Patterns Of Violence And The Racialised Logic Of Gaza

President Biden has alienated the Muslim community through statements that seem to minimise Palestinian deaths, and his support for the crackdown on students and organisers who speak out against genocide

Patterns Of Violence And The Racialised Logic Of Gaza

The deployment of total violence targeting Gaza as part of a brutal killing campaign and genocide against Palestinians has been accompanied by a rise in Islamophobic and other forms of racialised violence in the United States and the West. The broad-based attempt to silence pro-Palestinian voices and its allies through a myriad of tactics and strategies has been referred to as a new era of McCarthyism.

Evoking imagery of the post-9/11 environment, terms such as "terrorist," "Islamic militants," "radical extremists," and "Jihadis" have become commonplace. Scholars such as Sohail Daulatzai and Junaid Raza have argued that anti-Islam racism was made part of the foundations of settler colonial and white supremacist history in the United States due to the conflation of religious difference with racial ideas by its founders, thus making it a twin of antiblack racism. It is this framing of Muslims beyond a religious category that points to a more foundational racial calculus that allows for the dehumanisation of Muslims in the United States and allows for the genocide of Palestinians and Muslims abroad. 

In a recent statement by the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Philadelphia director Ibrahim Hooper argued that Islamophobia and its accompanying effects are rooted in dehumanisation. The growing environment of Islamophobia has been attributed to the proliferation of far-right media outlets, organisations, and politicians. In October, a 71-year-old landlord armed with this far-right messaging around Islam confronted Hanaan Shahin, killing her 6-year-old Palestinian American son, Wadea Al-Fayoume. Shahin would end up in the hospital. Later, the mother would explain that she had told the man that she prayed for peace in the conflict before he attacked her and her son.

This attack in Chicago coincided with a speech by former American president Donald J. Trump, promising  Iowa voters to expand the "Muslim Ban" through "strong ideological screening" of migrants. Since then, the string of targeted killings, shootings, and vandalism has continued, with the most recent being the killing of Imam Hassan Sharif outside of a local masjid in Newark, New Jersey.

The Biden administration has made efforts to balance relations with the Muslim and Jewish communities through condemnations of both antisemitism and Islamophobia. However, President Biden has alienated the Muslim community through statements that seem to minimise Palestinian deaths as well as his support for the crackdown on students and organisers who speak out against genocide.

The Biden Administration further distanced themselves from the Council of American Islamic Relations following CAIR co-founder and national executive director Nihad Awad’s speech at its 16th Annual Convention for Palestine in Chicago in November after it was portrayed as supporting violence against Israelis. It is another example of how the Biden administration has further pushed the Muslim community to the margins in the US.

Countless reports and statements continue to emerge, documenting the criminalisation and silencing of pro-Palestinian advocates. This is seen through people losing their jobs, being threatened with dismissal, and the blacklisting of those supporting Palestinian liberation is becoming a norm in the current environment. The crackdown on university campuses against Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) through expulsions, doxxing of student information, criminal actions, bans, and suspension of these groups across the United States.

The Anti-Defamation League has been at the center of legal actions targeting grassroots organisations, students, and organisers supporting Muslim and Palestinian rights. As part of a strategic effort to reframe longstanding definitions related to antisemitism and terrorism, foundational anti-colonial slogans such as "from the river to the sea...Palestine will be free" and “Intifada” are being criminalised.

The resignations of the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn amid growing pressure to crackdown on Palestinian students has come at a great cost. As a bipartisan effort, the House passed the  H.R. 894, that equates anti-Zionism to antisemitism. In the congressional hearings, there was a clear reflection of how the goalposts for free speech and hate are being pushed further to the right. When Harvard President Claudine Gay, despite her background as an academic and work toward providing a multicultural environment at Harvard, refused to push back on the notion that the slogan, “from the river to the sea…” could not be conflated with calls for Israeli genocide. In fact, Gay went on to openly accept that  “intifada” represented hateful antisemitic speech in the hearing. Despite her resignation amid death threats and a campaign termed as “racial animus’ there is significant criticism over her unwillingness to listen to or protect pro-Palestinian voices on campus amid a crackdown on students.

The feeling of being gaslit, framed as antisemitic or terrorist, feeds into the Muslim and Palestinian angst surrounding the erasure and disavowal of Palestinian death in the United States. The promises of free speech, freedom of religion, basic liberties, and the spirit of liberal democracy seem even more empty in the broader horizon of death. Anti-Muslim racism is part of a broader logic that marks certain bodies as not quite human, allowing for the indifferent and indiscriminate killings of black and brown bodies in the United States and abroad. Thus, solidarity with Palestine reflects a broader effort to ensure Palestinian lives, freedom, and humanity are not denied. It is in this struggle for humanity and freedom that the potential for hope emerges.