Rais Bhuiyan: The Forgiver

In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 30 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Mark Graham. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

In the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Mark Stroman, a Dallas man adorned with Neo-Nazi tattoos, went out "hunting A-rabs." He shot and killed Waqar Hasan, a Pakistani, and Vasudev Patel, an Indian Hindu. And then he set his sights on Rais Bhuiyan. Bhuiyan was a former Bangladesh Air Force pilot. He happened to be pulling the morning shift at Texaco when Stroman strode in, a bandana masking his face.

"Where are you from?" Stroman asked. "Excuse me?" Bhuiyan replied. So Stroman pulled the trigger.

The shotgun shell's contents emptied into Bhuiyan's face, destroying all sight in one eye. Haunted by Stroman's blind hate and the dozens of pellets that pierced his face and eye, Bhuiyan embarked on a spiritual odyssey that began with a pilgrimage to Mecca. It ended last year, during an eight-second phone conversation with the killer for whom he had waged an unsuccessful campaign to save, just hours before Stroman faced the executioner's needle in Huntsville.

Though Stroman was put to death that July day, Bhuiyan found in their brief exchange the salve for wounds that couldn't be treated surgically. "I wish I could have talked to him more," Bhuiyan, who now works as an IT manager, says softly.

Stroman stole half of Bhuiyan's perfect sight, but in the process he transformed him into the symbol of forgiveness in a deeply cynical age. Through his nonprofit, World Without Hate, Bhuiyan now travels to college and high school campuses across the country, sharing his tale to the inheritors of a new age, so that they might grow into adults who learn to understand those they fear and to forgive those who hate.

"After 9/11, the world became a very unsafe place," he says. "We see a lot of hate and fear and ignorance. I try to send a message: Let's grow up with an open mind, overcome our fear and get to know each other. It's an old message I'm passing on with my experience. When people see a real figure, not a book or a movie, who went through this, I think it helps people understand that if he can do it, we can do it."

See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

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