When Turbans Become Targets: Documentary on post-9/11 hate crimes goes public on Vimeo


The Sikh coalition partnered with Valarie Kaur to make her award winning 2008 film “Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath” available for free to the public on Vimeo in honor of the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Kaur and her cousin, Amandeep Singh Gill, crossed America in the fall of 2001 to find out what it means to be an American, specifically at a time where hate seemed to breed hate.

She asked her viewers: “who counts as American? In a world divided into us and them: who counts as one of us? What does an enemy look like? What does an American look like?”

Kaur and her family are Sikhs, and may not be viewed as “normal” Americans. Her documentary shows firsthand experience of the faulty oppression and discrimination Sikhs faced after the terrorist attacks.

Kaur began her 90-minute documentary with one of the first hate crimes after 9/11, the killing of a Sikh man in his home state of Arizona. Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot and killed on Sept. 15, 2011 outside of his store. Kaur spoke with countless family members to discover how they faced living in the United States as American Sikhs.

Muneer Ahmad, a law professor at American University explained how more than 1,000 hate crimes occurred in the first few weeks after 9/11 because people confused their neighbors for the enemy.

Kaur expressed her confusion as a third generation American Sikh girl, who later decided to pursue religious studies in college.

“When I was going to school, my friends and teachers tried very hard to convert me to Christianity,” Kaur said. “If I wasn’t saved, they told me, my entire family would burn in eternal hellfire and it would be my fault.”

She interviewed one source who said that as he was fleeing Ground Zero during the attacks, a few white men chased after him and said “you better take off that turban, you terrorist.”

Joseph Brown, a social psychologist at Stanford University, said, “One of the things that’s interesting to me, was just how quickly people identified those representatives of the enemy, even when they weren’t in any way related. And people began to attack those individuals with hate crimes, oppression and discrimination.”

Kaur, who was only 20-years-old when she filmed her documentary, manages to persuade her viewers to understand the aftermath of 9/11 from a different perspective, without trivializing the loss of life that occurred on that day.

When asked in the middle of the film by her cousin what the point of filming the documentary was, she looked into the camera with insight and strength.

“So other people don’t look at the turban and see fear, hatred, something laughable, something less than human, something not American,” Kaur said. “So the other people don’t look at the turban and see an enemy, while I see a brother.”

Kaur ends her roughly, but expertly filmed documentary with a discussion with Sodhi’s widow.

“Everyone tries to console me, but I do not have one moment of peace,” Sodhi said. “Everything is empty to me.”

When asked what she would like to tell Americans, she said, “I can never forget the love they showed me.”

Kaur proves that grief, love and patriotism are not exclusive to particular religions or nationalities, but can bring all members of a grieving community together.

Claire Galvin is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at claire.galvin@uconn.edu.

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