THIS weekend will bring with it countless stories about 9/11 guaranteed to tear us to pieces.
Twenty years on I’m not sure I’m any less shocked by the attacks than I was on the day.
Rais Bhuiyan’s story is a bit different, though no less shocking for that, in good ways and bad.
It was my privilege to interview Rais on my Radio 5 Live show this week.
In 2001 he was a young man of Bangladeshi origin living in Texas.
He’d left his home country to study in the US and won the right to stay permanently in a lottery for the prized Green Card.
On the morning of September 11 he had a day off from his job working in a petrol station’s convenience store, so he was at home watching in horror as the Twin Towers came down.
Ten days later he was working in that store when his life changed for ever.
“Around noon, this guy walked in wearing a bandana, sunglasses and a baseball cap.
“He was holding a sawn-off, double-barreled shotgun and pointing it directly at my face.
“I thought it was another robbery, so I placed the cash on the counter and I begged him for my life.”
The man shot him. His name was Mark Stroman. He later said he was hunting Muslims after 9/11.
He claimed most Americans would have wanted to do what he did, but didn’t have the guts.
He said he was a true American patriot. And that America was no place for Muslims. He was sentenced to death.
His victim, with three dozen shotgun pellets in his body, somehow survived.
PEPPERED WITH PELLETS
The right side of his face was, and remains, peppered with pellets.
He lost the sight in one eye and remains in constant pain.
Having accumulated $60,000 in medical bills he couldn’t pay, he lost his home, his job and his fiancée.
Here’s the thing, though, Rais forgave Stroman.
He said: “Listening to our public officials and our leaders, and seeing the same footage over and over again of the planes hitting the Twin Towers, I could see how he snapped and wanted to kill as many Muslims as possible.
“I didn’t want to see myself as a victim. I wanted to move forward, because my life in my dream country was almost destroyed.
“I remember my parents taught me that revenge is never an option if people were mean to me. So that’s what I did. I forgave my attacker, because of my upbringing, because of my Islamic faith.
“But then I never felt it was enough. Yes I forgave him. But he was sitting on death row willing to die. What is the benefit out of this forgiveness? I never felt it was enough.”
So, incredibly, he went to campaign relentlessly for Stroman to be spared the death penalty.
He added: “I realised that by killing him we will simply lose a human life without dealing with the root causes. I suffered terribly, but I didn’t see any value in him suffering as well. He’s a human being like me who made a terrible mistake, and he deserves a second chance.”
Stroman, despite his victim’s best efforts, never got that second chance.
This is Texas we’re talking about.
He was finally executed ten years ago.
‘WORLD WITHOUT HATE’
Shortly before he died the two men spoke over the phone.
Rais said: “I told him very clearly that, ‘Mark, I never hated you. And I forgave you’. And he said, ‘Rais, I never expected this from you. I love you bro’.”
It was the, “I love you bro”, that did it for Rais, who explained: “I couldn’t hold my tears in.
“This is the same human being who, for no reason other than hate and ignorance, shot me in the face when his heart was filled with ignorance, hate and anger.
“Now he is the same human being, calling me brother, saying he loves me. So, that tells you people can change, given the opportunity, the respect, the kindness.”
Rais now campaigns to change the world.
As he puts it: “The journey I’ve taken moved me from a place of pain on the deepest level to a place of hope for a kinder world, a world without violence, a world without victims and a world without hate.”
Coming from anyone else I’d be inclined to say, “Ooh yes, that’s nice”, and roll my eyes at this naïve, impossible objective.
But hearing it from Rais is different. He’s earned the right to try.
I only mention this because among the horrors we are reliving on the anniversary of 9/11, I thought a shaft of light might not go amiss.
THE Beeb’s 9/11: Inside The President’s War Room is a fascinating documentary.
Many key players, not least the then President George W Bush, talk us through, almost minute by minute, the events of September 11, 2001.
It is hard not to warm to George W, now an old man, talking candidly about his anger and bewilderment that day.
But then, right at the end, he spoils it
Asked if his decision to avenge 9/11 by attacking Afghanistan had made the world a safer place, he says: “You know, there weren’t any other attacks on America.”
Well, yes Mr President, but elsewhere in the world there have been plenty of attacks, not least here in the UK.
I’m not saying his decision necessarily led directly to 7/7, the Manchester Arena, London Bridge or any number of other atrocities.
But if I’d lost someone in any of these places, at that point my TV might well have gone out of the window.
Brom near ‘n’ far
I WAS delighted to read the survey suggesting more Manchester United fans live in London than in Manchester.
It is always nice to have your prejudices confirmed.
However, I’ve always felt a bit hypocritical when I bang on about the disgrace of fans not supporting their local clubs.
Because whenever I meet a West Brom fan who is not from the area, I’m all over them like a rash, quite beside myself with pride and admiration.
There’s a bloke I know from Inverness, with no connections to the West Midlands at all, who rarely misses a game.
And the same for a mate of mine called Andy, from Maidstone in Kent. I salute them both.
But if I met a Man Utd fan from Inverness or Maidstone I wouldn’t give them the time of day.
Tellingly, when I first asked the Inverness and Maidstone blokes why they supported the Albion, they both gave the same answer: “Erm, dunno really.”
Hardly glory hunting, is it?
It’s too taxing
TAX does my head in.
Honestly, it’s not the paying of it I object to, it’s the sheer complexity of our system that makes me want to scream.
It isn’t HMRC’s fault, it’s the politicians.
If it was simple, then we could all see what they were up to. As long as they keep it complicated, we never can be quite sure.
Take this week, during which we’ve been told we are going to pay more in National Insurance before going on to pay a new Health and Social Care Levy.
The word “tax” doesn’t appear there.
But that’s all it is – a tax.
National Insurance is a tax on income, but it’s not income tax
Oh no, that’s something different.
If you want to find out more, spend several years studying to qualify as an accountant, and only then will you understand.
Something’s got to change before we can have any hope of holding our governments to account.
Taken aBeck by film
I’VE got one daughter just leaving home for university and another just graduated.
The time the three of us have together is precious.
Well, it is to me, anyway.
Since they were little we have had a tradition known as DSFC, which stands for Daddy’s S**t Film Club.
This involves me selecting a movie I think they should watch, which they protest about before, during and after the showing.
They still talk about a documentary film I made them watch called Waste Land, about a Brazilian rubbish dump.
Going soft in my old age, I let them choose the film this weekend.
I’d never seen Bend It Like Beckham for some reason, and what a joy it is. Parminder Nagra is brilliant.
So brilliant, in fact, that I forgive her for somewhat spoiling the moment when I won my only major broadcasting award, which she was presenting.
“And the winner of the Gold Award,” she announced. “Is (pause for dramatic effect), Adrian Chillies!”
I’ve been called worse, I suppose.
Emma’s smiles apart
ALL hail Emma Raducanu, the British 18-year-old tennis sensation who has had such a staggering run at the US Open.
She is an amazing player, with guts, skill and resilience to burn.
But it is her smile that gets me, the sheer joy she radiates at being on the court playing the game she loves.
It is such a rare thing in professional sport when you think about it.
So rare, that when a footballer looks generally happy on the pitch a commentator will be moved to remark: “He plays the game with a smile on his face.”
Long may Emma find joy in her sport, long may she keep smiling.
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