For Airlines & Their Passengers: A Call for Compassion & Empathy

Unfortunately, this story is not new. Two Muslim men were kicked off an Alaska Airlines flight. Their crime? Texting in Arabic.

Last winter, while texting before takeoff, these men apparently incited fear and a terrorist alert when a fellow passenger alerted the crew to this perceived threat. While safety must remain at the forefront for all, it is high time the systems, processes, and human condition that abides be scrutinized, dismantled, and created with true diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront.

Texting while brown. Not, in fact, illegal. Texting in a language other than English. Also, not illegal. Yet, none of the articles and news briefs about this latest incident reminded us of this. Repeated, irresponsible actions as a result of ongoing ignorance, fear, and even hate, disrespect our fellow humans while violating their rights and freedoms. Have we learned nothing over the last 20-years since 9/11? Or over the last 400-years of systemic and structural racism? Or nearly 175-years since the women’s suffrage movement?

Why is basic human decency so hard to achieve? In part, it is because ignorance, fear and intolerance are embedded human characteristics. Implicit bias is hidden or unconscious and expressed automatically, generally without awareness. In fact, Cheryl Staats of the Kirwan Institute at The Ohio State University explains, “Many studies have indicated that implicit biases affect individuals’ attitudes and actions, thus creating real-world implications, even though individuals may not even be aware that those biases exist within themselves” (State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review, 2013). Whether those who sound the alarm are aware of their biases or the consequences of their actions doesn’t change the damaging outcomes for the accused. Fear and ignorance compromises morals and values, compassion and empathy, understanding and acceptance — the very qualities needed to prevent incidents like this one on Alaska Airlines and far too many others, on airlines and elsewhere.

Last year, just as I had settled into my seat for an Alaska Airlines red-eye flight, an older, white female near my row was struggling to place her carryon in the overhead bin. With no other fellow passengers, especially those still standing, offering her assistance, I immediately rose to help. We ended up seated in the same row. As we both settled into our seats, she thanked me for my help. We began chatting and before long, she was telling me all about her recent church group trip to Jordan and Israel, proudly showing me her photos. When I asked about her experiences in the Muslim majority country of Jordan, and without knowing my faith, she shared that Muslims are to kill or convert non-Muslims in order to go to heaven after they die.

Though jarred by her comments, and not expecting them from a person who had just returned from Jordan, I did not sound any alarms. Instead, I felt the need to continue our conversation and perhaps help her get beyond her ignorance and prejudice. As we got to know each other, I gently and jokingly said, “You are sitting next to a Muslim, how do you feel?” After a beat of silence, we both started laughing. She clearly did not sound any alarms either. Before long, we were no longer strangers and instead saw one another as human first; human beings with more in common than we would’ve ever known if we hadn’t started talking. In fact, she realized that we hold much in common in faith as well.

As we approached our destination, she thanked me for our conversation and asked me about visiting a local mosque. She told me she was interested in reading the Quran and hoped to learn more about Islam and Muslims. Neither of us allowed bias, fear, or ignorance to overpower us, causing chaos or worse. Instead, a small act of kindness, followed by calm, friendly conversation, and a genuine desire to learn allowed each of us to open up, sharing parts of ourselves and our stories with the other.

While we live in a time of tremendous misinformation, lies, and stereotypes, it’s far too easy to react out of fear. However, it is our collective responsibility to act with empathy and understanding first. Just think what might have happened if the concerned passenger actually tried engaging with his fellow seatmates. A simple hello and friendly dialogue can help break the ice, calm nerves, and provide courage to inquire about a language or alphabet unfamiliar to yourself, opening up a learning opportunity. We can avoid unnecessary pain, harassment, trauma, costly investigations, or potential injury if we allow ourselves to make genuine connections with others, especially those seemingly unlike us. Perhaps, if this is too much to start, how about asking how you’d feel if you were one of the Muslim passengers innocently texting one moment, being thrown off the plane the next.

For the inevitable witnesses – what can we do to help avoid escalation? We too, need to act with empathy and understanding, both for the victims and the victimizers. Let us not assume the worst of either party. Instead, we can offer comfort and support. This will become easier to extend if we all commit to listening, learning, and sharing. Finding ways to connect with our fellow passengers, neighbors, and community members will build bridges among us all, dismantling ignorance, fear, and hate one heart, and one mind at a time.

