Millions of Stinging Bees

 01.12.2012 - Rais Bhuyian (L) at Glastonbury High School (credit: Mark Mirko) and Bhuyian (right) in 2001 after he was shot by Mark Stroman (credit: worldwithouthate.org)

01.12.2012 - Rais Bhuyian (L) at Glastonbury High School (credit: Mark Mirko) and Bhuyian (right) in 2001 after he was shot by Mark Stroman (credit: worldwithouthate.org)

January 27, 2012

Rais Bhuyian has lived through some big dreams. When he was young man in Bangalore, Bangladesh, he dreamed of being a pilot. That dream came true during his service in the Bangladesh Air Force. Rais also dreamt of seeing the world and obtaining a higher education. That dream came true in 1999 after he obtained a student visa to study in New York City.

Rais was in Texas during the attacks of September 11, 2001, and he remembers watching television crying and wondering “Who are these kind of people that can do this kind of harm?”

Four days after those murderous attacks, Waqar Hasan, a Pakistani immigrant living in Texas, was shot and killed by a white supremacist named Mark Stroman. Rais’ dreams changed after Mr. Hasan’s death and for three nights in a row he dreamt of being robbed and shot while working at his friend’s gas station.

On a rainy Texas September 21, 2001, Rais Bhuyian’s nightmarish dream came true.

Mark Stroman walked into the gas station where Rais was working. He pointed a shotgun at his face and asked, “Where are you from?” Rais, who thought he was being robbed, had already placed the cash register’s money on the counter. Before he could answer Stroman’s question, Rais says he felt his face explode with the sensation of “millions of stinging bees.” Stroman’s gun ripped through the right side of Rais’ head. Rais fell to the floor screaming “mom.” Stroman left the store with Rais thinking, “I’m dying today.”

The paramedics who arrived on the scene, understanding that a man had been shot in the head with a shotgun, told Rais later they expected to see, “a body on the floor.” Instead, they said they saw something that “looked like a slaughtered chicken running toward the ambulance.”

Rais survived the attack and still lives in Dallas but this year, in January, he was visiting Glastonbury High School at the invitation of English and drama teacher Linda Napoletano. She connected with Rais through Facebook and has been working with him to write a play about his life. The play is called Blind and Toothless, in reference to the idea of exchanging an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

About three weeks after Rais was shot, Mark Stroman walked into the store where Vasudev Patel, from India, worked and shot him dead with a .44 caliber pistol. In 2002 Stroman said while being tried for his crimes and sentenced to death “that he had performed a patriotic duty.”

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The fact that Rais Bhuyian survived being shot at such close range is remarkable. What Rais sought for his attacker, however, is the message Rais wants people to hear. Bhuyian, with the support of the families of Mark Stroman’s other victim’s, fought to stop his execution. Rais spoke on Stroman’s behalf at universities as well as the German and European Parliaments. He formed a website, worldwithouthate.org, and collected 12,000 virtual signatures from around the world, asking Texas to commute Stroman’s sentence to life in prison without parole.

Mark Stroman was executed by lethal injection on July 20, 2011. In September of 2011, Rais filed suit against the State of Texas and governor Rick Perry for being denied his right to meet Stroman, a right afforded under the state’s Victim’s Bill of Rights.

During his talks with the Glastonbury High School students (above), Rais said that for most of the ten years Mark Stroman was on death row, he continued to espouse his ideas of white supremacy. However, in a Huffington Post story dated July 18, 2011, it was reported that:

According to those close to Stroman, the efforts by Bhuiyan on his behalf have contributed to a change of heart in a man who called his crimes “patriotic” before his trial and who prosecutors once described as a cold-blooded killer.

In an interview last week, Stroman told Ilan Ziv, a documentary filmmaker, that he was remorseful for the crimes and was deeply moved by Bhuiyan’s attempts to save his life.

When asked at Glastonbury High School why he wanted to meet Mark Stroman, Rais said, “I wanted to connect with him in a human way. Not as a murderer. I wanted to learn from him, to understand him. What went wrong, and how did he change once I started my campaign? He was talking about peace and human rights and love because he found this from his survivor. What really went on in his mind that made him change? That is powerful and I could relay that message to other people.”