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Beyond Borders, Beyond Hate
Contributed by Rais Bhuiyan, Founder & President,World Without Hate
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” — Mark Twain Read more….
The recent tragic event in Orlando, FL is truly barbaric, despicable, and an act of pure evil. I am speechless. I am beyond shocked. It has been extremely difficult to find the right words to express how tremendously devastating this terrible hate crime truly is.
I can only speak from my heart; as an American, a Muslim, a peace activist and human rights advocate, and as a hate crime survivor myself. From my experience, I know at this time, I can only offer my profound sympathy to everyone who has been touched by this unspeakable act of violence. I empathize with the victims, survivors, and their loved ones. Their lives–all lives–should never have ended or forever been altered in such a horrific and tragic way. My deepest, heartfelt condolences go out to the victims, survivors, and everyone whose life got torn apart by this shooting. I am praying that comfort and peace may come.
This incident, yet again (sadly) highlights the need for all people of heart and good conscience to dedicate themselves toward a pursuit of better human behavior, better human relationships, a better world…a world without such hate, intolerance and violence. We should not only mourn as a nation, but also work together, regardless of ethnic and cultural background, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or skin color, to make America safe for ALL. We must build bridges among each other. We must embrace one another, our diversity and uniqueness, and our incredibly varied communities.
Please understand that pointing fingers, blaming, or dehumanizing anyone or any group who had nothing to do with this (or any) evil act is not only dangerous, but will further divide an already divided nation and cause even more innocent victims.
I urge us all, I plead, show respect to your fellow human beings, regardless of how angry you are or how much pain and suffering you are enduring in your own life. Please do not take your anger and frustration out on others. Please don’t buy into some media’s discriminatory presumptions. Please remember, though it may seem impossible at the moment, that love conquers hate in the end.
We all deserve a peaceful, respectful, and dignified human life. To help make that possible for everyone, take the time to reach out to family members, friends, or neighbors who may be going through challenges instead of ignoring them. By doing so, we can help save many innocent lives.
With heartfelt condolences,
Founder & President
World Without Hate
At a recent event, in reference to such conflicts as bullying, aggression and terrorism, my interviewer asked, “Shouldn’t we fight back, shouldn’t all criminals pay for their crimes?” My response was that while punishment is needed to maintain justice, law and order in society, it does not need to completely destroy a person, their life or his/her family. Rather, the criminal justice system should serve to repair and give the perpetrator a second chance to become a better human being. As I have learned, ‘justice isn’t truly served if not tempered with mercy.’
Justice can be served without violating HUMAN RIGHTS and DIGNITY. Years after my shooting, not only was I able to heal physically, emotionally, and mentally, I also let go of any bitterness in my heart, finding it more important to forgive. In doing so, I was not only able to focus on enjoying my life and the company of my loved ones again, but also saw the possibility of a world based on mutual respect, compassion, empathy, and understanding.
I hope you have seen this story in the news. If not, I encourage you to take a moment to read it: A compassionate judge sentences a veteran to 24 hours in jail, then joins him behind bars. This is an incredible example of justice with mercy, compassion, and empathy at its core. Our world needs more judges like Lou Olivera!
[Updated as of Aug 2016]
Dear Mr. Trump,
My name is Rais Bhuiyan. I am an American Muslim and survivor of a violent post 9/11 hate crime. I deplore the acts of violence and hatred that are wrongly performed in the name of my religion, they do not represent me or my beliefs, and they do not reflect the lessons taught in the Qur’an. I also denounce all manifestations of hateful acts and rhetoric.
While I respect you for obtaining the GOP nomination for President, as such a leader, I urge you to learn about and get to know the minorities and immigrants who call the United States home. Like all of humanity, American Muslims are an integral part of our society. They are doctors, lawyers, teachers, first responders and firefighters, business owners, police officers, and peace activists, like me. Over 10,000 American Muslims currently serve in the U.S. military and are ready to put their lives on the line to protect our freedom and liberties. American Muslims, like their fellow citizens, are patriotic Americans, who have been living and shaping the landscape of this country for centuries. Ten to 30% of the people brought here as slaves were Muslims who fought during the Civil War, WWII, and the Vietnam War. Many gave (and continue to give) their lives to protect your freedom, liberty, and happiness, contributing to building this great country. It not only devastates American Muslims like me when our country’s leaders question our allegiance, it sends an extraordinarily distressing message worldwide. You have a unique position in American society, people take your words seriously, they listen to and believe you.
