White Supremacy in America: Lessons From My Attacker

This past week marked the 8th anniversary of my attacker’s execution. Ironically perhaps, this past week we witnessed the Commander in Chief’s vitriolic racist attacks of fellow elected officials garnering security concerns for the lives he has put at risk. I often tell others that I work to make peace with my pain every day, but unimaginable days like we continue to see from the President of the United States makes it exceedingly difficult, to say the least.

Speaking with students at Glastonbury High School. Photo: Hartford Courant, Glastonbury, CT, 2012
Photo Credit: MARK MIRKO | mmirko@courant.com

Before pulling the trigger, my attacker asked, “Where are you from?” My brown skin not welcomed in his “white” America. Though narrowly escaping with my life, I still carry more than three dozen bullet fragments in my face and skull and am blind in one eye, these just the physical reminders of America’s racism and intolerance towards me and “my kind” immediately following 9/11.

Devastatingly, it seems I’m not welcomed in Trump’s America either. And while he puts elected officials’ lives in danger, he also puts mine, and so many others like me, in jeopardy too. In addition to my sight, my attacker took from me my sense of safety and security. Nearly nineteen years since my shooting and still, the only place I truly feel safe in America is past the security checkpoint at the airport. Trump’s hate speech and white supremacist ideology is dangerous. Dangerous for millions of minorities who proudly call themselves Americans. Dangerous for the security of our country. Dangerous for the future of our country. Dangerous for our ideals and all that our country was built upon. Dangerous, alas, for me.

The stark difference between my attacker, Mark Stroman, and President Trump is that Mark transformed. Unfortunately, it was on death row that he felt free, loved, and respected as a human being. My assailant realized how wrong he was, especially when he had others around him to support his learning and growth. Before his execution, Mark said he loved me, thanked me for campaigning to try and save his life, and called me “brother.” I will always be sorry that for Mark it took killing two people, nearly taking my life, and ending up on death row before he was able to know forgiveness, compassion, and empathy and to give it in return.

This tragedy took a great deal from me, but it also paved the way for my life’s purpose and the organization I created, World Without Hate, as a result. Before his life ended, Mark Stroman’s last words were, “Hate is going on everywhere and it has to stop. Hate causes a lifetime of pain.” I’ve dedicated my life to disrupting hate. Today, I implore President Trump to stop the hate, and the danger he is inciting, and instead unite us all as human beings first. Before it’s too late.

~ Rais Bhuiyan, International speaker & Founder of World Without Hate.

DFW Holocaust Museum, Dallas, TX

Rais’ speaking engagement

“Today’s rhetoric is hauntingly familiar of the Nazis when they created their anti-Jewish propaganda that ultimately led to the holocaust; exterminating Jews, communists, Polish-Catholics, Gays, Romas, priests, and others. During the Nuremberg trials, SS leader, Heinrich Himmler said, “The best political weapon is the weapon of terror. Men may hate us, but we don’t ask for their love, but for their fear.” We had to terrify our own people, force them to fear the supposed enemy, so no one would say anything when Jews and others were dragged out of their homes, snatched from the street and captured.

We are, once again, witnessing similar rhetoric, including those from our leaders and the media. Creating fear, labeling people as a threat, denouncing and dehumanizing them, seemingly making it easy to persecute, and as a society, we are to feel relieved the “BAD guys” are off the street.   My attacker repeatedly said that watching the same footage of the planes hitting the twin towers and listening to politicians blaming Muslims for 9/11 – he snapped, and took up arms against innocent human beings. At the end, he lost his life along with two innocent victims, brought tremendous pain and suffering not only to his victims and their families but also to his own, while those who inspired him still enjoy the benefits, they earned by selling hate and fear.  It’s the same story in Christchurch, NZ, Pittsburg, Charleston, Quebec City and the list goes on and on. What the terrorists seem to forget, every single time, is that through the devastation, heart wrenching pain and loss…we rise. We grow stronger and become more closely connected. We grab onto hope, harder than ever before. Humanity and love prevail. ” ~ Rais Bhuiyan

For New Zealand: Humanity & Love Prevails

Like most, we are devastated by the senseless loss of life in Christchurch, New Zealand. The sanctity of life so brutally stolen from the 49 victims has been gut wrenching, dizzying. While we try to process, our hearts remain with everyone affected by this latest, horrific terrorist attack. Forty-nine human beings, in a fraction of a second, lost their lives. Many more wounded, physically, but also, mentally and emotionally as well. Families have been torn apart, forever changed. As this horrendous act virally spread around the world, millions of more people began to suffer. Previous victims of hate-crimes and violence, and their families, are immediately transported back to their own horror and trauma. Muslims, Jews, African-Americans, Sikhs, and all who’ve experienced religious and racial persecution must face fear and panic, once again. It’s hard not to wonder if safety and security are simply no more. It’s hard not to start believing that our most precious commodity, human life, is just not precious enough. Is it truly possible to live in a world without hate?

