Sterilizing History [Updated]

AZ memorial.jpgWhat is up with Arizona? There was SB 1070, and the shooting of Gabby Giffords. And now, there is this. (via SALDEF)

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is signing a bill to remove Balbir Singh Sodhi’s name from the state’s 9/11 memorial and sell his memorial plaque as scrap metal. [saldef]

Balbir Singh Sodhi was the one of the first victim to a post 9/11 hate crime.

[He]was a Mesa, Arizona, gas station owner who was murdered in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. He made headlines because he was the first of several cases across the United States that were reported to the police as acts of retaliation for the terrorist attacks

On September 15, 2001, Frank Roque shot him five times, killing him instantly. Roque, who apparently wanted revenge for September 11, confused him for a person of Arab ethnicity because of the clothes he wore, his turban, and his beard. Within 25 minutes of his death, the Phoenix police reported four further attacks on people who either were Middle Easterners or who dressed with clothes thought to be worn by Middle Easterners. [wiki]

How could anyone object that Sodhi’s death was not a directly connected to the events of September 11th?

The bill, which passed both houses on party-line votes, was sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who said Monday that he did only a cursory Internet search on Singh Sodhi’s murder. Kavanagh said it was unclear to him that the shooting was directly related to 9/11.

“He was the victim of a madman. He was not a 9/11 victim,” Kavanagh said. “I don’t mean to (dismiss) what happened to this individual. I don’t mean to trivialize it.”> Kavanagh disagrees with arguments by Sikhs that as many as 17 members of their religion were murdered nationally in the aftermath of Sept. 11. A Sikh truck driver was wounded in a shooting in north Phoenix in 2003 by men who shouted a racial slur as well as other, less-violent hate crimes that occurred in Valley. [azcentral]

The bill would not just solely remove Sodhi’s experience from the memorial but would remove other narratives that were not to Kavanagh liking as well. This is an outrageous attempt at rewriting history and re-construction of a narrative that leaves out the experiences of the South Asian American community and our September 11th narrative. With all the work that has been done as far as advocacy against 9/11 backlash, hate crimes, and racial profiling in the past ten years, this bill would essentially be backstepping and “cleaning up” history. Considering this is happening in Arizona where xenophobic legislation are a dime a dozen these days, I’m not all that surprised. But I do think that Governor Jane Brewer should not sign this bill. If you think this as well, you can sign the petition hosted through SALDEF right here.

Balbir Singh Sodhi.jpg

The above image is the portion of the memorial dedicated to Balbir Singh Sodhi. Controversial and reminding us of the bad part of being American? Yes. Something that should be removed from memory? Hardly.

[Update 4.27.2011]

Looks like the advocacy from yesterday paid off, somewhat. Rep. John Kavanagh apologized.

A state representative who introduced a controversial bill to alter the Arizona 9/11 Memorial apologized on Tuesday to the family of hate-crime murder victim Balbir Singh Sodhi, saying he misunderstood the case.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, also said he agreed to a plan that would put Singh Sodhi’s name back on the memorial even if Gov. Jan Brewer signs his bill into law.

House Bill 2230 would remove 11 phrases Kavanagh considers offensive from the steel memorial. [azcentral]

How does the family feel? They feel that it’s STILL WRONG AND ARE URGING A VETO. The bill is supposed to get signed on Monday by Gov. Brewer.

Kavanagh said he met with Rana Singh Sodhi, his brother Harjit, and Gururoop Kaur Khalsa, a Sikh community spokeswoman.

Rana Singh Sodhi, Balbir Singh Sodhi’s youngest brother and a Mesa restaurant owner, said he still opposes Kavanagh’s bill, which would require panels on the memorial to be removed by Sept. 11, 2011, the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

By agreeing to introduce follow-up legislation in January to correct the slight vs. Balbir Singh Sodhi in the original legislation, Kavanagh is admitting the original bill is flawed, Rana Singh Sodhi said. [azcentral]

At the end of the day, Kavanagh is proposing an amendment to a legislation he authored which not only highlights his neglect as a legislator at conducting research when developing public policies, but also highlights a reactionary governing mentality. Second, he still proposes moving forward with the other ten ‘edits’ to the memorial because to him they were “unpatriotic”. Memorials are erected as a remembrance of history at that time – just because a politician has the power, doesn’t mean he gets to go in and revise history to his liking. If the people in power are taking steps to revise history only ten years after the event, where does that leave this narrative in 20 years? 50 years? 100 years?

This entry was posted in Community, Identity, In Memoriam, News by Taz. Bookmark the permalink.

