We recently had the chance to read the book "The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas."
It is the story of the man featured on today's front page -- Raissuddin Bhuiyan, or Rais for short.
Rais was shot in the face in September 2001, not long after the terrorist attacks. His assailant, a white man born and raised in Texas, had a sordid past and had come to the end of his rope, according to the book. After the towers fell, he began to target men he thought were Arab, or Middle Eastern.
Rais is from Bangladesh.
Mark Stroman had already killed two other men before walking into the gas station Rais was working in and asking him where he was from only to shoot him in the face before he could respond.
He was soon caught and tried for one of the murders -- the only case prosecutors thought strong enough to secure a verdict -- and subsequently convicted. He was ultimately sentenced to death.
While he was wrong about Rais' ethnicity, he was right about one thing -- he is a Muslim.
Over time Rais' wounds began to heal, but he couldn't move on until he forgave Stroman. Rais even went so far as to meet Stroman, to forgive him in person and to lobby the state of Texas to commute his death sentence to life in prison.
Rais now runs the program you read about on the front page, visiting communities like ours where there are problems with violence, and he works with community leaders and agencies to overcome what he perceives is the root cause of the violence, hatred through miseducation.
We discuss this here because we sometimes get letters and phone calls from readers disparaging people in some of the stories we cover, people they have decided they hate or dislike -- immigrants, Muslims, blacks, whites, liberals, conservatives, racists.
It is apparent whenever we get to speak to these people that they are viewing the world through a singular lens. They know nothing of the other person's culture, upbringing, religion, economic status, education or even their personality.
Difference of opinion is fine, even encouraged. It's great to approach ideas from different angles, to exchange opposing ideas, to debate issues. But this blanket hatred, the reluctance to see any issue, politically, socially, in religion or with race, from any perspective save for the one a person already holds is severely limiting. No growth can come of it, no progress made, no ideas exchanged and no benefit can be gained -- only distance, mistrust and too often violence.
Liz Meador, one of our contributors and someone affiliated with the group bring Rais to Goldsboro, has recently been writing about the similarities between Christianity and Islam -- there are plenty. Find her column in the op-ed section of our past two Sunday editions.
Education is the key to overcoming the misinformation, the fear and the deep-seated hatred we sometimes bear deep inside ourselves.
If something about another group of people scares you, makes you uneasy or you find yourself not liking the group without ever having had dealings with them, take a minute to ask yourself if you truly know anything about them. If you find you don't, you have at least identified something you share with them -- an opportunity.