The Possibility Of Profound Change
Rais Bhuiyan, center, one of three people who was shot by Mark Stroman on the days following Sept. 11, has requested a stay of execution to be granted to his attacker. (Jim Mahoney/The Dallas Morning News, via Associated Press)
“How wretched is the man whose enemies in the view of Allah are the needy and the destitute, the beggars, the turned away, the indebted and penniless travellers.” – Imam Ali Ibn Talib, Nahjul Balaghah
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called Son of God.” – Jesus Christ of Nazareth, The Gospel of Saint Matthew, Chapter 5.
Less than an hour ago I spoke with the man who tried to murder you and just a few days ago I read an article that spoke about how you are trying to stop his July 20th scheduled execution and save his life. This honorable act, this righteous and profound gesture on your part has moved me deeply and I felt compelled to scribe out a few thoughts from me to you.
Before I go any further, Rais, I must tell you that concerning socio-politics I am a terrible progressive Leftist, not only do I deeply believe that peaceful coexistence of Humanity can become a reality but I actively work on a daily basis to do my part to make this reality manifest. Although my consciousness has been raised considerably since I’ve been locked up I always had what one might call an egalitarian mindset. Can you imagine what I thought when sitting in my cell on Texas Death Row listening to the news and I heard a neo-Nazi Dallas man has just been sentenced to death for a racist post-September 11 hate-crime spree, which left two Southeast Asian men dead? Well, Rais, although I’m rather ashamed to admit it now, I’ll tell you what I thought: “Ah, well, another idiot is coming here, just lovely.”
Not long after this Mark was moved to the section I was on and I actually met him. Sadly enough, in prison morality is rather reversed—or perhaps I should say that the popular morality that society promotes (although not necessarily practices!) is something foreign to the culture within prison. Exploitation by the means of raw physical and mental manipulation is held to be highly virtuous by both prisoners and guards. It is, for example, generally seen as acceptable to steal from another if the person allows this to happen. I find such things absolutely abhorrent and I’ve waged war against such attitudes since I’ve been here. Much to my surprise, after meeting Mark and engaging in conversation with him I discovered that we had an equal dislike of the popular prison mentality.
How can one have committed hate crimes yet not generally be a completely hateful, loathsome and repugnant person? After getting to know mark we discussed many things including his crimes. Although he was in quite a disturbed state when he went on the post 9-11 rampage he did so believing he was doing the right moral and just thing—the thing he believed other patriotic individuals wished to do but lacked the courage to follow through on. Many TDCJ staff members confirmed this: Quite often I would hear them tell Mark things like “I wish you would have killed more of them goddamned towel-heads!” and “If I didn’t have a wife and kids I’d be out killing Arabs also!”
Such despicable statements, such deplorable statements, yet they are statements, which reflect a serious problem within our society: Islamophobia. As I got to know Mark I discovered a father who loves his children (as they love him), a courteous individual who is quick to help others around him who are in need and a man who possesses a strong sense of self-dignity, yet one who held some Right Wing views that I disagreed with. What caused Mark to commit such brutal crimes? One thing that had much to do with it was: Islamophobia.
Rais, do you remember the fanatical anti-Muslim sentiment that swept across the U.S. after 9-11? It was shocking (and the fact that it still exists is even more shocking). Tens of thousands of calls poured into law enforcement offices from people who wished to report their Muslim neighbors newfound seemingly “terroristic” activity. People all across the U.S. refused to allow their children to go to school, fearing that “the Muslims were coming to harm them. People really and truly believed in their hearts that Muslims were coming to murder their children! Gun stores sold out of ammunition and weapons because people rushed to buy as much of both as possible believing that they would have to defend their homes against “the Arabs who are coming to destroy America.”
There was no rational discussion in the Right Wing media, they did not point out that the horror of 9-11 was committed by a small isolated group of deranged Islamic extremists whose beliefs mirror those of only a minuscule percentage of the world’s Muslim population. No, it was “the Arabs, the Arabs, the Muslims, the Muslims they did this!” followed by repeated images of U.S. flags and images of the planes flying into the twin towers.
Mark was caught up in this fervor and there is no doubt that this had much to do with him committing the terrible murders he committed—murders that to him were committed in the name of the United Sates of America, in the name of American Freedom and American Justice.