About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates and blogs at Follow her at

18 thoughts on “Sterilizing History [Updated]

  1. Sorry if this is “uncivil” but I am beginning to intensely dislike Republicans.

  2. Maybe they’d like to push all this under a rug. Being aware that xenophobia and a fear of immigrants is bad sure puts a damper on trying to pass xenophobic bills doesn’t it?

  3. Hey Piyush and Nimrata? Helloooo?! Subodh Chandra called out Piyush’s smarmy and craven silence – right here, on this blog – when Macacagate broke out. Piyush’s response? Deafening silence. Maybe we should be talking to Nimrata?

    This is a fricking outrage…

    What next?

    Defense attorneys argued [Frank Roque] was not guilty due to insanity, claiming that he had a diminished IQ and heard relentless voices telling him that Arabs were satanic and must be killed. Two coworkers testified that Roque was “narrow-minded” and that he hated both immigrants and Arabs.

    That’s not the opinion of a mad man, that’s the opinion of the entire AM Radio/Faux News crowd ranging from Krauthammer all the way through to the bottom feeding trash like Coulter, Malkin, Limbaugh, O’Reilley, Hannity as well as the latest brights in the GOP Herman Cain, Palin, Bachman, Gingrich etc., Why not pardon Frank Roque?

  4. My father was killed in the World Trade Center, and the thought of having someone scrap his memorial spot sickens me. As far as I’m concerned, a death due to the ignorance surrounding 9/11 is just as tragic as the deaths of those in the attacks. My thoughts go out to his family.

  5. Gov. Brewer is removing Mr. Sodhi’s memorial, and she justifies this action by claiming that Mr. Sodhi’s assassin was an unhinged lunatic who was not connected to 9-11. She will use this decoupling in the future to separate the crazed lunatic who tried to assassinate Rep.Gifford. Moreover, she could claim that Rep.Gifford’s shooter was a lunatic who was not influenced by any fringe movements.

  6. Since there are few logical arguments that these people understand: can one not argue that this is waste of taxpayer money, both in the amount of money being spent on creating and passing this legislation, and what will be spent in actually removing the plaque. For that kind of money, they could give a tax break to the richest residents of Arizona.

  7. The bill, which passed both houses on party-line votes, was sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who said Monday that he did only a cursory Internet search on Singh Sodhi’s murder. Kavanagh said it was unclear to him that the shooting was directly related to 9/11.

    I’m amazed at this. Removing a memorial to a murdered person feels like such a bold action to take, yet he seems vague on the details of the murder and “unclear” about the relation to 9/11. Whose memory will be challenged next and erased from other memorials?

  8. As a Muslim, it is our obligation to aid anyone facing injustice. May God strengthen us all. Ameen

  9. I really wish all the facts were out before people chose to judge someone. Congressman Kavanagh has met with the Sodhi family and apologized for the miss understanding. His main issue is with the American bashing on some of the slogans. He would like to change the phrase “fear of foreigners” and replacing it with “First backlash hate-crime murder victim. He also agreed to a plan that would put Singh Sodhi’s name back on the memorial even if Gov. Jan Brewer signs his bill into law.

    Congress men Kavanagh made a honest mistake and he making amends for what he did.

    • “Congress men Kavanagh made a honest mistake… “

      “…was sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who said Monday that he did only a cursory Internet search on Singh Sodhi’s murder. Kavanagh said it was unclear to him that the shooting was directly related to 9/11.”

      Ummm, yeah. And “fear of foreigners” is “America-bashing”? WTF? What are you? His PR flack?

  10. I wonder people who think it ok for the memorial to say “Fear of Foreigners 09 15 01 Balbir Singh Sodi, A Sikh murdered in Mesa “Foreign Born American Afraid.

    I hope those same people will support Peter Gadiel who wants to honor his son James who was just 23 when he was killed World Trade Center. All Mr.Gadiel wants is on the memorial honoring his son is to say ” James Gadiel 09 11 01 American killed by Muslim Terrorists In World Trade Center. Is it wrong to say that Mr.Gadiel death was a result of Islamic terrorism.

  11. We must not remove this plaque. We must honor memories of all the people who were killed on the 9/11 attack and were murdered because of that horrible attack because they looked different.

  12. This is unacceptable in Britain this would have provoked national outrage.

    I hope for all our sakes that this doesn’t happen.

  13. What purpose would removing this man’s name from the memorial serve? It would truly be a miracle if elected officials spent time improving the public education system, reducing crime and creating jobs as opposed to this rubbish.

  14. I’d want to know if the NY firemen who died that day (or later) etc were also part of the memorial or is Sodhi the only fringe case. Then I’d want to know if all fringe cases were being removed or just this one.