Alexander Pope’s old saying that “a little learning is a dangerous thing” is still brilliant. He might have added, if it existed at the time, especially when it comes from talk radio.

Talk radio is particularly unhelpful at times like this, when emotions are so high due to the horror of what’s happening in the Middle East.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, I had grown sadly accustomed to that ugly xenophobic rise in Islamophobia. Hate crimes against Muslims, according to a Brown University study, spiked 500% from 2000 to 2009.

Now, following the rise of a bitter and bloody war between Israel and Hamas, we see the old fears and hatreds rising again, even from haters who don’t know much about the group they purportedly are hating.

Such are the sorry circumstances that led the Will County sheriff’s office to charge a Plainfield, Illinois, landlord in the stabbing of his tenants: a 6-year-old boy, who died from his wounds, and his mother, who was seriously wounded. The reason allegedly was because they were Muslims.

Charges against landlord Joseph Czuba, 71, include first-degree murder, and two counts of a hate crime, according to the sheriff’s office. The Justice Department also has opened a federal hate-crime investigation, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced.


Sheriff’s police said Czuba went to his tenant’s apartment after listening to right-wing talk radio and becoming “heavily interested in the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas.”

The landlord knocked on his tenants’ door Saturday morning in a rage about what was happening in Israel, police said. When Hanaan Shahin, the mother, responded to him, “Let’s pray for peace,” according to authorities, he attacked her and her son, Wadea Al-Fayoume, with a large knife. The 6-year-old was stabbed 26 times.

Outrageous. Yet, unfortunately not unprecedented. Making bad matters worse is the steady stream of misinformation and incendiary commentary in a media world where the most valued commodity is often public attention, whether the news is factual or not.

For example, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, the Minnesota Democrat from the parties’ progressive-wing quartet often referred to as “the Squad,” drew heat for retweeting a photo of seven dead children, captioned, “CHILD GENOCIDE IN PALESTINE.”

Well, no. The photo proved to be taken after a 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria. She later deleted the retweet.

But a poignant media moment in recent days came when comedian Pete Davidson appeared as guest host on “Saturday Night Live,” where he used to be a cast member. He paid tribute in the show’s opening segment to the victims of the Israel-Hamas war in a way he was uniquely equipped to do.


He recalled the awful day that he learned, at age 7, that his father, a New York firefighter, had died in the World Trade Center attack. Speaking as a son who had lost his father much too soon, he described how the images of Israeli and Palestinian children suffering took him back to “a really horrible, horrible place.”

No doubt. He recalled how his mother tried in those days to cheer him up by showing him an Eddie Murphy stand-up special, which turned out to be a lot more grown-up than the children’s movie she expected it to be.

But, before she could stop the tape, Davidson recalled, his mother heard him laugh in the robust way she had not seen from him since 9/11.

“Sometimes comedy is really the only way forward through tragedy,” Davidson said. “Tonight I’m going to do what I’ve always done in the face of tragedy, and that’s try to be funny.”

Then, he added, “Remember, I said ‘try.’ ”

As the young folks like to say, I feel ya, Pete.

Sometimes, when tragedy seems to overwhelm us, we need nothing more than the strength to carry on – and perhaps to laugh again.

E-mail Clarence Page at

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