Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What Courage Looks Like

I’m not surprised to find a Muslim American who epitomizes courage. I’m not surprised by that because I’m not an anti-Muslim bigot, like so many of my fellow Americans. But I am surprised – pleasantly so – to come across this type of courage, which is extraordinary for any person, no matter what demographic group they may belong to:

DALLAS — Rais Bhuiyan saw Mark Stroman and his gun in the reflection of the window.

Then came the question a robber wouldn’t ask, Bhuiyan thought.

“Where are you from?”

“Excuse me?”

Within seconds, Bhuiyan, a store clerk, fell to the floor of the convenience store on Buckner Boulevard, bleeding profusely from a head wound from the gun blast. It blinded his right eye but miraculously didn't damage his brain.

Stroman, a white supremacist, would later confess he was out for revenge against those of Middle Eastern descent in Mesquite and Dallas days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Already, Stroman had killed one Pakistani immigrant; two weeks later, he’d kill an Indian immigrant.

Now, Bhuiyan wants to forgive.

He’ll be asking for a stay of the July 20 evening scheduled execution of Stroman, and a stop to the “cycle of violence,” as he calls it.

“Sometimes, we human beings make mistakes out of anger,” said Bhuiyan, 37, in an interview Monday with The Dallas Morning News.

Bhuiyan said his Islamic faith led him to realize “hate doesn’t bring any good solution to people. At some point we have to break the cycle of violence. It brings more disaster.”

Last fall, he contacted Dr. Rick Halperin, the director of the human rights education program at Southern Methodist University.

It was a coincidence that Halperin already knew many details of Bhuiyan’s story. Stroman had been corresponding with the professor, an anti-death-penalty activist, for two years.

Bhuiyan explained how the event had shaped his life, how he grew introspective about his faith and how he found answers to why he lived and others died.

The events, Halperin said, “raise questions about compassion and healing and the nature of justice.”

As for Bhuiyan, Halperin said, “I am amazed at the calm with which some can forgive the unforgivable.”

Hadi Jawad of the Dallas Peace Center said Bhuiyan’s actions serve as a lesson for others at a critical time for the nation and the world.

“With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 coming up, we need a narrative of compassion and healing. The world has gone through so much darkness,” Jawad said.

(Via Amnesty International.) For more about Rais Bhuiyan’s story, see The Execution Chronicles.

Right after September 11, I corresponded by e-mail with a good friend of mine, a lawyer who happens to be Jewish, asking: Now what? What should the United States do in response to the attacks? After all, as Pres. Bush correctly said, those unprovoked attacks on American civilians constituted acts of war under any definition of the term. But was war, in fact, the right thing to do under the circumstances? My good friend responded with the words of Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr.:

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.

I knew he was right, even though few Americans resisted the President’s call for an open ended “war on terror” in the wake of the attacks.

But setting aside broader issues like whether we should have gone into Afghanistan in the first place, what alternatives existed at the time, and whether we should still be there now, Rais Bhuiyan’s story could teach us a thing or two. As despicable a person as Mark Stroman may be – and his acts were as despicable as they come – killing him now accomplishes exactly nothing. He’s in prison, incapacitated, and so long as he remains there he can’t harm Bhuiyan or any other innocent person on the street. The fact is, the only thing state-sanctioned killing accomplishes is killing. It really has no value other than naked retribution, and that’s no value at all.

Even if Stroman is beyond redemption (and who can say that with absolute certainty?); even if he “deserves” to die; at some point somebody has to say: Enough. Rais Bhuiyan is willing to be that person. Sadly, I doubt the State of Texas will listen.

In fact, I doubt very many of us will listen, even those of us who call ourselves “liberal.” And so Mark Stroman will be executed, and nothing will be accomplished, and the cycle of violence will continue.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.


  1. I agree, Dave. It has to end somewhere. One side (whether personally or in war) has to be willing to stand down.

    Bhuiyan is, indeed, a courageous and beautiful man.

  2. Excellent post, Dave. I totally agree with your thoughts.

  3. This is beautiful, Dave. Thank you. What a wonderful role model Bhuiyan is for anyone.

  4. Thank you all so much for your kind words. I really appreciate it.

  5. Excellent!!! As always, Dave!