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Anand Giridharadas: Do Hateful People Deserve Forgiveness?

Jul 13, 2018
Originally published on July 30, 2018 3:42 pm

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode Why We Hate.

About Anand Giridharadas' TED Talk

Anand Giridharadas spent two years researching a man who committed a string of hate crimes after 9/11. Along the way, he uncovered a striking story of mercy from an unlikely source: the man's victim.

About Anand Giridharadas

Writer Anand Giridharadas was a foreign correspondent and columnist for the New York Times from 2005 to 2016.

He is the author of several books including The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas, about a Muslim immigrant's campaign to spare the white supremacist who tried to kill him.

In his most recent book, Winners Take All, Giridharadas argues the global elite's efforts to change the world through philanthropy ultimately favors the rich and powerful, and cements their position on top of the social order.

Giridharadas is also an on-air contributor for NBC News.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


On the show today, Why We Hate - ideas on some of the causes and complications of hatred.

ANAND GIRIDHARADAS: I think hate solves real problems that people have in a way that makes it very useful to people.

RAZ: This is writer and journalist Anand Giridharadas.

GIRIDHARADAS: I think hate can give aimless people purpose. It can take a life of petty frustrations and setbacks that are suddenly externalized through hate into kind of grandeur and a sense of mission. I think hate often provides a cover for fear and pain that puts a Band-Aid on them and puts a certain face to the world that is appealing to the hater, that is more compelling to them than being a person who moves through the world unsure and uncertain and feeling mocked. Part of what we would think about when you want to have a world with less hate in it is to actually understand what it's doing for people.

RAZ: And that's kind of what Anand has done. He spent two years researching one man who committed a series of hate crimes after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Mark Stroman, a married father of four who had been in and out of prison and had bounced between jobs, was watching the aftermath of 9/11 unfold.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Mark Stroman claimed he went on a hate-filled rampage in retaliation for the September 11th terrorist attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: So he went to three Dallas-area convenience stores and shot three clerks who he thought were Muslim.


MARK STROMAN: I did what I thought I had to do. I did what every other American wanted to do but didn't have the nerve.

RAZ: Stroman shot three people. Two of them died. The only surviving victim was a Bangladeshi mini-mart clerk, Raisuddin Bhuiyan, who goes by the name Rais. And several years after the incident, Rais spoke to NPR about what happened.


RAIS BHUIYAN: He came to the station with a gun pointing towards me. He asked me, where are you from? And I said excuse me. As soon as I spoke, I felt the sensation of a million bees stinging my face and then heard an explosion. I looked down at the floor and saw blood was pouring like an open faucet from the right side of my head. And I remember I heard myself screaming mom. I was crying, and I was asking God - give me a second chance. I don't want to die today. And I promise if you give me a second chance, I will dedicate my life for others.


GIRIDHARADAS: You know, after Rais was shot - the day after admitting him, the hospital that had taken him in discharged him, even though his eye was kicked, shut with blood and he could barely speak...

RAZ: Wow

GIRIDHARADAS: ...Because he didn't have health insurance. He had 30-something pellets in his face. He had a lot of trauma and PTSD, and he went deep into medical debt and eventually kind of hustled and found some way to get a job at an Olive Garden. And from there, finally, he kind of started taking some IT classes on the side and eventually hustled his way into that profession doing server and database management, which had been his dream.

RAZ: Wow. So you have this guy - this guy who's an immigrant - going through the worst of all possible circumstances, and he overcomes it. He achieves what he came to the U.S. to do.

GIRIDHARADAS: Yeah, I think that's right.

RAZ: So what did you find out about the man who shot Rais - about Mark Stroman? Like, where did his hatred come from?

GIRIDHARADAS: You know, what I tried to do when I was trying to understand why did he commit this series of hate crimes after 9/11 - I had the benefit of his having left a lot of writing - letters, later published blog posts from when he was on death row. And in this language, I was able to kind of piece together his hate outlook. And there was a sense of kind of being a small, bewildered man in a world that didn't have space for him.


RAZ: Yeah.

GIRIDHARADAS: And so then there are these statements of belonging. You know, I like motorcycles and naked women and called himself, you know, Texas loud, Texas proud - this almost over-the-top Americana narrative. And it was all this bluster and this kind of white resentment - it kind of gave him a team. It gave him a kind of virtual squad.

RAZ: Anand girded (ph) us - picks up the story from the TED stage.


GIRIDHARADAS: Mark Stroman always wrestled with demons. He entered the world through the three gateways that doom so many young American men - bad parents, bad schools, bad prisons. His mother told him regretfully as a boy that she'd been just $50 short of aborting him. Sometimes that little boy would be at school and suddenly pull a knife on his classmates. Sometimes that same little boy would be at his grandparents tenderly feeding horses. He was getting arrested before he shaved - first juvenile, then prison. He became a casual white supremacist.