In the midst of the horrific images, footage, and media reels replaying the terror as it unfolded, stories of love and hope have begun to emerge. Entire communities have come together, literally lining the streets with signs of support for their Muslim neighbors heading to prayer. In the midst of the unspeakable madness inside the Christchurch mosque, one worshiper made the conscious decision to throw his body in front of another, sacrificing his own life for his Muslim brother. More and more courageous acts are coming to light. One of the first victims of this terror attack turned to the shooter as he entered, welcoming him to the mosque. His last word, “Brother.” In our own home, messages of support, friendship, and love have been pouring in, many renewed commitments to ending this unspeakable cycle of hate and violence.

These heroic stories, acts of true compassion, thoughts of kindness and empathy are the reasons why we hold onto hope and have dedicated our lives to doing all that we can to build a world without hate for all. Each day, we recall the final words of Rais’ attacker before his own execution, “Hate is going on everywhere and it has to stop. Hate brings a lifetime of pain.” As a victim of a brutal post 9/11 hate-crime, Rais Bhuiyan, continues to make peace with his pain. We share his story of forgiveness and empathy in hopes of inspiring others to choose the same. Engaging with people throughout the country, and around the world, through empathy education and courageous conversation allows us to shatter the stereotypes, misnomers, and even fear perpetuated by some of our leaders, media, and misinformed citizens. This year, World Without Hate is embarking on a National Empathy Ride, visiting communities across the country in hopes of dialoguing with our fellow Americans in a safe, comfortable, and respectful atmosphere so that we may dismantle the myths of the “other,” addressing questions and fears, developing and strengthening the capacity to see each other as human beings first, and paving the way for peace, understanding, and acceptance – the cure for hate and violence.

As always, we cannot end the cycle of hate and violence without you. We are all responsible for upholding our most inherent and basic human right – the right to life. Join us on social media to share your photos and tokens of love and friendship, erasing the images and footage of hate, violence, and murder. Reach out to your neighbors, co-workers, and community members who may be experiencing tremendous difficulty during this time or who are going through challenges in their own lives because of the fear and hate they carry in their hearts, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Visit a religious institution different from yours to experience how truly welcoming and warm these houses of worship and their members truly are. Rise up and act with courage, when you witness a post, a moment, or an incident of ignorance, fear, or hate, regardless of who the victims are.

Above all, commit to doing your part to change the narrative and to combat hate and violence for the long term. Today and tomorrow we may still hear about this latest act of terror, but it will all soon fade, and we will resume our regularly scheduled programming, until the next time. We don’t stand a chance of erasing “the next time” if we don’t work together and demand change for once and for all. We have a long way to go, there is no doubt, but together, we can create the world we all deserve – a world without violence, a world without victims, and a World Without Hate.

To all those who have lost their lives or suffered at the hands of this evil and hate-fill attack in New Zealand, and around the world — for you, we will never, ever give up.

With love and light,

Rais and Jessica Bhuiyan
World Without Hate

Bearing Witness: Rohingya Fleeing Genocide, a documentary

Join World Without Hate’s Founder & President, Rais Bhuiyan and Hadi Jawad, Peace & Human Rights Activist, for an intimate film screening of the documentary, Bearing Witness: Rohingya Fleeing Genocide. Following the film short, Hadi will moderate a conversation with Rais about his relief work in the camps and the promise he made to the refugees to share their stories of suffering, survival, and pleas for help.

This event is free and open to the public.

Rohingya Documentary film screening and interview with Jeff Renner

Rohingya Children

Challenge 2.0 Program – video podcast and cable broadcasts, Seattle, WA

Rais with Rohingya refugees

When Rais first heard about the Rohingya crisis, he was a flight cadet in the Bangladesh Air Force and couldn’t do anything except pray for these poor and vulnerable people. When the crisis resurfaced in 2017, he had already experienced the brutal pain of hate and violence firsthand being a victim of a violent post 9/11 hate crime in Dallas, Texas. He had also gained a voice, and the strength to stand up against hate, injustice and human suffering. His heart broke seeing the plight of the Rohingya people and wanted to do whatever he could to help them, and to bring awareness to this catastrophic issue. About a couple of years ago, he visited the camp to do relief work, as well as speak with many of the refugees who asked him to share their stories and their voices. As part of his promise to them, the documentary came to be.