Your vitriolic, hate-filled rhetoric and ignorance is not only causing others to lose their civil and human rights and dignity, but in some cases, also inciting such abhorrence and violence that innocent people are losing their lives. Freedom of speech is one of the most cherished rights we enjoy, but was not fought for to be used as a blank check to ruin other peoples’ freedom. It is imperative that you properly represent all Americans, including Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans and immigrants — voters, citizens, professionals, family members and loyal Americans. A great leader represents everyone, even those who do not support him. As citizens of this nation, we should be doing things to strengthen and empower one another, not discouraging or demonizing some among us, and not casting doubt upon their loyalties and love for our country.
I have spent my life preaching the value of radical forgiveness, compassion, empathy, and acceptance ever since I was shot in the face ten days after 9/11 by an American espousing values similar to the ones you voiced. I know how tempting it was to BLAME the whites, the Christians, or all the Americans’ because of the white supremacist who shot me in the face and killed two innocent South Asians and voluntarily told the media, after his arrest, that what he did, most Americans wanted to do, but they did not have the guts to do it. He BLAMED me and “my kind” for 9/11. He thought that America was no place for Muslims until I started a campaign to save him from death row. Unfortunately, he was ultimately executed, but not before he called me “brother” and he said that he loved me. His last message was, “Hate has to stop, it causes a lifetime of pain”.
America needs to understand, to repair, and to heal. America does deserve better. We deserve better treatment from ourselves. We deserve a country that lives up to its original creed – that ALL men (and women) are created equal. At a time when most Americans were uninformed, misinformed, or simply afraid of Islam, Thomas Jefferson imagined Muslims as future citizens of his new nation. His engagement with the faith began with the purchase of a Qur’an eleven years before he wrote the Declaration of Independence. “Neither Pagan nor Mahamedan [Muslim] nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion.” — Thomas Jefferson, quoting John Locke, 1776
Your recent comments against Muslims, Hispanics, Blacks, and immigrants are spreading fear, hate, and causing destruction in our society, and it’s not healthy. Your recent speech reminds me of the famous quote of Abraham Lincoln – “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
I urge you to stop spreading fear and hate, putting Americans against one another. Instead, just imagine each time someone gets shot or killed, faces hate or prejudice that it is YOU or one of your loved ones. For God sake, please have some empathy and compassion for those who go through each and every day wondering if they might be next, terrified to leave their homes, unable to practice their basic rights as citizens and as human beings. Please step up and make a positive impact today. History will remember you for what you did for humanity.
I would welcome the opportunity to sit down with you, as one American Muslim, to talk with you further about the contributions that American Muslims can make to improving our national security and helping this nation to be the best it can be. Muslims have value, Mr. Trump, and all Muslims are not violent. I would like to demonstrate these truths to you.
Founder & President
World Without Hate
If you are in the Dallas area, the Embrey Human Rights Program invites you to attend Journey of Hope’s World Day Against the Death Penalty Conference. The conference will take place on Saturday, October 10 from 9am-5pm. and will be held at Southern Methodist University, 133 Fondren Science Building.
From Journey of Hope:
“Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing is an organization that is led by murder victim family members that conducts public education speaking tours and addresses alternatives to the death penalty. Journey “storytellers” come from all walks of life and represent the full spectrum and diversity of faith, color and economic situation. They are real people who know first-hand the aftermath of the insanity and horror of murder. They recount their tragedies and their struggles to heal as a way of opening dialogue on the death penalty in schools, colleges, churches and other venues.
The Journey spotlights murder victim’s family members who choose not to seek revenge, and instead select the path of love and compassion for all of humanity. Forgiveness is seen as strength and as a way of healing. The greatest resources of the Journey are the people who are a part of it.”
Visit https://www.journeyofhope.org/world-day-conference/ for more information.
In 2010, when I was well on the road to getting my life back together, I moved into an attractive apartment complex in Dallas. I wanted to be polite to my new neighbors in the fashion of my culture, so I made Bangladeshi rice pudding for everyone in my building. I put the dessert in containers and went door to door to introduce myself and present my gift. Most people accepted it graciously, even the ones who had no intention of actually eating it.
At one door, however, I met with coldness. Nobody would answer the door even though I could hear them inside. I tried three times to make the acquaintance of that family, but I had no luck. I left. I told myself that I had done my part, and they had made their choice. I hoped that someday we would meet.
