The Common Good
January-February 2002

United We Stand

by Rose Marie Berger | January-February 2002

Responding with kindness and solidarity.

Balbir Singh Sodhi was murdered Sept. 15 in Mesa, Arizona—the first homicide in the country related to the backlash against Arab Americans after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Sodhi was not Muslim and not from the Middle East. He was a Sikh from India. Frank Roque, the accused murderer, said he shot Sodhi because his turban looked like Osama bin Laden’s.

The Council on American Islamic Affairs reports nearly 1,000 anti-Muslim "backlash" incidents in the United States since Sept. 11, including five deaths. Less documented are the countless acts of pro-Muslim kindness and solidarity shown around the country.

Within hours after the terrorist attacks, Phyllis Taylor of East Mount Airy, Pennsylvania, called Muslim friends to tell them she would help guard them from bigotry. Within a week, Taylor established the Friendly Religious Interfaith Escorts for Neighbors in Distress network. The leader of a Philadelphia mosque expressed his gratitude. "This is the time we need good friends to stand with us," he said.

In Denver, the Colorado Interfaith Alliance hosted a "ring of protection" at the Islamic Center. As the people of Denver gathered, they circled the center not once, but three times. Two thousand people of all faiths carried the message to the Muslim community that "we care and we are watching out for you." The imam told the crowd that this was the first-ever interfaith event held at a mosque in the United States.

In the Northgate area of Seattle, a man poured gasoline outside a mosque, attempting to set it on fire. In response, a steady stream of well-wishers brought flowers and cards to the mosque. "Our neighbors are very kind," said a mosque member. "We have the same feelings. We are the same creation of God." The Church Council of Greater Seattle responded by forming "Watchful Eyes" teams that offered 24-hour-a-day safety patrols for Muslim houses of worship.

Back in Arizona, Balbir Singh Sodhi’s son spoke at a memorial service held in the Phoenix Civic Plaza. "My father had a lot of friends, but no enemies," he said. "The word ‘hatred’ was not in his vocabulary at all." Three thousand people attended the service.

—Rose Marie Berger

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