Today, on International Peace Day, I am also commemorating my Rebirthday. Eighteen years ago, I faced extreme evil, and my life in America changed forever. I vowed not to define myself by that act of horror, but to respond by making a difference and helping others. 

Though not in Manhattan or Washington D.C., I am a victim, and a survivor of the terror that reigned down upon our country on Sep 11, 2001. My attacker, who shot me in the face and killed two others, blamed me and my kind for 9/11, and said America was no place for Muslims,… until he learned about the international campaign I was leading to try and save his life from Texas death row. He hated me when he didn’t know me, but in the end called me, brother; and said he loved me before he was executed. His last words were “Hate has to stop. Hate causes a life time of pain.” Today, I see the reflection of his pain everywhere. 

It is time for us all to admit where we are heading as a country, and as the human race. Hate crimes, gun violence, anti-immigrant rhetoric…extremism of all kinds are on the rise. Though we vowed, “never again” long ago, it appears we haven’t learned anything from history. The war on terror has caused and produced more terror, providing excuses for far too many to label people we don’t know as a threat, making it easy to persecute, suppress, and treat fellow humans as lesser than. We spend billions searching for life in space, but lives on earth continue being destroyed by unnecessary, unjust wars, violence, hunger, and disease. When millions of people dream of having access to clean water, or a roof over their head, desperate to live life with dignity, we spend even more in the arms trade and on new technology to control and kill.

All mothers hope to see their children flourish in a safe, loving and kind world. What can we do to save humanity and restore the world? Building peace is the answer. Peace begins within each of us, in our hearts & minds, at home first. We need to teach our children, and remind one another, to respect everyone equally, as human first, regardless of our differences. You may not like me or become my friend, but you can respect me as you want to be respected. No one is born to hate or to be violent. People are either taught to hate or go through challenges in their lives desensitizing them to others’ right to life, liberty, freedom, and happiness. That’s why we must teach our children kindness, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness before they are exposed to racism, intolerance, hate and violence. 

The lessons I’ve learned from my traumatic experience, and the painful journey I’ve taken, moved me from a place of pain on the deepest level, to a place of peace and hope for a kinder, just, and more accepting world. There is not a single day that goes by that I am not reminded of and impacted by my brutal attack, but I continue to make peace with my pain.  

Today, as a human rights advocate, peace activist, non-profit leader, and motivational speaker, I have the opportunity to try and combat the hate and violence that has plagued our country, our world for far too long. I founded the organization, World Without Hate, with the hope we might all build bridges among one another, as opposed to walls; that through our powerful human attributes of forgiveness, empathy, and acceptance, we can begin to see how much more we have in common than that which seems to divide us.

On this international day of Peace, and my 18th rebirthday, I urge you to join me, pledging to proactively denounce ignorance, intolerance, and hate, treating all people equally, as humans first, regardless of our visible or invisible diversity. Let’s change the world by changing stereotypes and divisive rhetoric, channeling our actions through empathy, understanding, and acceptance. Let’s create the world we all deserve, a world without violence, a world without victims and a world without hate for all. 

~ Rais Bhuiyan, Founder & President, World Without Hate

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