A Dream in Doubt – Hate Crimes in post 9/11 America

Yesterday I went to a pre-screening of A Dream in Doubt at Northwest Film Forum, which will play on PBS’s Independent Lens later this month. A Dream in Doubt is about the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh whose killed because of his beard and turban in a hate crime in the Phoenix area four days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks; and his brother, Rana Singh Sodhi’s fight against the hatred threatening his family and community. While there is an outpouring of support against the bigotry from the greater Phoenix community, other friends in the Sikh community are also assaulted, and another brother is murdered under mysterious circumstances while driving a cab in San Francisco.

Ironically, most of the Sikhs immigrated to America because of the prejudice and discrimination against their religion in India.  Following Indira Ghandi’s murder in 1984 by two Sikh bodyguards, a large number of Sikhs were massacred in mob violence. 

I felt the movie was very fair with the perpetrator, who may very well have mental issues (and certainly, anger management problems); but also considered himself a “patriot” at the time for killing Sodhi, and trying to kill a couple others. While there may be something to the issue of how, as he maintained from death row (now reduced to life in prison), the news playing over and over again affected him (which he compares to the rioting in the black community following the Rodney King verdict, with the police abuse having played over and over); still, we’ve had that lynch mob psychology long before television existed. 

Really disturbing was another man they interviewed, who, while he thought they should ask questions first, if someone happens to look like the perpetrators of Sept. 11 (or really, more specifically, bin Laden); that if in fact, the people these vigilantes stop happen to be from the same country, they should be beaten (not killed, though, because then you’d be in trouble).  Of course, the stupidity of this logic would show if you applied it to the worst terrorist attack before Sept. 11, which was in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two clean cut former military men.  So, by this logic, it would be okay to randomly beat up white guys with short, military haircuts, just because they happened to look like and wear their hair the same as the terrorists in Oklahoma City (as long as they were from the same country, which was, the U.S.).

Which, of course, would never happen.  That is the thing, there is the whole racist and xenophobic element of the attacks on the Sikhs and others after the September 11 terrorism.  It’s too easy for a lot of people to see anyone different as the other, to feel uncomfortable with them being here in the first place, and judge them all together when even one person in their community does something wrong.

In addition to Rana Singh Sodhi and the film maker, the panel included Sukhvir Singh, a Sikh taxi driver who was violently assaulted right here in Seattle, and who’s perpetrator had just been sentenced.  This is one of those things you like to think “can’t happen here”.  Yet another reminder, the Seattle Civil Rights Commissioner who spoke about the attacks on gay people in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

A Dream in Doubt is playing again in Seattle tomorrow, April 21, at 4 pm at the University of Washington, Gates Hall, Room 138.  There are also still upcoming ITVS Community Cinema screenings of A Dream in Doubt in other cities across the country, including in Portland, Oregon on Weds. April 30. Then it will be on PBS stations across the country on May 20.