And then before long, he found himself on death row. Strangely, death row was the first institution that left Stroman better. His old influences quit him. The people entering his life were virtuous and caring - pastors, journalists, pen pals. They listened to him, prayed with him, helped him question himself. He finally faced the hatred that had defined his life. He read Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor, and regretted his swastika tattoos. He found God. Then one day in 2011 - 10 years after his crimes - Stroman received news. One of the men he'd shot - the survivor was fighting to save his life.


RAZ: That's just unbelievable. That Rais - I mean, the guy Stroman shot in the face decided to not only help him but to actually fight to get him off death row. Like, how did that happen?

GIRIDHARADAS: It was a long process. And over time, as his condition kind of grew less taxing day by day, he started to have a feeling that he owed the world something. Back in 2001, he had kind of looked up at the sky, thinking he was dying, saying to his God, if you save my life now, I will dedicate the rest of my life to helping others. And what occurred to him in, I think, 2008 or nine was he was ready to turn towards that promise. And he kind of came to this idea that the greatest intervention that he could make in the cycle of hatred and vengeance was to commit a symbolic act.


GIRIDHARADAS: And how would he intervene? By forgiving Stroman publicly in the name of Islam and its doctrine of mercy. Yet, Raisuddin's mercy was inspired not only by faith. A newly minted American citizen, he had come to believe that Stroman was the product of a hurting America that couldn't just be lethally injected away - this immigrant, begging America to be as merciful to a native son as it had been to an adopted one.

In the minimart all those years earlier, not just two men, but two Americas collided - an America that still dreams, still strives, still imagines that tomorrow can build on today, and an America that has resigned to fate, buckled under stress and chaos, lowered expectations and ducked into the oldest of refuges - the tribal fellowship of one's own narrow kind. And it was Raisuddin, despite being a newcomer, despite being attacked, who belonged to that republic of dreams and Stroman who belonged to that other wounded country despite being born with the privilege of a native white man.

On July 20, 2011, right after a sobbing Raisuddin testified in defense of Stroman's life, Stroman was killed by lethal injection. After the execution, Raisuddin reached out to Stroman's eldest daughter, Amber, an ex-convict and an addict, and offered his help. He wanted her, too, to have a second chance.


RAZ: That's amazing. I mean, here's a question, right? Is he a unicorn? I mean, is - this is rare, right? I mean, this doesn't happen. People don't - aren't always able to forgive people who committed such an act of hatred towards them. I mean, it requires a tremendous amount of courage. And, I mean, the story you tell is amazing, but I wonder if it's more aspirational rather than - you know, than a common story of forgiveness.

GIRIDHARADAS: You know, it's - certainly, there's nothing common about it. I think what I'm trying to do is explore the origins of this kind of hatefulness and also to explore this question of, how does one forgive? What is forgiveness? However, you're right. Rais is a unicorn. I do not think that everybody in America who's on the wrong end of racial supremacy should forgive. On the contrary, I think there are wars to be fought and won still.

I think right now, the United States is been governed by a kind of middle-grade ambivalent hatefulness that is too ashamed to call itself hatefulness but that very clearly is marked by hatefulness at its core. I think what we could take from the unicorn is the larger idea that if those of us who live in and celebrate the kind of new pluralist America that is coming, if we don't attend to the fates and fortunes of the people who will lose from that transformation, who will lose a little bit of a sense of who they are, will lose a cultural dividend they got from being white and a man, if we don't attend to them and we just kind of wait for them to no longer be here, I think the next many decades are going to be a very, very rough ride.

If, on the other hand, we who want that new America to come can fight for it and fight for it with great conviction, but fight for it also with a spirit of mercy, that, as I often think about - that the loss of what is undeserved, even though it is undeserved, is hard, we might be able to salvage the very dark moment that we find ourselves in.

RAZ: That's Anand Giridharadas. His book "The True American" chronicles the stories of Rais Bhuiyan and Mark Stroman. You can watch his entire talk at ted.com.


LEONARD COHEN: (Singing) I was at Franklin Roosevelt's side on the night before he died. He said, one world must come out of World War II. Ah, the fool. Yankee, Russian, white or tan, he said, a man is still a man. We're all on one road. We're only passing through.

RAZ: Hey, thanks so much for listening to our episode Why We Hate. If you want to find out more about who was on it, go to ted.npr.org. To see hundreds more TED Talks, check out ted.com or the TED app. Our production staff here at NPR includes Jeff Rogers, Sanaz Meshkinpour, Jinae West, Neva Grant, Rund Abdelfatah, Casey Herman, Rachel Faulkner and Diba Mohtasham, with help from Daniel Shukin and Lawrence Wu. Our intern is Megan Schellong. Our partners at TED are Chris Anderson, Colin Helms, Anna Phelan and Janet Lee. I'm Guy Raz, and you've been listening to ideas worth spreading right here on the TED Radio Hour from NPR.


COHEN: (Singing) Saw me passing through. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.