Several days later, I saw one of them in the parking lot. I will call him David. I introduced myself. “Hello my name is Rais, I am your neighbor living upstairs.” I suspected from his facial expression that he was not interested in getting to know this neighbor. Nevertheless, I invited him to come up to my apartment for a cup of coffee anytime.
We saw each other in the parking lot several times after that, but we never exchanged anything beyond a “Hi” or ‘Hello” until one day when I saw him polishing his car. We talked for few minutes about the materials he was using, and I had a chance to give him my contact number and to invite him to call me if he ever needed something.
Sometime later, on a Saturday afternoon, I was jogging near the apartment complex when suddenly my cell phone rang. I answered it and heard David say, “Hey Rais, I need a big favor from you. I was in a car accident last evening, and I thought I didn’t need to go to the hospital, but now I feel as though I am about pass out. My wife is pregnant and can’t take me to the hospital. Can you please take me?”
I stopped jogging, ran towards my apartment, picked him up from his house, and took him to the nearest hospital. While we were waiting for the doctor, he asked if I could get him a Dr. Pepper. I had no cash or credit card with me because I had rushed to get him, so I called a friend and asked him to bring the drink or a dollar bill, so that I could buy it from a vending machine. My friend arrived with a dollar bill and I was finally able to get David his requested Dr. Pepper. He was grateful, but curious as to what on earth had taken me so long.
During the four-hour emergency room ordeal, I kept updating his wife about his condition. When he was finally released, I took him to a Bangladeshi restaurant, bought him dinner, and got something to take home to his wife.
The next day David asked if he could come up to my apartment and I welcomed him. After he thanked me, he told me that there was something he needed to say. I wondered if he still wanted to know why the Dr. Pepper had taken so long, but I was stunned when he admitted, “I have been treating you badly. I was ignoring you because you look as though you are from the Middle East. You look like all those suicide bombers and terrorists.”
I had known that David had not been eager to know me, but I had not realized that he saw me as a possible suicide bomber! I was shocked! David was educated, he had a good job, he was raising a family, and it had been nine years since the 9/11 tragedy. Still, he had judged me on the basis of my looks. And yet, something magical was now happening. He explained how my assistance the previous day had opened his eyes and changed his impression of me. He told me that I was the first Muslim he had ever known, and that his previous impressions of Islam had been based solely on media images. “I judged you without knowing you,” he said.
David went down to his house and came back with a green baseball bat in his hand. He gave me the bat and said, “From now on, you are my brother, and if anyone says anything bad to you, you call me. I’ve got your back. Keep the bat handy for protection in case you ever need it.” While I have no intention of ever using that bat against anybody, I was moved by my new friend’s concern for my safety.
Since that time, David and I have spent many hours together, and both of us have grown and benefited from our friendship – a friendship that would never have existed unless both of us had moved past first impressions and had dared to reach across the artificial cultural barriers that separated us.
I hope that World Without Hate allows all of us to do the same. It is in sharing our stories that we begin the process. I look forward to hearing yours.
This post by Linda Pilz Napoletano
A posting on Belma Islamovic’s Facebook page says, “The only disability is a bad attitude.” That is an impressive sentiment coming from a young woman whose arms were blown off in a Bosnian war shelling over twenty years ago. More impressive still is her view of the men who ignited and catapulted the shell that exploded into her dream of becoming a fashion designer, that robbed her of her youthful exuberance and her independence to do the simplest of activities like feeding and cleaning herself. These men who sent destruction to a vaguely known destination, to collide with people they didn’t know — she sees them as victims, too – victims of a war that robbed its participants of humanity.
I ask her where her story begins, and she answers, “when I lost my arms,” so we start there.
Belma remembers the date – September 28, 1993 – a day etched into her skin. It had been rainy that day in the city of Mostar, and her father Salko, a soldier in the Bosniak army, had just come from the line. Things were quiet, and he suggested that the family sleep upstairs that night in the apartment they had used for three months since being evicted from their own home on the wrong side of the Bosniak/Croatian line. Usually they slept in the basement to escape the shelling; Salko felt that was unnecessary on this evening. Everyone was overjoyed, but Belma’s mother Esma was uneasy. She had experienced a nightmare the evening before: she had seen her husband dressed all in white with blood stains all over him and had realized that they were attending Belma’s funeral. The dream had been haunting, and she couldn’t shake the feeling. Still, it had just been a dream, after all, and things seemed calm enough, so everyone agreed to spend that night upstairs.
