I didn’t think the news cycle could get more horrendous, but it has.
Besides all the unimaginable suffering in Israel and Palestine, there’s been an anti-Palestinian hate crime here in America. It’s been reported that Joseph Czuba, a landlord in Plainville, Illinois, stabbed his tenant, Hanaan Shahin, and then murdered her six-year-old son, Wadea Al Fayoume. Shahin had emigrated from the West Bank to escape the violence twelve years ago. Al Fayoume had not been afraid of his landlord, who’d previously been kind to him and even built him a treehouse. He reportedly ran to Czuba for a hug. Shahin tried to shield her son and was stabbed a dozen times; she is recovering in the hospital. Al Fayoume was stabbed twenty-six times and died with the seven-inch blade still in his abdomen.
Czuba screamed “All Muslims must die!” and “You are killing our kids in Israel. You Palestinians don’t deserve to live” as he committed the murder.
It’s been alleged that Czuba was radicalized by listening to conservative talk radio; Czuba’s wife has claimed that her husband was obsessed with being killed by Palestinians and with a “national day of Jihad.” Jihad is a word that can sometimes refer to a literal battle but really just means “a meritorious struggle,” similar to Christian notions of or doing battle with principalities and powers.
Today, it’s been reported that Czuba is a Roman Catholic. He’s a parishioner at Saint Mary Immaculate parish in Plainfield. And I hope there is no retaliation or anger against that parish, because they seem to be behaving in an exemplary way. I’ve become accustomed to Catholic communities that shield their members when crimes are committed, or pretend to have nothing to do with them. The pastor of the parish has released a statement decrying the murder, as has the Diocese of Joilet. The parish is holding a holy hour to pray for peace tonight, and I encourage any of my readers of all faiths who live nearby to attend.
I am reminded again of all I have learned about American Christianity— not Christianity that happens to be practiced by Americans, but that bizarre mix of white nationalism, conspiracy mongering and paranoia that so many Americans think is synonymous with Christianity. That bizarre alliance between Catholic descendants of immigrants and xenophobic white Evangelical Christians who despise us and think we’re not truly Christian. The substitution of the heretical Prosperity Gospel for the four Gospels that are actually in the Bible. The idolatry of gun culture and the canonization of violence, in place of Christ’s exhortation to pray for your enemy and turn the other cheek. The quest for a strongman to protect us from immigrants, people of color, and vaguely defined “liberals,” instead of imitating the Carpenter of Nazareth who voluntarily laid down his life.
Instead of encouraging its adherents to die to themselves, American Christianity demands human sacrifices of other people, and Wadea Al Fayoume is one of the most recent.
Yes, if I had to guess, I would say that Czuba seems to be mentally ill, but his mental illness was manipulated on purpose. The media talking heads who peddle American Christianity are stochastic terrorists. They preach hatred and paranoia until someone in their congregation gets the message and commits murder. I don’t think they believe what they preach; I think they’re in it for money and power. But Czuba believed it. Many believe it and approve, even if they don’t go that far themselves, and now one person picked up a knife and acted on what he’d been told. That’s how stochastic terrorism works. Czuba became a terrorist because of the propaganda he’d been fed, and now a child is dead.
I offer my prayers for the family of Wadea Al Fayoume. Indeed we belong to God, and indeed to Him we will return.
May the God of Abraham comfort all those who mourn.
I also offer my prayers for my country. May God convert our souls from all idolatry and violence. May my Christian brothers and sisters be converted back to Christianity, instead of the idolatry of American Christianity.
Let’s all try and make it a better world.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.