In this 16-minute short, he not only reflected the plight of the Rohingya and the millions who are barely surviving in the largest refugee camp in the world, but also proposed a 5 points solution to end this senseless human suffering. 

He also hope that bearing witness to the plight of the Rohingya reminds us of how much we have to be grateful for and in this, making the best use of our resources to help eradicate hate and violence from our communities, our nation, and our world. Together, we must stand up against human suffering.

From Empathy to Action: Outcomes of Empathy Ambassador Leadership Training

Before learning about World Without Hate’s Empathy Ambassador Leadership Training, I found myself getting frustrated. I knew I had a drive, a passion, and an idea, but I didn’t know how to get started or find others who might want to dive in with me. I also knew I couldn’t be the only one feeling stuck with a goal in mind trying to make our corner of the world a little brighter.

I jumped at the opportunity to participate in this training. I had been straining to tangibly create a project in service to a population I hold close to my heart: individuals in transition from incarceration.

Jessica, WWH Executive Director,and I had developed a quick friendship a few months after I had moved to Seattle last winter. As she started telling me about the Empathy Ambassador Leadership Training, I felt relief and confirmation that I might be able to collaborate with other action-oriented minds and mobilize.

In the two and a half day training, I met many open hearts, curious learners, and people who believe we can be doing better for our communities. Most importantly, I felt these people were prepared to actually do something about it. On the final day, we were tasked with building actionable plans for our Empathy Projects.

I stood up and explained my idea of creating Reentry Resource Backpacks: bags full of basic human needs, community resources, clothing, a transportation card, etc. These backpacks would be given to individuals immediately upon release from incarceration to make those first few days back in the community a little easier. Each backpack would carry a handwritten letter from a fellow community member offering welcome and support in their time of transition. The idea quickly grew into a team of Empathy Ambassadors and evolved into “The Welcome Backpack Project.”

A month after the training, our Empathy Ambassador team has raised over $2,000 and has collected personal and corporate donations for hygiene products, backpacks, reusable water bottles, and community resource booklets. We have teamed up with two local nonprofits also dedicated to supporting formerly incarcerated individuals: Living with Conviction and Interaction Transition. Our next phase is to assemble 30 Welcome Backpacks, each backpack valued at $63.

I believe many people are thirsty to encourage change by supporting the causes they are passionate about, but like me, they may not know how to do that in a meaningful way. World Without Hate Empathy Projects are becoming that missing piece: empowering people to join or create tangible service projects working to brighten our corners of the world.

Stay tuned for Part II for outcomes of The Welcome Backpack Project!

~ Kelsey Engstrom, Participant & WWH Advisory Board Member

On the 17th Anniversary of 9/11: A Survivor’s Call for Unity

On the 17th Anniversary of 9/11: A Survivor’s Call for Unity

Like most Americans, each September 11th, I reflect on how much our country lost that day; the thousands of lives shockingly, and suddenly taken; and how quickly fellow comrades rushed to aid victims. That fateful day, seventeen years ago, brought out the best in our fellow citizens, but tragically, also revealed the worst.

On this September 11th, ironically perhaps, I will be lying in the hospital as my doctors perform sinus surgery, my second in two years. Although not in Manhattan, or Washington D.C. on September 11th, I am a victim, and a survivor, of the terror that reigned down upon our country in 2001. 

I watched, as so many had, the terror that unfolded that sunny September day. I too was fixated on the news as jets came barreling toward the twin towers and pentagon. As I watched the towers fall and speculation begin about the perpetrators, I couldn’t help but begin to worry. As the days unfolded, I began to have nightmares – for three nights in a row – waking in panic, having witnessed myself being shot in the convenience store where I worked. It had already begun happening. For many of us, the horror, fear, and violence, just began once the twin towers fell. Customers began harassing, taunting, and threatening me. Four days after September 11th, a shop owner was shot to death at a nearby store.  I was so alarmed I begged my boss to activate the decoy security cameras and keep two clerks on shift. Unfortunately, he did neither.

On September 21st, ten days after 9/11, as rescuers searched debris for signs of life, our country deep in mourning, a newfound fear and uncertainty over us, I began what would be my last day of work as a clerk in South Dallas. Around noon on this stormy Friday, while I remained behind the check-out counter, a man wearing a baseball cap, bandana, and sunglasses, carrying a double-barrel shot gun slung along his side, walked in. As he pointed the gun directly at my face, he asked, “Where are you from?” Before I could utter anything but “Excuse me?” he pulled the trigger. From point blank range.

As I reflect upon 9/11 again this year, this time while in the hospital, I remain grateful for my second chance at life. As I approach my ‘ReBirthday’, I celebrate the purposeful life my God afforded me that afternoon while I lie in my own blood, alone, on a convenience store floor. On my deathbed I vowed that should I survive, I would live each day helping others, and as a human rights advocate, peace activist, non-profit leader, and motivational speaker, I have the opportunity to try and combat the hate and violence that has plagued our country for far too long. I founded the nonprofit, World Without Hate, with the hope we might all build bridges among one another, as opposed to walls; that through our own powerful human attributes of forgiveness, compassion, empathy, understanding, and acceptance, we can begin to see how much more we have in common than that which seems to divide us.  I see 9/11 not only as a tragic day in American history, but also a time of unity, solidarity, and coming together, despite our differences. 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 before scooping them into their arms and carrying them further to safety?

While in surgery, my doctors will try to remove some of the bullet fragments I still carry. Constant reminders of my attack, nearly three dozen pepper the right side of my face and skull. The shooting also left me blind in my right eye. The physical disabilities, perhaps, pale in comparison to the mental and emotional toll my hate crime has taken. For a survivor like me, great comfort comes when I have the opportunity to speak to or work with my fellow citizens as they come together, taking initiative to understand and accept each other, finding ways to help make strides for a peaceful, safe, and united nation for all.

It is high time for us to pause and reflect, to truly see where we are heading. The terrorist attacks took thousands of lives, destroying countless others, including mine. As a nation, we come together each year, rightfully so, to remember and show support for the victims and survivors. However, innocent victims of post 9/11 hate crimes remain unnoticed and unsupported. From 2001 to 2016, half a million people lost their lives from gun violence in this country. Hate crimes are once again on the rise, increasing by 12% in 2016-17 alone. Enemies of our freedom and democracy are sowing seeds of radical, racial conflict, dividing us through our own social media, revolting rhetoric and intolerant behavior, where blaming the “other” has become the norm. This is not who we are; this is NOT our America.

As we come together to pay our respects on this seventeenth anniversary, I urge us all to remember the thousands upon thousands of people who protected, saved, and comforted one another. Recall, in the midst of your mourning, the strength in unity and patriotism shared during such chaos and unknown. We can indeed come back together. The lessons I’ve learned from my traumatic experience, and the journey I’ve taken, moved me from a place of pain on the deepest level, to a place of hope for a kinder, just, and more accepting world.

Join me, in honoring all those lost and affected on this tragic anniversary, pledging to proactively denounce ignorance, intolerance, and hate, treating all people equally, as humans first, regardless of our visible or invisible diversity. Let’s show the rest of the world that we are indeed stronger, and united as one nation, just as we demonstrated seventeen years ago.

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.

World Without Hate’s Empathy Ambassadors Leadership Training

World Without Hate is excited to announce its Seattle debut of our Empathy Ambassadors Leadership Training Program. We are grateful to our co-hosts, the Interfaith Community Sanctuary & Peace Camp International for welcoming us this summer!

Young adults, educators, religious leaders, counselors, and all who are interested in deepening, broadening & strengthening their interpersonal and intra-personal skills are welcome and encouraged to participate.

Join us in this multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural, humanitarian workshop to discover/rediscover and expand the ways in which we interact with the world within and around us.

The Secret Life of Muslims

Join us for a special screening of The Secret Life of Muslims; the award-winning, digital series that uses humor and empathy to subvert stereotypes. Experience an engaging and interactive evening as we explore social justice filmmaking, the importance of storytelling, advocacy and activism, and global citizenship.

Program co-hosted with World Without Hate, including moderator Aneelah Afzali and special guests; Joshua Seftel, Executive Producer & Creator of The Secret Lives of Muslims, Rais Bhuiyan, Founder & President of World Without Hate and featuring these community partners:

Eat With Muslims
Just Lead
Muslim Community Resource Center
American Muslim Empowerment Network
(A program of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound)
Pop Up Justice
World Without Hate