What We Can Learn From Rais Bhuiyan

Rais Bhuiyan is challenging stereotypes about “Muslim radicalization” every day.

You may have read about Rais on this blog before, or even participated in our online chat, but the importance of his story to our larger work fighting prejudice in a post 9-11 world can’t be overstated.

Just ten days after the September 11 attacks Mark Stroman walked into the gas station where Rais Bhuiyan was working and shot him point blank in the face with a shotgun cartridge.

Against all odds Mr. Bhuiyan survived the attack but Waqar Hasan and Vasudev Patel were both killed by Stroman in similar incidents in which the self-styled ‘Arab slayer’ sought ‘revenge’ for Al Qaeda’s assault on New York and Washington by targeting residents of his small corner of Texas with darker skin than his own.

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LGBT Rights in Turkey: Time for Action

A gay-rights activist holding a placard reading: "Don't hate, apologize," is evacuated as he protests on April 15, 2010 in Ankara against Family Affairs and Women's Minister Selma Aliye Kavaf, who declared that she believed homosexuality was a "biological disorder, a disease." © Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

Violence, discrimination, and official contempt: a new Amnesty report on LGBT rights in Turkey outlines the difficult straits of the LGBT community in Turkey.

The report makes for grim reading.  The LGBT community in Turkey is subject to a general atmosphere of harassment and discrimination.   Violence is widespread and often comes from members of their own families.  Assault, rape, and even murder go uninvestigated and unpunished.

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9-11, The Death Penalty, And Breaking The Cycle Of Violence

While states like Georgia have worked tirelessly to switch drugs so they can resume killing their prisoners, and while many celebrate the “justice” they see in the killing of Osama bin Laden, something radically different is happening in – of all places – Dallas, Texas.

Shortly after the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, a man named Mark Stroman roamed the Dallas area committing a series of hate crimes that in his mind constituted retaliation. He murdered two men he thought were Middle Eastern (one was a Hindu from India the other a Muslim from Pakistan) and attempted to kill a third, a Muslim from Bangladesh named Rais Bhuiyan.

For the two murders, the state of Texas sentenced him to death, and he is now scheduled to be executed on July 20. Yet more killing. But Rais Bhuiyan (who is blind in his right eye because of the shot that was meant to kill him) is opposed to the execution and is campaigning to stop it. He has the support of the Dallas Morning News which wrote in its Sunday editorial:

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.

As Bhuiyan himself said a few days earlier: “… hate doesn’t bring any good solution to people. At some point we have to break the cycle of violence. It brings more disaster.”

Exactly. Enough.

Homophobic Hate Crimes Spreading Throughout Brazil

Alexandre Ivo, a 14-year-old boy, was tortured and killed in June 2010 in Rio de Janeiro.  Why? Because he was gay. Ms. Patricia Gomes and Ms.Sandra de Moraes, two female professors living in Parana, were killed in their own home in December of 2009.  Why? Because they were lovers.

Sao Paulo Gay Pride 2010

Although Sao Paulo hosted in 2010 the biggest gay parade in the world, with over 3.3 million people, Brazil suffers from one of the highest numbers of hate crimes in Latin America. The fear of homosexuality in the country is increasingly being expressed through horrific crimes nationwide, as reported by multiple sources.  The Latin-American Center on Sexuality and Human Rights has identified that the states of Parana and Bahia have the two highest numbers of crimes against homosexuals in the country and at least 15 people were killed in each Brazilian state in 2009, simply for being members of the LGBT community.  According to Senator Fatima Cleide, from the state of Rondonia, one person dies every two days, as a victim of homophobic crimes in Brazil. The Brazilian gay rights group Grupo Gay da Bahia (GGB), which is funded by the World Bank and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), estimates that between 1980 and 2009 well over 3,100 homosexuals were killed by hate crimes in the country.

Brazil is at a pivotal moment in its history.  The new administration can choose between allowing hate crimes to continue festering the nation’s stance towards human rights, or promote respect and equality for all.  Its neighboring country, Argentina, has already shown the world that progress is not only possible but it also ought to be considered imminent in Latin America. Brazilians can, if they decide to do so, show their leadership and put an end to homophobic hate crimes in the nation, reverse the titles held by Parana and Bahia, and become a promoter of equality.

While hundreds of people die every year based on hate crimes, Brazilian Congress has struggled since 2006 to approve legislation categorizing homophobic violence as crimes. Religious and conservative interests have proven to be strong and effective opponents to this human rights law.

Not only are Brazilian LGBTs treated as second-class citizens, but people are dying because of this.  Successful professionals, loving couples, and young boys and girls, among many others, are suffering of intolerance and are being killed because of the lack of action of society and legislators. It is an unfair reality.  The question I have for the readers and the country’s newly elected politicians is: When will ALL Brazilians be protected and have equal rights under law?

Death Penalty for Hate Crimes??

Yesterday the Senate passed four amendments to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, including a provision that would allow the death penalty to apply to hate crimes.  This amendment, added by Senator Jeff Sessions, R, AL (a vocal opponent of the Act itself), adds nothing to the justice the bill seeks for victims of gender and sexuality-based hate crimes. 

The goal of the Matthew Shepard Act (which is itself attached to the 2010 Defense Department authorization bill) is to allow the investigation and prosecution of some hate crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identification, or disability. The person for whom it is named was a 21-year old college student from Colorado who was tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998 by two other young men. As an openly gay young man, Matthew Shepard was the victim of much discrimination and violence. During the trial for his murder, witnesses stated that he was victimized that night by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson because of his sexuality.

After McKinney’s conviction the jury began deliberating the death penalty, but Matthew’s parents were able to broker a last-minute deal so that McKinney was sentenced to life in prison instead. Matthew Shepard’s dad was quoted as saying to him:

“I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. Mr. McKinney, I am going to grant you life, as hard as it is for me to do so, because of Matthew.”

This profoundly difficult and heart-wrenching decision to show mercy after such a terrible crime may mean nothing to Senator Sessions, but his amendment can still be removed when a House-Senate conference committee meets to reconcile the differences between the two bills, or when the entire House and Senate vote on the bill after that.