The concept of free will is one of the most dangerous and fallacious ideas that still exist within our society; one has to wonder, a thinking person has to wonder why this antiquated plague of a concept, this schizophrenic disease of an idea, has not been eradicated along with the belief that the world is flat and other such concepts that absolutely defy rational logic—the will is absolutely helpless except in so far as an external force outside of our control brings it into play. The choice, the almost unfathomable choice that Mark made on that terrible day was a personal choice, but nevertheless one that was motivated by external factors and this must be taken into account.
Are you aware, Rais, that in prison most people go by nicknames? Generally, when a person comes to prison others give them a nickname; someone very dark, tall and slim might be called “Slim Black” or someone known for selling and smoking marijuana might be nicknamed “Smokey.” When Mark first arrived here people began calling him “The Arab Slayer” or “Slayer” for short. As I stated, when I first met Mark he held some Right Wing views that I most emphatically disagreed with and we debated often. I think when Mark first arrived here he felt that his actions were wrong but his deeply ingrained patriotism lunged forth from his subconscious mind and pushed his conscious mind to seek justifications for his actions.
Over the years I’ve watched quite a profound change occur within Mark’s mind or perhaps it could be said a profound change has occurred within his spirit or even his soul. Some years back he completely disavowed the name Slayer and insisted that he be called Mark, and only Mark. In his small cell on Texas Death Row another world has opened up to him. He’s had extensive contact with people from Europe and has been introduced to many new concepts and ideas that were never before thought of in his patriotic world of Dallas, Texas.
Being that I already admitted to you that I am a terrible and terribly unrepentant progressive Leftist, I suppose that I can go further and admit that I am also quite the progressive Leftist propagandist—whenever confronted with Conservative Right Wing ideology I feel that it is my duty to unleash my well-honed dialectical battleaxes of Rationalism and Logic. As you can surely imagine Mark and I have indeed quite often over the years, especially when he first arrived here.
When I saw Mark earlier today the first thing he said to me was “Rob, man, they’re showing me some awesome support!” By “they” he meant you and others in the Muslim community who have come out in favor of stopping his execution and Mark knew I would understand this without him saying so. I told Mark that I thought about writing up something about him and his situation but didn’t know where his mindset was, what he would be cool with me writing and—he, cut me off and said, “Man, the violence just needs to stop.” Then, the officers took me back to my cell and here I am writing to you.
Should Mark’s Life be saved because he is a human being of worth? Yes, indeed, but Rais, I see your brave and powerful stand, calling for Mark not to executed as an act that has far greater implications. You stand in the tradition of the many, many Muslims of the past who have fought for Peace. I’m a student of Gandhi and I’m reminded of an account Gandhi gave of how once in Allahabad he sat up all night with Muslim leaders discussing if Islam allowed for its followers to participate in strictly non-violent resistance. They all unanimously agreed that Islam did and countless number of Muslims did indeed participate in India’s non-violent Satyagraha movement.
Your act of demanding that Mark’s Life be spared, your courageous act conducted in the spirit of Peace and in defense of Humanity brings to mind the awesome spirit of the Muslim pro-Democracy protesters in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and other North African and Middle Eastern countries who have been and are demanding a more just and peaceful society. It pains me greatly to write this but I know the attack you endured left you blind in one eye. This horrible, horrible beyond words yet you let your mind’s eye look past your personal injury into the horizon of the future of Humanity. As you stated, “Hate doesn’t bring any good solution to people. At some point we have to break the cycle of violence. It brings more disaster.”
These profound words should be lodged deeply within the mass collective psyche and permanently inscribed upon the consciousness of Humanity! All phenomena are the direct result of preceding phenomena—all that happens is the result of some preceding happening. If the process of the healing of Humanity is to be advanced we must live with the constant realization that our actions must be peaceful, must be in the spirit of the concept of Ahimsa (non-violence in thought and action). The poem, The Rubaiyat, by the classical Persian poet Omar Khayyam, who I know is much loved in the Muslim world, comes to mind:
With Earth’s first Clay They did the Last Man knead,
And there of the Last Harvest sow’d the Seed:
And the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.
Indeed, all is Cause and Effect. You are a righteous and honorable man, Rais, with a deeply admirable strength of Will—and more than anything that is what I wished to express to you with this letter. One day I hope that there will be many more people like you in this world.
In the spirit of Ahimsa I’ll sign off…
From the Polunsky Death Camp In the East Texas Piney Woods, With Peace, Strength and Love: