Editor’s Note: Rana Singh Sodhi is a Sikh community leader and advocate who lives with his wife and children in Phoenix, Arizona. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
Our nation remembers and heals one year after a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, yelled “All Jews must die” and opened fire, killing 11 congregants and wounding many others. As he surrendered to law enforcement, he told an officer that Jews “were committing genocide against [his] people.”
c/o Rana Singh Sodhi
Rana Singh Sodhi
This rhetoric is sadly all too familiar to me.
On Sept. 15, 2001, my brother Balbir Singh Sodhi was murdered as he stood outside his gas station in Mesa, Ariz. CNN called it the first deadly hate crime after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the man who murdered him – now serving a life sentence in prison – had vowed “to shoot some towelheads” and called himself a patriot.
Since September 11, Sikhs have increasingly been targets of hate. This threat of violence is now a daily part of our lives, just as it is for our Jewish brothers and sisters. The FBI’s latest hate-crime report showed that, in 2017, anti-Sikh hate crimes were on the rise. The same year, the Anti-Defamation League also recorded the largest single-year increase of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States.
This is the current state of affairs in our nation. People are risking their lives each time they leave their house to go to work, to pray or to go to the store. Just this August, 22 people were killed and dozens more injured inside an El Paso Walmart – likely targeted because of their Latinx heritage, according to a manifesto that police suspect was written by the shooter.
Despite all of these tragic incidents, I don’t believe we should live our lives in fear. In fact, I believe the opposite – that we should choose to live in the spirit of what Sikhs call chardi kala, a relentless love and optimism even in the face of suffering and injustice.
I choose to live with chardi kala because that is how my Sikh faith guides me. Since my brother was killed, it is this spirit that has helped me heal. And I believe that in a time of despair, it is this love and optimism that can inspire us all. In 2016, I called the man who killed my brother and accepted his plea for forgiveness.
I cannot speak for the Jewish community of Pittsburgh, or tell them how best to grieve and heal. I can only say that my choice to offer forgiveness was a critical step in my healing process, and it came from a place of reconciliation that I hope will offer a source of light.
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