Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Forgiving the Unforgivable

We've seen these stories of forgiveness before.  We've seen those who understand that hatred doesn't heal and that every killing causes pain.
Let me introduce you to Rais Bhuiyan.
He was shot in the face, blinded in one eye, by Mark Stroman, a white supremacist.  It was 2001, and Bhuiyan was shot because he was from Bangladesh, because he seemed middle eastern, because he is a Muslim.  It was a hate crime and a revenge crime.  Stroman was striking back because of what happened on 9/11 that year.
Bhuiyan tells the story in the Dallas Morning News (unfortunately, behind a paywall):
"Where are you from?"

The question seemed strange to ask during a robbery, which certainly this was -- the man wore a bandana, sunbglasses and a baseball cap, and aimed the bun directly at my face as I stood over the gas station register.

"Excuse me?" I asked.

As soon as I spoke, God sent some angel, and I turned by face a bit to the left; otherwise, I would have been blinded in both eyes, instead of just one. I felt the sensation of a milion bees stinging my face and then heard an explosion. Images of my mother, father and finace appeared before my eyes, and then, a graveyard. I didn't know if I was still alive.

I looked down at the floor and saw blood pouring like an open faucet from the side of my head. Frantically, I placed both hands on my face, thinking I had to keep my brains from spilling out. I heard myself screaming, "Mom!" The gunman was still standing there. I thought," If I don't pretend I'm dead, he'll shoot me again."

This was not a robbery. This was a hate crime because of the tragedy at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Mark Stroman, a white supremacist, was in the middle of a shooting rampage to express his anger toward those of Middle Eastern descent. He shot and killed Waqar Hasan, a Pakistani immigrant, on Sept. 15, 2001. He shot me, an immigrant from Bangladesh, on Sept. 21. He shot and killed Vasudev Patel, from India, on Oct. 4. We were all shot while working at gas stations and convenience stores in Dallas.
Stroman is on death row.  For the killing of Patel, he's scheduled to be murdered on July 20.  Bhuiyan wants to prevent that.
I am requesting that Stroman's death sentence be commuted to life in prison with no parole. There are 3 reasons I feel this way. The 1st is because of what I learned from my parents. They raised me with the religious principle that he is best who can forgive easily. The 2nd is beacuse of what I believe as a Muslim, that human lives are precious and that no one has the right to take another's life. In my faith, forgiveness is the best policy, and Islam doesn't allow for hate and killing. And, finally, I seek solace for the wives and children of Hasan and Patel, who are also victims in this tragedy. They have already suffered so much; it will cause only more suffering if he is executed.

The other victims in this tragedy are Stroman's children. Not only have the Hasan and Patel children lost their fathers, but, if Stroman in executed, his children will lose their father, as well.
Now meet Mary Johnson.
In 1993, Oshea Israel murdered her son, Laramium Byrd after an argument at a party in Minneapolis.  NPR tells the rest of the story.
As Johnson recalls, their first face-to-face conversation took place at Stillwater Prison, when Israel agreed to her repeated requests to see him.
"I wanted to know if you were in the same mindset of what I remembered from court, where I wanted to go over and hurt you," Johnson tells Israel. "But you were not that 16-year-old. You were a grown man. I shared with you about my son."
"And he became human to me," Israel says.
At the end of their meeting at the prison, Johnson was overcome by emotion.
"The initial thing to do was just try and hold you up as best I can," Israel says, "just hug you like I would my own mother."
Johnson says, "After you left the room, I began to say, 'I just hugged the man that murdered my son.'
"And I instantly knew that all that anger and the animosity, all the stuff I had in my heart for 12 years for you — I knew it was over, that I had totally forgiven you."
But wait, that's not all.
Johnson's forgiveness has brought both changes and challenges to [Israel's] life.
"Sometimes I still don't know how to take it," he says, "because I haven't totally forgiven myself yet. It's something that I'm learning from you. I won't say that I have learned yet, because it's still a process that I'm going through."
"I treat you as I would treat my son," Johnson says. "And our relationship is beyond belief."
In fact, the two live right next door to one another in Minneapolis.
"So you can see what I'm doing — you know firsthand," Israel says.
Israel is out of prison. Mary Johnson is rooting for him.
Bhuiyan is working to save Stroman's life.  The Dallas Morning News, in an editorial that's not behind their paywall, approves.
It’s time for the hate to stop, says Rais Bhuiyan, a native of Bangladesh.
With his attacker set to die in Huntsville this summer, Bhuiyan has begun a quiet campaign to spare the man’s life.
We wish to give that campaign voice. It delivers a potent message to a nation still torn by the loss of 9/11. It resists the cycle of revenge that doesn’t stop until someone has the courage to say enough.

Which is exactly right, of course.
That's not to say it's easy. But the capacity of the human heart.
According to Dianne Solis of the Dallas Morning News, posted by the Greenfield Daily Reporter,
Bhuiyan said the event changed him and he now celebrates Sept. 21 as his new birthday because it was then he got his life back.
Mary Johnson?
"Well, my natural son is no longer here. I didn't see him graduate. Now you're going to college. I'll have the opportunity to see you graduate," Johnson says. "I didn't see him getting married. Hopefully one day, I'll be able to experience that with you."
I don't want to get mawkishly sentimental about this.  We can't all be so forgiving.  I'm far from convinced that I have so much generosity of spirit.  But that it's possible at all.  And the healing that it brings.
Rick Halperin, Director of the Human Rights Education Program at Southern Methodist University, is working with Bhuiyan to try to save Stroman's life.  Solis, again:
The events, Halperin said, "raise questions about compassion and healing and the nature of justice."
As for Bhuiyan, Halperin said, "I am amazed at the calm with which some can forgive the unforgivable."
Yeah.

h/t for Bhuiyan's story to Joachim and Amnesty International USA

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