~ Rais Bhuiyan, Founder & President, World Without Hate

Empowering Youth Against Extremism

November 24, 2020 | 6 – 7pm EDT
Please join us for an important and timely discussion on diversity, inclusion, and social cohesion aimed at fostering greater youth engagement and preventing marginalization. The panelists will share their story and discuss the importance of dialogue to prevent exclusion and isolation of vulnerable youth while enhancing integration and empowering against extremist ideologies that can lead to violence.

Resiliency in Life & Leadership

Resiliency in Life & Leadership for Seattle Fire Department’s Executive Leadership Academy graduation

October 16, 2020 | 9 -10am PDT | Online Event 
Part of Rais’s remarks at the graduation:

“For each call that comes to your firehouse, you not only have the ability to save lives, but also the power to bring people and community together. You educate people about community service and inspire others to treat everyone as humans first – especially as you often risk your own lives trying to save others without thinking about the victim’s race, religion, or sexual orientation, for example.

Though I can’t imagine the challenges you face, the trauma you carry, and the sacrifices you make, I can indeed relate to the passion you have and the pride you feel serving others. And I am confident under your command, and with the executive leadership training you’ve now received, you will lead your houses, your departments, and your communities with even more distinction.”

Shaping Peace Together: A Story of Love & Servant Leadership

A special International Peace Day virtual conversation with Rais & Jessica Bhuiyan of World Without Hate, moderated by Reem Ghunaim or the Rotary Action Group for Peace.

Mon, September 21, 2020, 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM PDT

About the Webinar:

A Bengali Air Force Officer. An American Theatre student. A Muslim. A spiritual seeker. September 11th survivors. An act of brutal hate. Shared servant leadership. Two paths merge. A love story blossoms.

Join us for this very special International Day of Peace program, an intimate conversation hosted by Reem Ghunaim, Executive Director of Rotary Action Group for Peace with Rais Bhuiyan, Founder & President, and Jessica Bhuiyan, Executive Director of World Without Hate as they share their personal stories, the moment their lives intersected, and the life they share working to realize a world without violence, a world without victims, and a world without hate.

Click here to register. 

Reflections on My 19th Rebirthday

On this day, nineteen years ago, I began what would be my last day of work as a store clerk in South East Dallas. Rescuers at Ground Zero continued searching for survivors. The country was in deep mourning, as newfound fears and uncertainty loomed. But, what had not yet been widely known, was that people like me, quickly began paying the ultimate price for the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Around noon that day, a man wearing a bandana, baseball cap, and sunglasses, carrying a double barrel shot gun walked in. Pointing the gun directly at my face, he asked, “Where are you from?” Before I could utter anything more than “Excuse me?” he pulled the trigger from point blank range.

On this International Day of Peace, my RE-Birthday, I count my blessings for the second chance I was given. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not fully aware of how close I came to death at the hands of hate.

Though not visible to most, I still carry countless scars from that day. Despite all that I lost and endured, I remained here in America, rebuilding my life in the very place that tore it apart. Kind, empathetic Americans from incredibly diverse backgrounds helped me begin to recover. THIS was the country I had learned so much about as a child. This is also why I am extraordinarily proud to be an American, my adopted home for over twenty years.

Today, I see too many of my fellow Americans allowing ignorance and fear to fuel hatred and even violence toward those considered unlike them. Tragically, this is the very same ideology of my attacker for much of his life. In addition to killing two and nearly taking my life, he ultimately paid the ultimate price – having been executed for his crimes.

On this United Nations’ International Day of Peace, hate crime in America is at a 16-year high. We are more divided than ever, with too many ready and willing to hurt others. It is time for us to recommit to being the great country we truly are – respecting our fellow human beings as they are. Taking the time to get to know others, especially someone you consider unlike you, brings great gifts. My attacker hated me when he didn’t know me, but in the end, said he loved me. Once you get to know the other, it’s hard for you to hate them.

In the end, we all have much in common – what you want for yourself and your family, are the same things that the people you think you don’t like want for themselves and their families – love, respect, peace, happiness, opportunity. Life will truly be more peaceful for us all if we commit to treating people as humans first – with compassion and empathy, understanding and acceptance, and to teach our future generations to do the same.