Belma takes a quick break from the story to fill in a few details. She talks about a childhood friend, a Croation boy who addressed her fondly with, “Hey, Bosniak!” and to whom she warmly referred as “the Catholic.” She talks about the Croatian soldier whose life was saved by her father when they were both fighting against the Serbs and the night he returned the favor by hiding Salko’s gun so that the Croatian forces wouldn’t find it and execute him. She talks about the night the Croatian military came to the old family house on the other side of the line, how one soldier pointed a gun at her father’s head and pulled the trigger, and how her father escaped from that unscathed by the mere accident of moving his head away at just the right moment. She talks about the Croatian commander who suddenly realizes with regret that the family who has just been terrorized is the family of the man who taught him to read, write, and drive a car, and how, despite that, the family is forced the next day to pack a few items and leave the home forever. She talks about living in the new lodging with no school and no electricity, going to the river for water and going to the hills for the care packages dropped from US planes. She talks about ironies: giving blood at the neighboring hospital, visiting neighbors who had lost a limb, and wondering if it might not be worth it, getting injured in order to be brought to another a country, one that was not war-torn, one in which there would be enough food and water.
Back to the story of September 28, Belma relates how she was supposed to entertain a guest that evening. She and a girlhood school chum had made plans; both were supposed to stay at Belma’s apartment that evening, but Belma was having misgivings. Perhaps it was her mother’s dream, perhaps it was the unexplained queasy feeling in her stomach. For whatever reason, she felt that she shouldn’t bring the friend home. They met briefly and agreed to move the sleep-over to the next day.
Back home, Belma learned that her mother was with an aunt and her father was visiting a friend; neither would be home until late. One of her sisters suggested they take advantage of that absence to smoke some cigarettes, but Belma didn’t feel well. She was drawn to the bed. On second thought, the sisters were unusually tired, too. They all retired uncharacteristically early and were asleep by 9:00 PM. At 9:20 the first shell hit.
Belma heard the shell in her sleep. It had exploded in her front yard. As she struggled to wake up, a voice told her to stay asleep, that the second shell was coming, and that she should remain lying down. The voice may have saved her life because the second shell flew inches over her head and exploded on the wall behind her. She felt excruciating pain in both arms, saw massive amounts of blood, and heard yelling. Two neighbors ran into her house and carried her out to a car while Belma kept repeating in shock, “Don’t touch my arms,” and “I am going to die.” One of the neighbors screamed into the night air, “You killed my brother a week ago. You now want to kill my neighbor.” Someone ran for gasoline and put it into the car. The half mile drive to the hospital took a long time because the headlights could not be turned on lest they provide a target for more shelling.
At the hospital, Belma was immediately put on a table. She saw her sister Selma brought in and said, “Save her. If you can only save one of us, save her. She is three years younger.” The doctors informed her that her sister would be OK but that Belma needed surgery and they didn’t have enough stored blood because, in one of the many ironies of the story, Belma has O negative blood, the universal donor, the one that can accept no blood type but an exact match. A neighbor who worked at the hospital went to the storeroom and came back with the needed blood, saying, “Here it is; why did you say we didn’t have it?”
Belma heard the doctor’s response: “She’s not going to live very long.”
And then she heard the voice of a dentist functioning as an all-purpose doctor. “I’m going to do the right arm. Who’s going to do the left one?” Belma remembers hearing a chorus of volunteers, and then being put to sleep.
When she awoke, she tried to stand and was told to lie back, that they needed to get her parents. When Esma and Salko arrived, they were crying, and she asked why. They said, “There is something we have to tell you, “You lost both your arms.” She remembers her first response that it was over, that she no longer wanted to live, and her immediate urging toward vengeance, wanting to cause pain to the people who had caused pain to her.”
As Belma takes a breath and sits back remembering that lowest point, Esma takes advantage of the break to serve Bosnian coffee to go with the delicious meal and cake that she has inobtrusively placed in front of the visitors. The foam is carefully spooned into each demitasse cup engraved with the wartime Bosnian flag, and then the rich dark fluid is poured on top. I accept this gracious offer and sip some of the best coffee I have ever tasted. Esma then takes a fork and breaks off a piece of the cake. She brings it up to Belma’s lips in a practiced gesture that bears the imprint of many repetitions every day for almost twenty years, the two people functioning almost as one. Esma follows it with the cup, and after sipping a bit of coffee, Belma resumes.
