Contributed by Rais Bhuiyan, Founder & President, World Without Hate
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” — Mark Twain
In April 2016, I had the opportunity to participate in the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Global Summit in Dallas, Texas. During the conference, I was able to talk about how significantly Travel & Tourism can contribute to a world without hate, and how exploration builds bridges across cultures. My personal story and the incredible circumstances surrounding it, my life’s work, and own travel journey is testament to the Travel & Tourism industry’s vital place in building a more peaceful, accepting, equitable, and compassionate world.
I was born and raised in an upper middle class family in Bangladesh. Fortunately, I obtained a first-rate education, attending military boarding school, the Airforce Academy, and ultimately graduating as a Pilot Officer. I had always thought my destiny would lead me to serve my country, but my passion to gain additional higher education in the United States prevailed. Leaving my home, career, and family, I moved to New York, then Dallas, excited to relocate to the wild, wild west I saw in movies.
Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a white supremacist from Dallas went on a shooting rampage, killing Muslims. I became one of his victims. On September 21st, while working in my friend’s convenience store, a man wearing a bandana, sunglasses, and a baseball cap, holding a double barrel shot gun, burst in. He pointed the gun directly at my face. I immediately offered him money. Instead of taking it, his gaze remained fixed. He asked, “Where are you from?” As I uttered, “Excuse me?”, he pulled the trigger from point blank range. In that instant, my American dream turned into an American nightmare.
I was incredibly fortunate. My shooter, Mark Stroman, killed two men during his 9/11 retaliation shooting spree: a man from Pakistan and another from India. Stroman claimed he was hunting “A-rabs,” but not one of his victims was Middle Eastern. After his arrest, he told media he did what most Americans wanted to do; claiming he was the True American, a patriot. He blamed me and “my kind” for 9/11.
Over the next several years, as I went through a tremendous physical, psychological, and emotional healing process, I began learning more about the crime and my attacker as he sat on death row. I contemplated ways I could potentially help overcome ignorance, eradicate violence, and prevent hate crimes. After returning from a religious pilgrimage in Mecca, I knew executing Mark would only lead to loss of life, without dealing with the root cause. Inspired by my faith and upbringing, I tried saving him with the hope that people can change given the opportunity. Though unsuccessful, I never gave up, instead dedicating my life to creating a new narrative, working to build a world without hate, violence, and its ramifications.
In this post 9/11 society, whether you are able to fly the friendly skies or just step off your own front steps, traveling to a new part of the world, a different city or community is guaranteed to expand your mind, allow for the exploration of new ideas, help clarify misconceptions and stereotypes, provide opportunities for education, creativity, and empowerment, and perhaps most importantly, letting go of fear. Traveling is key to shedding light on truth and reality, helping to create a deeper appreciation for what makes us all unique and different from one another, as well as what connects and binds us.
Before Mark’s execution, he came to know more about me and my efforts to save his life. He apologized for his actions and made public statements condemning hate. Before he died, he called me “Brother.” It moves me profoundly to think the man who tried to execute me because of the ways in which I was DIFFERENT from him, learned to see the ways in which we were the SAME.
I urge you, take time to travel. No matter how far you are able to go, whether across state lines or around the world, while you are doing so, make more human connections.
“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” — Wendell Berry.
Rais Bhuiyan, IT professional and American Muslim, is an extraordinary human being with a remarkable story. Shortly after relocating to Dallas, Rais found himself clinging to his strong family and faith-based roots after barely surviving a life-altering, traumatic incident after 9/11. That fateful day forced Rais to rebuild his life, but also sparked his path as peace and human rights activist. A crusader for compassion, peace, forgiveness, and empathy, Rais is Founder & President of the non-profit World Without Hate. He speaks at schools, universities, non-profit and religious organizations, and conferences all over the world. Rais’ efforts have been widely recognized, receiving the Excellence for Human Service Award, United for Change; Search for Common Ground Award, Search for Common Ground; 2011 American of the Year, Esquire Magazine; 2014 Human Relations Award, Muslim Public Affairs Council Foundation, among many others. More information can be found at www.worldwithouthate.org
WTTC has conducted research on the empirical evidence of a link between Tourism and Peace. To read WTTC’s research on how tourism is a driver of peace, please go to our website for the full report and the executive summary.