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Friday, August 30, 2002


If people were made of paper, this just might work

By Scott Harrison




Men in Black and Blue


Let me go back to the beginning.

More than ten months ago, when this all began, my wife Khadija and I were in our apartment in the Mission District, a little after ten in the evening. This was less than one month after September 11 and only two days after the beginning of the American bombing of Afghanistan. We had just watched a video starring Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon in our living room. In the kitchen Khadija brought out some books on Islam she was going to give to one of her teachers at City College. One book outlined the scientific proofs that the Koran must be divine. I told her I didnít think the proofs amounted to much.

Khadija was upset by this. We talked and I asked her, "What do you really think of bin Laden?"

She started getting angry with me again, saying, "I love him. I wish I had married him instead of you!"

After she said that, I went into my bedroom (we had separate bedrooms although weíd been married for nineteen months) and got some yellow index cards where I had written down quotes from the Koran. Quotes that bothered me. As a general rule I knew never to talk about the Koran to my wife because it just got us upset with each other. I had not directly discussed the Koran with her in about one year. But I had come to the point that I just had to ask her about some of the things I had read.

I had just finished reading the whole Koran carefully about ten days before. One of the hijackers had many long quotes from the Koran in his luggage. Maybe there was no connection. Maybe she could have just assured me that I was taking these quotes out of context or that these particular statements only referred to a specific situation. Maybe she could have said that it was a mistake to take the quotes literally.

I sat in a chair in our kitchen. I asked her about these quotes from the Koran. One was, "Believers take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends." A few more were, "Surely the unbeliever is the Lordís enemy"; "Seek out your enemies relentlessly"; and "Believers, do not befriend your fathers or your brothers if they choose unbelief in preference to faith." Also, "If any one thinks that Allah will not give victory to His apostle in this world and in the world to come, let him tie a rope to the ceiling of his house and hang himself." I found these (and dozens more just like them) very upsetting and I wanted to understand what Khadija thought of them.

I sat in a chair in our kitchen. I was upset with these statements. Khadija stood directly in front of me, silent. I had read only four or five of the quotes when she picked up a dish from the kitchen table and threw it against the rack of dishes on the kitchen counter. There was about a three second pause. Then she sent the whole rack of dishes smashing against the corner of the sink.

My wife has a black belt in taekwando. I stood up. I was alarmed and frightened. My wife had been angry with me many times, but she had never been violent. She had never broken anything. At that moment I felt I should have just kept my mouth shut. I felt responsible. I felt I had done something very bad by reading those quotes out of the Koran to her.

After she sent the rack of dishes crashing across the sink, her eyes swept the kitchen for other things she could break. She yelled at me, "Iím going to show everyone what you have done!" She swung her fist over the kitchen wastebasket and her laundry stroller and punched a big hole in the window in the kitchen door, sending broken glass flying all over the place. She cut her hand, and it started to bleed. She put her head near the big hole and yelled, "Help Help! Someone call the police!!" Then, back inside the kitchen she took a swing at another window, the one above the kitchen sink.

I tried everything I could to calm her down. I told her I was sorry. I told her that I loved her. I asked her to please not be angry. She looked over at the block of knives on the far side of the stove and began moving toward them. I held her wrist, then gripped her upper arm and held her. I told her again that I loved her, that I had not criticized her, that it was her book I was upset with and the terrorists I was upset with and couldnít understand. I didnít understand if she believed all of those things.

She didnít go further toward the knives but struggled with my grip without attempting to move away from me. She said I was a bad man. She said she didnít want me to comfort her. She wanted to call the police. I remember telling her, "The police? Why would you call the police? Call your friend Fatima or your friend Najet."

Seeing her this way, I did feel like a bad man. I felt I had hurt the one thing I most loved. I thought I had provoked my wife into an uncontrolled fury. I remember thinking that we could replace a few broken dishes. We could somehow get through this and talk calmly.

She went to the living room to call the police. I asked her. "Why are you calling the police? Do you want me arrested?" But she went ahead. I said, "Thatís not fair!"

While she called, I went into the kitchen and got a couple of paper towels for her to hold on her cut hand. I went and got some tape and a piece of cardboard and covered the hole in the kitchen door window.

Khadija called the police. The moment she got them, she raised her voice and yelled into the telephone, "Help! My husband. No! Stop! Please can you send someone! I need you to send someone right now!"

I stepped near the phone and said something like, "Nothing is happening. Iím not doing anything to her." Then I heard someone at the front gate of the apartment building. Someone rang our bell. I told my wife, "I think the police are here now. Iíll go out and see."

