiracy.

For example, when Malik Akram held up Congregation Beth Israel in the United States, he did so out of a genuine belief that a random rabbi could get his relative out of jail.

Comparing the hate crimes of Malik Akram and Joseph Czuba, the former believed that he was “punching up” against power like a downtrodden victim, while the latter believed that he was “punching back” against a nearby threat like a paranoid vigilante.

Other ancient hates have their own defining characteristics.

Misogynistic violence also “punches down” — but for other reasons, normally centered around reproduction, nostalgia, and coercion. Femicide is a good example of this: the killing of women to send a message about the stakes of gender nonconformity, especially over issues of consent, reputation, or custody. This reflects paranoias about a threat to dominance, not any real physical threat. (To obfuscate that, fear mongering about abortion seeks to assert that women really do pose a physical treat, i.e. to the fetus.)

Anti-Black hate also “punches down” — enslavement and incarceration express this in institutional paradigms. The key theme of anti-Black hate is spatial and economic hierarchy, with a wealthy White community at one end and slave quarters, unequal neighborhoods, or prison barracks on the other end — reflecting racist paranoias about morality and social order.

Anti-LGBTQ violence centers around pathologizing queerness. From there, LGBTQ identity is reframed as “perversion” or “predation” or “illness” — terms that are unique to anti-LGBTQ hate. In some ways, it may seem like a distinction without a difference — i.e., hate is hate, so why focus on details? The answer is simple: hate must be taught. If we understand how hate is being taught, the we can understand how to un-teach it, as well.

By comparing and contrasting these forms of hate, we see that perpetrators of islamophobic violence almost always view themselves as “punching back” and that this is generally done opportunistically.

Joseph Czuba chose particularly defenseless victims — that expresses an almost hawkish way of thinking, of strategically choosing people over whom he could express power for power’s sake.

Screenshot of search results about Joseph Czuba.

There is resonance between Joseph Czuba’s choice of victims and Anders Behring Breivik’s decision to target unarmed youth on an isolated island. There is also the example of Brenton Tarrant, who committed the Christchurch mosque shootings against deliberately “soft” targets.

Those parallels are not just some coincidence. They are, in fact, expressing a defining characteristic of islamophobia.

In my opinion, this has a direction connection to military practice in itself, whether on the ground in Iraq or from the air in Pakistan.

In contrast to Brenton’s islamophobic massacre, the antisemitic hostage crisis at the Colleyville synagogue was committed by someone with more of a “speaking truth to power” narrative.

Looking again to search results to summarize popular narratives around Malik Akram,

Screenshot of search results about synagogue hostage-taker Malik Akram.

Malik’s thinking has obvious resonance with the thinking of Grafton Thomas, who committed the Hanuka stabbing.

Before the Ḥanuka stabbing, Grafton Thomas specifically searched for answers about “Why did Hitler hate Jews” and “Prominent companies founded by Jews”, leading into searches about “German Jewish Temples” and “Zionist Temples” for him to attack — clearly expressing his delusion that he was rising up in opposition to perceived Jewish power.

Screenshot of an article about the Ḥanuka stabbing in Monsey.

In islamophobic violence, on the other hand, there is no notion of “punching up” to emancipate White and Christian society from a Muslim cabal, but rather of supposedly “punching back” in a kind of civilizational struggle against an equal or lesser enemy.

However, regardless of the type of hate — antisemitic, islamophobic, misogynistic, anti-Black, or anti-LGBTQ — one type of hate has more in common with any other type of hate, than it does with any type of tolerance.

That is why extremists tend to form bonds with other extremists, with perceived tolerance against one or another marginalized group being the most likely potential sticking point between them.

I hope that the world does not get into World War III.

Many of the threats against Muslim Americans are exemplified by the stabbing of Wadea Al-Fayoume and his mother, Hanan Shaheen. Also, there is so much islamophobia embedded in the United States’ media and policies that any sort of American war effort will surely lead to more islamophobic attacks.

There are also events that exemplify the mounting threats against Jewish Americans. When I reflect on the Jewish people who were shot dead in Egypt, and the many countries such as Iraq and Yemen that are doubling down on their extermination policies towards Jewish life, I feel destabilized. It is stunning to see these events mostly ignored or otherwise tolerated by the international community, less than a century after the Holocaust. That is a warning sign of what can happen anywhere in the diaspora, including the United States.

It is worth emphasizing the following.

Check on your Jewish friends today.

Check on your Palestinian Arab friends today.

They are not okay.

Being indifferent to our grief means being indifferent to our lives.

About the Author
Levi Meir Clancy lives in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan Region in Iraq, and is the founder of Foundation of Ours, which supports Jewish expression in the Kurdistan Region, and provides platforms for reconciliation and coexistence between all communities. He was born in Venice, California and moved to the KRI in 2014, after which he became involved in cultural, social, and religious affairs in addition to his work as a software developer, photographer, and videographer.
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