The Balbir Singh Sodhis of America
by Hussein Rashid
Balbir Singh Sodhi. I don’t know if that name has the resonance that it should. Amongst Asian-Americans, names like Vincent Chin or Navroze Mody are part of our collective conscious. But Balbir Singh Sodhi is a name that is so important for the telling of the tale of minorities in America, but also a story that sits at the base of a crushing horror of what’s happened in this country after 9/11. Sodhi was the first victim of post-9/11 acceptable racism in this country. It’s when we started realizing that we needed to stand together.
Nearly 40 years ago, Edward Said was writing about the ways in which academia, politicians, and media had been crafting an Oriental other for centuries, and in the recent past had been focusing on Muslims. As laws were passed that eroded the privileges for citizenship for Muslims, it was only part of a larger pattern that worked to exclude people of color from belonging. Once you attack the idea that people of color are Americans, it becomes so easy to demonize them, and that rhetoric makes it acceptable to attack them. And it depends on minority communities not standing together.
In the meantime, so much hatred and aggression is ascribed to the darker races, who perceived to be foreign, that no one is looking at the hatred brewing beneath the surface “at home.” When we last went through a period of intense physical attacks by people in power, films like Falling Down made sure we understood the “angry white male.” When Peter King held his hearings on why Muslims were dangerous, even though there was only one incident of an American Muslim successfully attacking American interests, we had to understand his fear and angst, and ignore our rights. The incidence of random homicide was a greater in one year in America, than a decade of post-9/11 attacks in America, and hate crimes continue to increase. Then we started standing together.
Communities of color saw the coming storm. As mosques and gurdwaras were vandalized, and President Obama refused to visit Sikhs in India, for fear of being labeled a Muslim, we knew that something would explode. And it did. People want to criminalize prayer that isn’t part of their tradition. And they apologize for mass murderers like Ander Breivik, and after they apologize, they get to write about the people who were slaughtered as being the ones in the wrong. And then Oak Creek. We stand together.
What started 11 years ago was that ignorance was given a gun, and Sikhs started paying a price for misdirected hate against Muslims. And now, they still are. We need to mention Balbir Singh Sodhi and Salman Hamdani in the same breath. We are part of the same struggle. And finally, someone realizes that we need to investigate hate crimes against people of color. The Senate hearing on “Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism,” recognizes that we are all Americans, and we are due the same rights. It’s time for us to stand up, together.
Hussein Rashid is a native New Yorker and Proud Muslim. Currently an instructor at the Center for Spiritual Inquiry at Park Avenue Christian Church and based at Hofstra University, he is deeply committed to interfaith work and is passionate about teaching. He believes we need to start talking more intelligently about Islam specifically, and religion generally. Originally published on Wajahat Ali’s excellent Goatmilk blog.