I remember feeling some relief, because my wife had gone so wild and so crazy that I didnít know what was the matter with her and I didnít feel I could handle her. It seemed her rage had just made her flip out. Spinning in my mind as I walked out to let the police in were the questions why had she called them and why had she been totally phony on the phone? Why was she pretending to be in great danger when there was no danger? That call had been very cold-blooded. Her breaking the window had been very deliberate. It stung me. Why had she done that?

The police were polite. A group of them came rushing in. They didnít throw me to the ground or rough me up. Nothing like that. One officer had me stand outside near the curb. I had no coat. I was handcuffed. They told me I was not being arrested; I was being detained while they secured the scene to find out what was going on.

I turned in little circles in my stocking feet out there on the sidewalk in front of our apartment building. I felt self-conscious and humiliated. Iím sure everyone in the building was peeking out their windows, seeing me and wondering what was going on. Iím sure neighbors up and down the street were trying to see why all the police cars were here. I was worried about my wife. I told the officer standing next to me that my wife had been under a great strain. She was very religious and since September 11 the pressure had been really great. I said I had asked her about her religious book but I should have left it alone. I read a lot of books. I owned a bookstore. I should have just left that particular book alone.

As I waited, a woman came whom Khadija had called. Not one of her usual friends, but a woman counselor from San Francisco City College. She looked at me with mild alarm and horror as she went into the apartment building. Why hadnít Khadija called her close Muslim friends Najet or Fatima? This was odd to me.

A Muslim man and his wife lived on the third floor of our building. I was very worried about what he and his wife would think of this. He came down, looked around, and came out of the apartment building. His wife went in to talk to Khadija. The Muslim man came close and told me, "She is not going to press charges. Donít worry. Everyone has fights. All married couples have fights. Sheís going to come upstairs for a while and talk to my wife. Then sheíll come back down stairs. Donít worry, we didnít see anything. Its going to be alright." He patted me on the shoulder and walked back into the apartment building. He was the only person to say anything kind or encouraging to me.

It says in the Koran, "Good women are obedient Ö those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them." Also, "Men have authority over women because Allah has made one superior to the others." So if I had been truly Muslim, which I am not, and if I had actually beaten my wife, which I didnít, then in a Muslim country it would have been a completely different matter. Maybe.

I remember thinking, as I stood handcuffed out by the curb in front of our apartment, that my wife really needed a long rest. She needed a trip to her home in Morocco. She needed to be with her family for a month or two. The strain had been too great. She had been in America alone for almost two years and she needed to go home to relax and recover, to see her sisters. We could get a new window and we could buy new dishes; we just had to go slow and find ways to love each other better. We needed ways to communicate over the cultural chasm. Maybe this was just a lesson I needed to learn, never to criticize my wife about her religion. I know she had been hysterical and angry, but still I had no idea why she had brought the police into it. Yet back in those first minutes, I felt a certain pride about how she had stood up for herself. I wasnít angry with her. I was profoundly worried, concerned, and sad. I couldnít figure out why she had done this. Where was she taking us?

At one point an officer came out and asked me what had happened. I told him Iíd gotten my wife upset about the Koran and she had broken up the kitchen and broken the window. He didnít ask much more. After a few more minutes I asked the San Francisco police officer who was standing guard over me, "These handcuffs are hurting me. I am not going anywhere. I have not had any alcohol in nearly two years. Iím wondering if you would mind taking these handcuffs off."

"No. Youíre under arrest."

"Arrest? For what?"

"Domestic violence." He said.

"I donít understand. Can I be arrested for my wife breaking a window?"

"Thatís not what she says."

"What does she say?" I asked.

"She says you pushed her into the window."

"I certainly did not."

"Thatís not what she says. She says she was trying to go to bed."

"But what about all the broken dishes? She broke those."

"If she wants to break things that belong to her, then thatís up to her. Thatís not a crime."

I remember telling him that she deliberately broke the dishes and the window. Some minutes later I was handed a paper. It was an emergency restraining and stay away order, forbidding me to have any contact with my wife or to come within 150 yards of my home for seven days. The police were polite. They got my shoes, my wallet, the Koran I had studied that was by my bedside table with all the yellow index cards, my bookstore keys, and my medicine. Then without sitting me down and asking for a more detailed description of my side of the story, without taking me back into the apartment and asking me to show them what happened, without reading me my Miranda rights (which I didnít think made much difference at the time), they took me and put me in the squad car. Driving toward the Mission Police station on Valencia Street, one police officer asked, "You ever have sex with your wife?" Another said, "You better get a divorce." Those were such innocent-seeming words, but such hurtful words.