What We Can Learn From Rais Bhuiyan

July 18, 2011

Rais Bhuiyan is challenging stereotypes about “Muslim radicalization” every day.

You may have read about Rais on this blog before, or even participated in our online chat, but the importance of his story to our larger work fighting prejudice in a post 9-11 world can’t be overstated.

Just ten days after the September 11 attacks Mark Stroman walked into the gas station where Rais Bhuiyan was working and shot him point blank in the face with a shotgun cartridge.

Against all odds Mr. Bhuiyan survived the attack but Waqar Hasan and Vasudev Patel were both killed by Stroman in similar incidents in which the self-styled ‘Arab slayer’ sought ‘revenge’ for Al Qaeda’s assault on New York and Washington by targeting residents of his small corner of Texas with darker skin than his own.

Stroman’s three victims were from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, none of them were Arabs, Mr. Patel was Hindu. Hate crimes are notoriously difficult to typologize but as many as twelve post-9/11 murders in the US have been linked to Islamaphobia.

Stroman was caught, convicted and sentenced to death. He is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Huntsville prison on July 20th. Astoundingly, Rais Bhuiyan is working with Amnesty International’s campaign against the death penalty and calling for Stroman’s sentence commuted to life without parole:

“My religion teaches me that forgiveness is always better than vengeance.”

Mr. Bhuiyan was permanently scarred by the attack and still has more than thirty-five pellets embedded in his face but rather than contribute the hate-filled cycle of violence propelled by both the twisted ideology of Al Qaeda and the casual racial prejudice that motivated Stroman, he has chosen to walk a different path:

“I never hated Mark and I never felt angry at him. He did what he did because he was ignorant. He wasn’t capable of distinguishing between right and wrong. It took him several years to come to that realization, but it did come to him.”

Mr. Bhuiyan has even created his own website, World Without Hate, to campaign against all hate crimes whether motivated by an animus towards those of a different race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation:

“According to my faith in Islam, there is no hate, no killing. It doesn’t allow anything like that.”

Mr. Bhuiyan’s inspirational story has not been widely reported in the US media, despite the important lessons it offers to those who can only think, literally and metaphorically, in black and white.

I don’t imagine that Congressman Peter King will be inviting Mr. Bhuiyan to testify before the House Committee on Homeland Security hearings on Muslim radicalization in the United States but he should.

There are two sides to every story and the story of Muslim Americans fighting prejudice with compassion, patience and understanding has yet to be told.