(Houston, TX 6/24/11) – Good morning ladies and gentlemen. My name is Mustafaa Carroll. I am the executive director of the Houston, Texas Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-TX, Houston), and I am the moderator of this news conference. Welcome, and many thanks to the Dominican Sisters for hosting our press conference and to members of the press for attending.
CAIR-TX in conjunction with Amnesty International, Dallas Peace Center (DPC), Dominican Sisters, Houston Peace and Justice Center (HPJC), Islamic Circle of North America – Houston Chapter (ICNA-Houston), Muslim American Society – Houston Chapter (MAS-Houston), Sikh Establishment for Harmony, Appreciation & Joy (SEHAJ), Shades of White (SOW) world peace organization, Texas Coalition Against Death Penalty (TCADP), Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement (TDPAM) based at the SHAPE Community Center, and Greater Houston area religious leaders and human rights activists are gathered here today in support of Br. Rais Bhuiyan’s call for “compassion, healing and forgiveness” on behalf of the man sentenced to death after shooting him and killing two others.
Yesterday, the Texas Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-TX) announced the release of “Same Hate, New Target,” This timely report, the result of a collaborative effort between CAIR and the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender, is the first-of-its-kind annual report outlining the disturbing growth of Islamophobia (unfounded fear of and hostility towards Islam). Reports of anti-Muslim rhetoric doubled between 2009 and 2010 and vandalisms tripled, including damage done to the Turkish Center Mosque in Houston, an Islamic Center in San Antonio and a mosque playground in Arlington. Such fear and hostility leads to discriminations against Muslims, exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political or social process, stereotyping, the presumption of guilt by association, and finally hate crimes as evidenced in the murders of Waqar Hasan and Vasudev Patel, and the near fatal assault on Rais Bhuiyan.
Today’s speakers will be: Sr. Ceil Roeger – Dominican Sisters, Rais Bhuiyan – World without Hate, Hadi Jawad – Representative Waqar Hasan Family, Rick Halperin – History Professor & Director of the Embrey Human Rights program at Southern Methodist University (SMU), Texas State Representative Lon Burnam (D-90), Harpal Singh - Sikh Establishment for Harmony, Appreciation and Joy, Imam Qasim Khan – Shades Of White world peace organization …. After all have spoken we will open the floor for questions and answers.
First let’s put today’s event in historical context. Rais Bhuiyan, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Bangladesh, was one of this country’s first hate crime victims immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He is requesting that the scheduled July 20 execution of his attacker, white supremacist Mark Stroman, be commuted to life in prison without parole. Bhuiyan was working in a convenience store when, 10 days after the terrorist attacks, a man pushed a gun into his face. “Where are you from?” were the last words the 26-year-old Bhuiyan heard before his attacker shot him at close range, blinding him in one eye and leaving shrapnel he still carries in the right side of his face. The shooter had asked the same question of two other South Asian immigrants, Waqar Hasan and Vasudev Patel, before killing them in separate incidents on Sept. 14 and Oct. 4, respectively.
Stroman writes on his website that he lost a sister in the attacks on the Twin Towers and that he believed his actions would be celebrated as those of a patriot. Now imprisoned in the Polunsky Unit death row facility in Livingston, Texas, Stroman has expressed profound remorse and deep regret for his actions, (Rick) Halperin says “…and when Mark’s appeals attorney, Lydia Brandt, shared with him (Stroman) that Rais and other members of the victims’ families have forgiven him and were working to commute his death sentence, he was reduced to tears.” Bhuiyan is seeking solace for himself and the wives and children of the other shooting victims. “Executing Stroman is not what they want, either,” he told The Dallas Morning News. “They have already suffered so much; it will cause only more suffering if he is executed.” The decision to pursue commutation of Stroman’s sentence currently resides with Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins. If Watkins does not support commutation, Bhuiyan says he will appeal to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which can then make a recommendation to Texas Gov. Rick Perry to commute the sentence. For additional information and to sign the on-line petition to commute Stroman’s death sentence to life in prison without parole, please go to Bhuiyan’s website, www.worldwithouthate.org.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is a nonprofit 501(c) (3), grassroots civil rights and advocacy group. CAIR is America's largest Islamic civil liberties group, with regional offices nationwide and in Canada. The national headquarters is located on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. CAIR’s Mission is “To enhance understanding of Islam and Muslims, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.