Four days after the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi was planting flowers on the edge of the gas station he owned in Mesa when a person, enraged by anti-immigrant sentiments and allegedly seeking revenge for the assaults, shot and killed Sodhi.
The man would later shoot a Lebanese-American fuel clerk, thankfully absent, before heading back to a neighborhood bar to brag about the murder.
Sodhi was a member of the Sikh religion, and their conventional attire has generally made it the goal of those who harbor hatred towards the Muslim religion who see their conventional turbans as a sign of the Muslim religion. Many also harbor hatred towards Sikhs due to anti-immigrant and different racist beliefs.
Just under a year after the events in Mesa, a white supremacist in Wisconsin opened a fireplace in a Sikh temple, killing six people. The temple has since installed bulletproof glass and has website security guards.
“It is painful to lose someone because of hatred,” said Rana Singh Sodhi, Balbir’s brother. Arizona mirror Wednesday afternoon as he prepared for a memorial service that evening to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Balbir’s homicide. “We are celebrating his legacy and all the victims of hate crimes and all the victims of September 11, and this is a very painful time.”
Since 2001, Arizona has continued to be a hotbed of hate incidents.
There was a 26% increase in hate crimes in 2019, although the information is likely incomplete as many companies do not report to the FBI nonetheless. Only 81 of 125 law enforcement companies within the state reported for 2020, according to FBI data.
Sodhi’s homicide marked what was to be the start of a whole new wave of Islamophobia and anti-Sikh hatred across the country. Sodhi was not a Muslim, his killer hated him because he was shown to be linked to the Muslim religion, a common theme in attacks on Sikhs.
Sodhi had really planned this. He was planting flowers in preparation for a press conference he planned to hold the next day with the Sikh group in hopes of calming nerves and educating individuals about his group and religion.
Islamophobia is a period of time used to explain concern, mistrust or hatred towards those of the Muslim faith. It has also grown into a multi-million dollar industry.
The troubled history of Islamophobia in Arizona
In the years since Sodhi’s death, Arizona has had its fair share of over-profile incidents involving Islamophobia, most notably in 2015.
It all started with someone named Jon Ritzheimer.
He became known for wearing a shirt marked “F *** Islam” as he walked past the Phoenix Mosque, ultimately during a protest outside it. The protest included a competition to see who could draw the most effective Prophet Muhammad, something that is deeply disrespectful of the Muslim religion.
Ritzheimer would later be embroiled in a litany of extremist actions, in addition to being investigated for calling for the arrest of a Democratic senator and for his involvement in the deadlock at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge which he was then arrested and pleaded responsible.
The protest was also in part the idea of anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller, a marginal participant in Arizona politics for years and an outstanding Islamophobe. She was a strong proponent of the racist conspiracy concept that former President Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim – a concept that was spurred on by former President Donald Trump prior to his presidency and investigated by the former County Sheriff of Maricopa, Joe Arpaio.
Arizona mosques have frequently been the target of assaults by extremist teams.
In 2018, two girls who had been members of an extremist group in the region made national headlines for vandalizing and robbing a mosque in Tempe.
Tahnee Gonzales and Elizabeth Dauenhauer broadcast live taking their children with them to the Islamic Community Center and tearing up flyers on a bulletin board while encouraging their children to use Islamophobic language.
But Islamophobia in Arizona is more complex than the simple incidents of protests and hate crimes which may be more obvious.
In 2014, the Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office, which at the time was headed by Arizona Supreme Court Justice Bill Montgomery, hosted a training seminar by someone who had previously claimed that the former CIA director John Brennan was secretly a Muslim.
It later emerged that Montgomery spent $ 40,000 to pass on the speaker who admitted to having sex with a confidential informant while working with the FBI.
Four years later, Arizona Republicans would refuse to condemn the hosting of a similar conspiracy theorist who claimed Muslims wanted to take control of the nation.
The Kingman Metropolis in 2018 has promised to change after the Showtime satirical sequence of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen “Who Is America?” confirmed that town members were reacting badly to a plan for a fictitious mosque in their town, with one man claiming the mosque would promote ‘terrorism’ and another saying black people are not welcome in the town during the entire phase .
Islamophobia has led researchers to even examine how prejudice influenced the mass surveillance devices that had been created in the aftermath of 9/11, and how they impacted Sikh Muslim communities.
“I think it’s bad at airports for Sikhs and brunettes in general after 9/11,” said one particular person interviewed for the study. “Even my 70-year-old grandmother sometimes sits at the airport to be questioned. She doesn’t speak English – I don’t really understand the logic of this.
Responding to hate with compassion and kindness
Sikhs have been in the United States since the late 1800s and the main Asian American to ever serve in Congress, Dalip Singh Saund, was a Sikh. Sikhism is the fifth greatest faith on earth, but a 2015 study found that over 60% of Americans knew nothing about Sikhism or Sikh Americans.
Sodhi himself immigrated to the United States in 1984 following anti-Sikh violence in India. Independent estimates suggest that between 8,000 and 17,000 Sikhs were killed in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, yet many individuals need only be prosecuted for their crimes.
“People need education,” said Rana Singh Sodhi, emphasizing compassion when addressing the Mirror. “(Balbir) has become a beacon of awareness.”
At the memorial on Wednesday, Catholics, Muslims, Christians and others gathered to remember the legacy of Balbir Singh Sodhi. They changed an American flag near where Sodhi had planted flowers and recited the pledge of allegiance before lighting candles for a memorial.
Although it was hatred that removed Sodhi from his home, friends and family, the memorial service was a name to be conveyed, a message that Sodhi’s house hopes will be the lasting impression of the evening. .
Aashwin Sodhi, Balbir Singh Sodhi’s granddaughter who was not even born when her grandfather was murdered, told the gang that people can do something simple to help.
“Small acts of kindness,” she said, encouraging those in attendance to help others when and where they could – as Balbir did.
Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a community of grant-supported reporting bureaus and a coalition of donors as a 501c (3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact editor Jim Small with any questions: [email protected] Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.