~ Rais Bhuiyan, Founder & President, World Without Hate

19-years Later, Reflections on September 11

September 11th, 2001 happened to be my day off. Every Tuesday I could sleep a little longer. As I began making breakfast, I turned on the news and saw one of the twin towers get hit by a plane. I assumed it was a trailer for a movie, but when I saw the second tower hit, my initial thoughts vanished, and I knew something terrible was happening in New York, my first home in my adopted country. Like everyone, I was shocked, horrified, and then paralyzed by fear. 

Immediately, everything changed. Traditionally friendly customers, at the gas station I worked at, became angry and looked at me with suspicion. No matter where I was, I no longer felt safe. I knew my life in America would never be the same. In fact, I dreamed about what would inevitably happen to me, three times, before I was actually gunned down.

On September 21st, the self-proclaimed True American on a revenge shooting spree, burst into the convenience store, shot me from point blank range, and left me for dead on the cold concrete floor. Though I survived, inexplicable damage remains. There is not a single day I am not reminded of, or impacted by, this painful tragedy and must constantly work to make peace with my pain. Still, I am extraordinarily proud to be an American. It is why, after my shooting, I chose to remain, rebuilding my life in the very place that tore it apart.

Like most Americans, each September 11th brings a rush of emotions. I reflect on how much our country lost that day; the thousands of innocent lives shockingly, and suddenly taken; and how quickly fellow comrades rushed in to aid victims. That most horrific day brought out the best in our fellow community members. 9/11 is indeed a catastrophically tragic day in American history, but it was also a time of extraordinary unity, solidarity, and coming together. Did anyone hesitate because of skin color before running into the burning towers to help others escape? Did anyone pause to ask another about their religion, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background before scooping them into their arms and carrying them further to safety? Did anyone hesitate to donate generously, give blood, or volunteer to comfort strangers?

And yet, 19-years later, that tremendous unity, strong patriotism, and historic fellowship is overshadowed by immense intolerance, fear, mistrust, and hate. In fact, hate crime has reached a 16-year high. Far too many are acting as if we are at war, ready to take the lives of those we do not understand or agree with.  We are fighting against each other rather than working together for justice, equity, and peace for all. Do we truly want to live and raise our children in such an intolerant and hate filled country? 

Today, like you, I live in a free country, but I often wonder, are we all truly free? The only place I feel safe in America is after passing security at the airport. This is not who we are; this is not our America. Our America is great because there is nothing we can’t fix or achieve; it’s the country where change is possible; it’s the country where an immigrant like me could fulfill his dreams after being shot in the face and hitting rock bottom. Americans are capable of extraordinary grace and compassion when they open their hearts to others, as many did for me in the months and years after my attack.

I am here today, in part, because of the man who tried to end my life. When I was able to see him as a human being, and not just a killer, and connected to him with forgiveness and empathy, he embraced me as his brother. It was one of his final requests, asking me to continue the human rights work I had started, helping others get beyond hate and prevent violence.

Where might we start to disrupt cycles of hate and violence? How can we begin to see others, especially those we think are different from us, as human first? A first step towards peace, understanding, and acceptance is teaching ourselves, and each other, empathy. We can then begin to respect others more equally, as human beings, regardless of differences. We certainly don’t have to like everyone we meet, but we can, and must, respect others as we want to be respected.

On this 19th anniversary of 9/11, I urge us to recall the strength in unity and patriotism shared during that day of sheer terror, chaos and unknown. We can indeed come back together, stronger and united as one nation, just as we have demonstrated before.

~ Rais Bhuiyan, a post 9/11 hate crime survivor is the founder of World Without Hate, an international speaker, & the subject of The True American, Murder & Mercy in Texas.

Combating Hate: Empathy Through Storytelling

Friday, September 11, 2020 At 7:30pm – 8:30PM PDT
Tragically, as we mark the 19th Anniversary of 9/11, hate crime in America is at a 16-year high. There is much that divides us. Join us for a special evening of unity as we share our program “Combating Hate: Empathy Through Storytelling,” in partnership with Town Hall Seattle.
We are honored that Deeyah Khan, Emmy Award-Winning documentary film director of White Right: Meeting the Enemy, will join Rais Bhuiyan for a moderated conversation by Mark Wright, NBC’s KING 5 Seattle News Anchor and WWH board member. 