“I don’t think that anymore. I now say, ‘I forgive you,’ but I want to tell about how it is not right, killing people.” She adds, “He was not trying to kill me; he did not know me. It’s like after 9/11. People asked me who I was, and I said, ‘I am Muslim.’ They said then I was a terrorist. I said, ‘I am a terrorist? I lost my arms from the Christian people. Should I call you all terrorists? No, I cannot do that. We need to love each other. We are supposed to help each other.’”
I ask how long it took her to get to this place, and she says that it was a process, but that the first step in that process happened while she was still in the hospital.
She remembers that a Croatian soldier had also been injured in the shelling, and that he had been brought to the same hospital. “I don’t know how he learned my name, but I heard, ‘Belma, Belma!’ and I said, ‘Who is calling me?’ They told me, ‘That is the Croatian guy.’ He said, ‘I am thirsty; can you give me water?” She remembers her mother’s outrage. “My mom said, ‘How is she going to give you water? You know that she doesn’t have any arms!’ I told my mom, ‘You are going to give him water. He is not the one who hurt me. Help him, and God will help us.’”
Belma later became friends with this “enemy” soldier named Josip, and one day, after he had received a package from the United Nations, he again called, “Belma, Belma!” He wanted Esma to serve as go-between, but this time it was to give Belma something – a precious commodity in those circumstances – a piece of chocolate.
Belma remembers asking, “Josip, why did you give this to me?”
She remembers his answer. “You were the first one to help me. Even though you had lost your arms, even though you were badly injured, and even though it was my people who did that to you, you still didn’t turn your back on me.” Belma sees this exchange as one of the key moments in her new life. It was becoming clear to her that forgiveness improved not only her own life, it improved the life of her “enemy,” and if given half a chance, it would be the answer to improving the lives of everybody caught up in this web of needless war after needless war. It was becoming a central tenet of her philosophy.
Since that time, Belma’s life has been rich with successes and failures, as most lives are. She was overjoyed to be selected by Dr. Roberta Kalafut and her husband Dr. Edward J. Brandecker of the Hendrick Center for Rehabilitation in Abilene, Texas to be transferred to the US for medical treatment. She was disappointed that the prosthetic fit to her left arm was heavy, uncomfortable, and ineffective. She moved to Dallas and was helped by refugee advocate Anne Marie Weiss-Armush to enroll in ESL and college classes, but she was discouraged by how difficult it was to study with no arms, and she dropped out. She is closer to her mother than most 39 year old daughters are, but that closeness can sometimes be stifling. She is grateful for the immense amount of support she has received from family and friends, but she yearns for the husband and children that she is unlikely to ever have.
Despite the rocky progress, Belma is fortified now by a sense of mission. She wants to tell her story, especially to people who are angry with their losses or who are ready to give up. She wants to say, “If I can do it under these circumstances, you can do it, too.” She wants to stress the importance of giving up the need for vengeance and forgiving whoever has caused damage. She says she feels that Allah is telling her, “If you want me to forgive you, you forgive others.” When asked what she would wish for her attacker today, she says, “I would wish him to live a long, happy life.”
Rais Bhuiyan, WWH Founder
Welcome to our website and our hope for the future of a World Without Hate. We are dedicated to promoting cross-cultural empathy through education and to supporting the victims of the crimes that result when this empathy is lacking. People of disparate religions, economic brackets and cultures are coming together to oppose human abuse in all of its forms. There is reason for vibrant hope.
Our Mission at World Without Hate is to span the globe to help end the cycle of hate and violence with the practice of restorative forgiveness. World Without Hate cultivates compassion, forgiveness and healing as a path toward hate crime prevention through education, community outreach and advocacy.
We believe that the best way to nurture empathy is to share stories of meeting hatred with peace. This helps us to see the world through one another’s eyes. This process — replicated thousands of times — could bring real change, a real movement toward a world without hate.
We want to know the your stories of how forgiveness and compassion have been a force of change in your life. In my case, I have traveled the world talking of the crime that almost cost me my life. In my next post, I’d like to tell a story – a smaller story – that I hope you’ll identify with. In the meantime, I hope you’ll consider sending us your story. You can submit a thought or two using the contact form or, if you would like to submit a guest blog post to be featured here, please email us at email@example.com.