These were the words of Mustafaa Carroll, the executive director of the Texas Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-TX), as he welcomed the media and members of the Houstonian community to a special press conference.
Rais Bhuiyan, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Bangladesh, was one of this countryâ€™s first hate crime victims immediately following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He is requesting the Texas Criminal System and Governor Rick Perry that the scheduled July 20th, 2011 execution of his attacker, the white supremacist Mark Stroman, be commuted to life in prison without parole. Bhuiyan was working in a convenience store when, 10 days after the terrorist attacks, a man pushed a gun into his face. â€œWhere are you from?â€ were the last words the 26-year-old Bhuiyan heard before his attacker shot him at close range, blinding him in one eye and leaving shrapnel he still carries in the right side of his face. The shooter had asked the same question of two other South Asian immigrants, Waqar Hasan and Vasudev Patel, before killing them in separate incidents on September 14th and October 04th, 2001, respectively.
Widow of Waqar Hasan and Rais Bhuiyan have both issued statements to forgive Mr. Stroman, while Rais Bhuiyan is going steps forward to have the death sentence commuted to life imprisonment without payroll and wants many people to sign his petition at www.worldwithouthate.org
â€œMy parents have taught that hate leads to cycle of violence. Best thing is to forgive. Plus in our religion and Sacred Book Quran, we have been informed that saying one life is as saving the life of humanity. Our beloved Messenger Mohammad Peace Be Upon him was brutally wounded when he took message of God to the people of Taif. Angel Gabriel gave him the option to kill everyone in Taif, but he forgave them all by saying what they have done is in ignorance and hopefully future generationsâ€™ will be better than them. When I went for Hajj in 2009, I saw the valley of Taif, which is now one of the most peaceful places in Saudi Arabia. Although I lost one eye and bullets shrapnel are still in my skull, I still want to forgive Mr. Stroman due to the way my parents have brought me up and what I have learned from our religion Islam,â€ said Mr. Bhuiyan.
The joint hosts of the event were Dominican Sisters, a Christian faith based group against death penalty, and CAIR-TX. Other organizations, who either came to speak or are showing their support for Rais Bhuiyan cause include the Amnesty International, Dallas Peace Center (DPC), Houston Peace and Justice Center (HPJC), Islamic Circle of North America â€“ Houston Chapter (ICNA-Houston), Muslim American Society â€“ Houston Chapter (MAS-Houston), Sikh Establishment for Harmony, Appreciation & Joy (SEHAJ), Shades of White (SOW) world peace organization, Texas Coalition Against Death Penalty (TCADP), Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement (TDPAM) based at the SHAPE Community Center, and Greater Houston area religious leaders and human rights activists. Speakers included: Sister Ceil Roeger â€“ Dominican Sisters, Rais Bhuiyan â€“ World without Hate (www.worldwithouthate.org), Hadi Jawad â€“ Representative Waqar Hasan Family, Rick Halperin â€“ History Professor & Director of the Embrey Human Rights program at Southern Methodist University (SMU), Texas State Representative Lon Burnam (D-90), Harpal Singh – Sikh Establishment for Harmony, Appreciation and Joy, Imam Qasim Khan â€“ Shades Of White world peace organization.
Mr. Stroman wrote on his website that he lost a sister in the attacks on the Twin Towers and that he believed his actions would be celebrated as those of a patriot. Now imprisoned in the Polunsky Unit death row facility in Livingston, Texas, Stroman has expressed profound remorse and deep regret for his actions, (Rick) Halperin says â€œâ€¦and when Markâ€™s appeals attorney, Lydia Brandt, shared with him (Stroman) that Rais and other members of the victimsâ€™ families have forgiven him and were working to commute his death sentence, he was reduced to tears.â€ Bhuiyan is seeking solace for himself and the wives and children of the other shooting victims. â€œExecuting Stroman is not what we want. We have already suffered so much; it will cause only more suffering if he is executed,â€ Rais said.
The decision to pursue commutation of Stromanâ€™s sentence currently resides with Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins. If Watkins does not support commutation, Bhuiyan says he will appeal to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which can then make a recommendation to Texas Governor Rick Perry to commute the sentence.
For additional information and to sign the on-line petition to commute Stromanâ€™s death sentence to life in prison without parole, please go to Bhuiyanâ€™s website, www.worldwithouthate.org.