White Women Dismantling White Supremacy

World Without Hate  is excited to debut its newest collaborative effort with Arizona State University’s Project Humanities for our first courageous (virtual) conversation on Thursday, August 27th, 6-7:30pm MST.
A discussion among white women about the work and responsibility to dismantle white supremacy.

About this Event

White supremacy is an ideology and worldview and is part of all of us living in this country. While all women are oppressed by the patriarchal values manifested within US society, white women are simultaneously beneficiaries of systemic racism and are therefore complicit in upholding and perpetuating racist ideologies. How can white women leverage their/our position of being both the oppressed and the oppressor in order to dismantle the social hierarchies that perpetuate inequality? In partnership with Project Humanities of Arizona State University. 

This panel discussion will be conducted via Zoom and streamed on Facebook Live with opportunity for audience input. Interested attendees must RSVP via Eventbrite to receive the Zoom Webinar link and password.

Upon Stroman’s Execution: “Hate has to stop. We are all in this world together.”

“One second of hate can cause a lifetime of pain.” Lying in the middle of a concrete chamber, tied to a gurney, moments away from death, these were the last few words spoken by my attacker. This month marks the 9th anniversary of Mark Stroman’s execution. 

Mark came to realize this painful truth only after he killed two and nearly took my life as well. He said that while physically behind bars, he found mental freedom, getting beyond the fear, ignorance, and hatred that led him to murder. As he learned, and had a change of heart, Mark wanted nothing more than to transmit his messages to others like him. Far too many in the free world were locked up in a prison inside themselves because of the hate they carried in their hearts. He warned, “killing another human being is not something you can forget…please don’t stereotype people. Please don’t become a Mark Stroman.” 

Yet, hate remains on the rise. According to the F.B.I., hate crime violence has hit a 16-year high. Physical assaults make up 61% of the total incidents recorded. We must also keep in mind, more than half of all hate crime victims never report to authorities in the first place.  

I suppose, then, it’s not surprising that I see the reflections of Mark’s pain everywhere. The evidence is in our news feeds every day — in the routine killing of black people; in the rampant shootings in our schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, movie theaters and music festivals; in the swastikas painted on synagogue walls and the burning of mosques; in the devaluation and objectification of women; in the turning away of poor, tired refugees and immigrants; and in the violent attacks  of peaceful protestors in our city streets. 

What can we do to minimize this pain? It’s time we step back to reflect and explore the answers to these types of questions:

·         Am I causing pain and suffering to others, even unintentionally?

·         Are any of my words or actions disrespectful, bullying, or hateful in any way?

·         Do I discriminate against anyone or any group of people? 

·         Does my fear, ignorance, or intolerance cause harm to others?

If the answer is YES, we need to ask ourselves – How and why? Am I unconsciously buying into stereotypes, misconceptions or irresponsibly reported stories from the media, internet or social media? Do I associate with others who are prejudice, racist or hateful? Do I actively speak up to family and friends who perpetuate dangerous falsehoods? What am I doing to try to learn and unlearn generations of historic myths and harm?

Become part of the movement to help build a world without hate. Help us create the world we want to leave for our next generations. How can you contribute to ending hate and violence, one heart and one mind, at a time? Please don’t hesitate to share your stories, thoughts, and ideas with us.

Though Mark suffered from tremendous childhood abuse and trauma, a lack of love, education & guidance, he ended his life in peace. Mark received love, kindness, and mercy from friends all over the world and people he once hated, renewing his faith in Jesus, and in humanity. Unfortunately, Mark’s awakening came too late and the state of Texas did not deem his life worthy of living. But, he asked me to carry-on with and for him. He did not want others to face his same fate. He did not want other lives to be destroyed or lost because of senseless hate and violence. Looking within ourselves, to be better people than we were yesterday, is one very large step toward building a safer, more equitable, and peaceful society for all. Join me, join us at World Without Hate, so we can realize that world.

Rest in Peace, Mark. I hope people in the free world will continue to learn from you and avoid the path that leads to a lifetime of pain.  

~ Rais Bhuiyan, Founder, World Without Hate