I was a senior in high school in September 2001. I was to have a cross-country meet that Tuesday evening, the 11th, and the boy’s soccer team at my school was to play its archrival. I remember not being surprised that we were attacked. Previous visits to Africa and Latin American revealed to me glimpses of negative psychological and environmental impact of some US American foreign military and development policy. I saw why people could be very angry. I was coming into consciousness about the injustices in our national system, and I was not particularly happy with the USA either, at that point in my life.
But being raised Mennonite taught me that no matter how mad I was, I was not to use violence as a means to address conflict. So I was frustrated that others had mobilized power in a destructive way…and I was even more sad to hear the US government and many people’s reaction. The healing and clarifying line that emerged for me throughout the next years was that of the families of many of the victims who formed a group to make it clear in the saber-rattling days afterwards: “Our Grief is Not A Cry for War.” This line told a powerful story.
One of the most significant impacts that 9/11/01 has had on my ministry is that I have been challenged to tell more stories instead of making factual, theological, or ideological points. So, I would like to take the opportunity of this post to share a story about a Muslim young man who was a victim of a post-9/11 hate crime. Don Teague, from CBS News, wrote about it (18Jul11) and I quote his article at length:
In a rage about the 9/11/01 attacks, white supremacist Mark Stroman went on a shooting rampage at three convenience stores, going after people who he suspected were Muslim. The surveillance cameras in the stores captured every bloody moment. Stroman said he “‘acted out of rage, love and stupidity.’ Two of his victims died. Stroman was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.” Years later, from Death Row, he admitted that “It’s sad, my split second of hate and anger after 9/11 has caused many people lifetimes of pain and I regret that to this day.”
Why does he now regret his actions? Because of Rais Bhuiyan’s courage to meet with him. Bhuiyan was Stroman’s third victim. “Gunshot wounds left Bhuiyan blind in his right eye. Three dozen shotgun pellets are still embedded in his face. But Bhuiyan says his Muslim faith teaches forgiveness, and that forgiveness brings ‘peace, passion and healing in our society, in our country.’”
It is not often that the victim of a killing spree is a death penalty opponent. Bhuiyan advocated in Texas courts and media outlets for mercy…to spare the life of Mark Stroman. “For this man to step up with his faith and show complete forgiveness is remarkable,” Stroman says. “We have to break the cycle of this hate and violence,” Bhuiyan often repeated.
It is both remarkable and unprecedented, as it was the first time in Texas that a victim of a convicted murderer has asked for clemency. All of Bhuiyan’s pleas were denied. Stroman lost every legal appeal. Stroman acknowledged that he’d die a changed man. “I’ve come from a person with hate embedded into him into a person with a lot of love and understanding for all races.” He added.
Pace e Bene Executive Director Ken Butigan met Rais Bhuiyan at the Dallas Peace Center meeting in June. Ken took the picture below, and noted Bhuiyan’s “his deep life-force and commitment to nonviolence.” The Dallas Peace Center is one of many important places that have been doing the slow work of mending the cloth of God, especially in these last ten years when the conversational fabric of society has ripped drastically. The sharing of stories, more so than legislative proposals or activities (at the beginning), have been a sustaining thread.
The original coverage of the story is hereVictim pleads for Texas death row inmate’s life.