Monday, May 23, 2011

Immigrant inspires with forgiveness for killer

published in The Dalles Morning News on May 20th

The capacity for compassion and forgiveness can reach almost unbelievable proportions.

The post-9/11 shooting spree by Mark Stroman was a predatory act of ghastly viciousness. To a Dallas County jury, the two lives that Stroman took demanded a sentence of death by injection.

But to a shooting victim who survived — a man who was targeted because of the color of his skin — the violence was a moment of confused, misguided hatred.

It’s time for the hate to stop, says Rais Bhuiyan, a native of Bangladesh.

With his attacker set to die in Huntsville this summer, Bhuiyan has begun a quiet campaign to spare the man’s life.

We wish to give that campaign voice. It delivers a potent message to a nation still torn by the loss of 9/11. It resists the cycle of revenge that doesn’t stop until someone has the courage to say enough.

That’s Bhuiyan’s message: enough. He attributes his conviction to his Islamic faith and his willingness to forgive. Ironically, it was that religious faith that Stroman targeted when he started staking out shopkeepers he assumed to be believers in Islam after Sept. 11, 2001.

It’s a further irony that Stroman killed a non-Muslim, Vasudev Patel, 49, a Hindu from India . He also executed Waqar Hasan, 46, a native of Pakistan.

Bhuiyan, 37, was ambushed while working the counter of a Far East Dallas Texaco station. He recalls Stroman saying just one thing before firing a single blast from a derringer packing a shotgun shell: “Where are you from?”

Had he been able to answer, Bhuiyan might have said he emigrated from Bangladesh after serving as a pilot in his native country’s air force. He might have said he came here because an education and career in America had been a dream.

Despite the ugliness that festers in this country, Bhuiyan’s belief in America has not withered. Now a citizen with a technology career, he overlooks the blindness in his right eye, the shotgun pellets he carries in his face and the fear that stalks him. He wants to help build a better society. Overcoming ignorance and pain, he says, is vital if the nation wants to heal.

That is thoroughly American optimism. Our nation should embrace it regardless of the country and religious faith it comes from.

In this campaign, Bhuiyan is not out to abolish the death penalty (a penalty this newspaper believes should end because it can’t be reliably, evenly applied). His campaign is not about revamping the justice system. It’s more personal than that.

Bhuiyan hopes to meet with Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and Gov. Rick Perry — both supporters of the death penalty — to press the case for sparing his attacker’s life. An uphill quest? Yes. But this country wasn’t built by newcomers with modest dreams.

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