By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Anand Giridharadas
Narration by: Anand Giridharadas
A deplorable habit of human nature is to classify humanity into us and them. “The True American” is a news reporter’s story of two Texas murders and one wounding of three presumed Middle Eastern people living and working in America after 9/11/01. In fact, the three victims were Bangladeshi, Indian, and Pakistani with Asian rather than Middle Eastern origins. “The True American” is the story of an incident of murder and mayhem that tests Texas’s death penalty and exposes human nature’s habit of “us and them” categorization of human beings.
The Texas’ murders are a lesser-scale recapitulation of the delusions and horror of 9/11. Though only two human beings, rather than nearly 3,000, are murdered in this Texas incident–both horrific events are motivated by delusions of revenge and belief in “us and them” categories. Anand Giridharadas’ book is about “us and them” choices human beings make every day. The year 2015 shows three examples of “us and them” beliefs in America: 1) a presidential candidate’s categorization of illegal Mexican’ immigrants as murderers and rapists, 2) a white man’s slaughter of nine Americans because they are Black, and 3) a Muslims’ murder of five men because they are American’ soldiers.
The focus of Giridharadas’ book is the maiming of Raisuddin “Rais” Bhuiyan, an aspiring American emigre from Bangladesh, who is shot in the face by Mark Anthony Stroman. Stroman murders two and maims Rais Bhuiyan, because he sees himself as a part of “us” (Americans) and his victims a part of “them” (Arab terrorists). Like a presidential candidate’s slander of Mexicans, a white man’s slaughter of Blacks, and a Muslim’s murder of soldiers in 2015, Stroman believes anyone that looks like “them” is not worthy of “us”. Bhuiyan’s life is an enemy of “us” to Stroman because he is avenging destruction of the World Trade Center in New York. To Stroman, Bhuiyan and two un-related Asians are terrorists because of the color of their skin.
Both Stroman and Bhuiyan, in the beginning of this true story, think in “us and them” terms. By the end of Giridharadas’ book, Stroman and Bhuiyan realize there is only “we”.
Bhuiyan and Stroman are polar opposites in many ways but the same in others. Bhuiyan is raised in a loving family in Bangladesh. Stroman is raised by an uncaring mother and stepfather. Bhuiyan is strongly supported by his family to get a good education. Stroman is ignored or abused by his family and drops out of middle school. Bhuiyan excels in a private school and becomes an elite citizen of Bangladeshi’s government Air Force. Stroman is a “lost boy”; in and out of jail, and largely educated by government penal institutions. Bhuiyan immigrates to America, slipping in and out of two cultures. Stroman knocks around Dallas, Texas, slipping in and out of jobs and jails.
However, Bhuiyan and Stroman are alike is in their social isolation. Bhuiyan arrives in America without friends or family. Stroman breaks ties with family and makes few friends. Stroman isolates himself from society with drugs that make him belligerent. Stroman is prone to relationships with fellow societal misfits. Bhuiyan is isolated from society because he is a stranger in a strange land. Bhuiyan moves from New York to Dallas because a fellow Asian immigrant offers him a job. Stroman is a “…True American”. Bhuiyan is an aspiring “…True American”.
Bhuiyan’s early associations in America are with fellow Bangladeshis with the goal of finding employment. Stroman’s associations are with outliers of American society with the same goal of finding employment. Bhuiyan’s effort to find jobs is difficult because of his recent immigration and ethnic isolation. Stroman’s effort to find lawful jobs is difficult because of his prison record, drug use, and volatile temper.
Stroman is convicted for one of his two Dallas’ murders and sentenced to death. After ten years of appeal, Stroman’s execution is imminent. Bhuiyan, in that ten years, continues his journey to become a “…True American.” In the course of their troubled lives, Bhuiyan and Stroman grow to understand each other’s humanity. Stroman reimagines his life as his execution date approaches. On the face of Stroman’s written and video confessions, Stroman is either manipulating the media or truly recognizes the error of his ways. Stroman begins to understand–humanity is not a matter of “us and them” but a complicated mix of good and evil in every human being. Ironically, Stroman’s and Bhuiyan’s journey is through religious belief, one as a Muslim; the other as a Christian.
Bhuiyan’s life remains a work in progress as a part of “we”. Stroman is executed by the Texas penal system for the murder of one of “them”. Despite appeals for elimination of the death penalty for Stroman, and attempts to eliminate state’s rights to execute “them”, Texas remains a death-penalty State. In the end, a “…True American” is both Bhuiyan and Stroman. They are both a part of the “we” called “humanity”.