About Us

Contact Us

Monday, September 23, 2002


If people were made of paper, this just might work

By Scott Harrison




Wall to Wall Law


After my wife’s attack on me I tried to go about my life as usual. I soon found many people had heard rumors about us. One day I went into a nearby café where the owner knew my wife. I ordered breakfast and sat at a table. I waited. And waited. It seemed to take a very long time for my food to come. When it finally arrived, there was pepper over everything. I brushed the pepper aside. The potatoes were stone cold. Something was wrong with the eggs. I started to realize what was happening. I paid a tip and quietly left.

Not long afterward I ran into the owner of the stylish French crepe restaurant near my bookstore. I said hello. We had been on good terms for some eight years. She could not have been two feet from me, but she ignored me and walked past. She had suddenly become deaf.

A small child came into the bookstore one afternoon. His mother grabbed his arm and ushered him out of the store. They had known Khadija and liked her. I knew of several former customers who were now avoiding my bookstore. It wounded me.

And it didn’t stop. A very angry man stood before me at the front counter and asked, “Do you know of this man who was reading the Koran to his wife and then hit her?” He was so very angry. I told him, “I did not hit my wife, so if someone said that...” He looked at me as if he intended to throw a fist in my face. Luckily he turned around and left. I just had to wonder what people were saying to each other. What was my wife was telling them?

I was walking home one day and saw the short old woman who lives in the apartment directly above mine. I hadn’t seen her since the night I was arrested, some three months earlier. She looked at me with positive contempt and walked past.

Another bookstore was having a party, but I found myself unwilling to face people’s looks, people’s questions. I didn’t want to go to any local events. I felt publicly shamed.

These things should not have bothered me. I shouldn’t have let them bother me. But in fact, they had a powerful effect. Someone’s dark comment or scornful glance tended to upset and depress me for hours. I tried to always keep in mind what my wife had gone through by marrying me. In her religion a Muslim woman is not supposed to marry a non-Muslim man. In Morocco it’s against the law. It is OK for Muslim men to marry non-Muslims, but not for women. Muslim men can have four wives. Police can arrest Muslim women if they date. In Morocco several older women told Khadija that I was a good man but it was such a shame that I was not Muslim. Young men aggressively heckled her. I went to the market with her and her sister, and men shouted insults at her for being with me. I know that she also had critics in America. So I tried to keep in mind that she had suffered from people’s opinions too. It is difficult to live with blame and condemnation in people’s eyes.

I wondered a few times, if Americans must recognize the Constitution as the highest law of the land but my wife recognizes the Koran as a higher law, and these two have irreconcilable differences, then what is she expected to do as a good and faithful Muslim? She’s caught in a corner. I suspected that was much of our dilemma. Our freedom of speech came nose to nose with her belief that God must never be doubted or questioned. Freedom to speak is inextricably bonded to freedom of thought and the free flow of ideas, which in turn fills the rivers of progress. When the Koran says, “This Book is not to be doubted,” and “None shall question Him about His works,” it freezes speech and locks up freedom of thought.

To feel better, I sent a series of letters to various people. I wrote a long letter to Khadija’s friend Fatima, apologizing for any offense I might have given the Islamic religion. I put a display of Islamic and Middle Eastern books in the front window of my bookstore. I put up a bright red Moroccan flag. I wrote several letters to Khadija’s family in Morocco. I told them that nothing I said could be conveyed directly to Khadija (because of the restraining order) but I asked for their help, their advice, and their understanding. I told them that when conflicts are resolved between people, often the understanding between them gets deeper, often the union is stronger than ever. I sent $300 in one letter so they could better celebrate the Islamic holidays of Ramadan. In fact, I sent $100 in every letter, if I could afford it.

Why? I loved my wife and I felt lost without her. I felt miserable. I wished I had not talked about her religion. Every day I did not see her and every day that I did not hear her voice, I felt a simply unbearable sadness. I felt devastated by what she had done. Whatever the American courts said or friends said or gossips said, I knew for certain that the only hope I had to reunite with her was to win forgiveness on her terms. I had not broken any American law, but I had insulted her higher law, the law of Allah. The night she broke the window, I doubted and questioned the Koran. A month earlier I said that the leader of Islam was only human, with all the problems and weaknesses that the entire human family share. I didn’t think he should be worshiped as if he were God because he wasn’t. He was human just like us. “The book of God is the whole universe, not anyone’s words on paper,” I said. But whatever these remarks meant to me, she had in her heart a complete unquestioned submission to the direct words of Mohammed and of God, whom he spoke for, as written in the Koran. To her, my comments had been verbal battery. Is it a crime to have questions and to express one’s own opinion? In parts of the world, yes. But we are here. And yet, now, I was sorry I had said anything, because I certainly never wanted it to turn out like this.

I didn’t believe in her religion, but when we married she said she would accept me. I waited in a lingering agony, hoping some day she would remember her promise. Those first months I endured the most unbelievable amounts of pain. Day and night.

Every letter I mailed met silence. I wrote maybe eight to her family. I sent nearly $1,000 in cash, a lot of money for me. I remember thinking a couple times, with a smile, that one way I knew for certain that I loved her was that money just stopped being important. Money became simple paper with pictures of presidents. Money was transformed. Treating money this way at any other time would have meant I was insane. Not when it came to Khadija: she could have all my money. Everything.

Whatever Khadija’s family thought of money, they didn’t send me so much as a postcard. I grew discouraged. I just couldn’t think of any more ways to apologize. It bothered me, because really I felt Khadija and her family should be apologizing to me. But that is also a part of love: unconditional forgiveness.

Writing these letters allowed me to keep my head above water. I kept imagining Khadija’s family would hear my pleas for help and write to me. But the letters helped in another way. I started to understand more clearly that our break-up had little to do with a broken window and a lie to the police. It wasn’t even about religion, because for five years she had known our beliefs were different. She had used religion to inflame the situation. It was about something much bigger. It was a command performance. Khadija’s family knew very well what had happened and what was happening. They had used me just as long as they needed to. Then when they had no use for me, they disposed of me. It never was a marriage. It had nothing to do with love. I had been the stone to step on to get to America. From the day Khadija broke the window, she treated me as a dead person. She owed nothing to the dead. She was done with me.

It broke my heart, but I came to believe this was what it was all about, a fraudulent marriage to get American citizenship. An attack on me camouflaged as a domestic violence incident, done purposefully to obtain a green card. A deliberate Jihad in the kitchen. She hadn’t only succeeded with brilliance; she had brought the San Francisco police in as partners. She’d made mockery pie out of the court process. There was plenty of black irony in all of this.

Herbert Gold came into my store several times. He was amazingly patient, kind, and understanding. He told me if I had any thoughts of getting back with my wife, I should immediately seek psychiatric help. Slowly I was able to see things more clearly.

John Bryan, the longtime underground newspaper editor and publisher, a friend of mine, kept telling me, “Send Khadija back to the Middle Ages where she belongs!” I told him that the only place any of us should go is to deliverance from our ignorance … wherever ignorance may reside. A fortune cookie once advised, “The only evil in the world is ignorance.” But in any case I had no authority to send my wife anywhere.

My wife had filed for a divorce, so I filed for an annulment of our marriage based on fraud. I also forced myself to go down to the INS office to file a complaint and sign papers saying I believed I was the victim of one-way immigration fraud. I tried to fight back, but I was swimming against the current. I hated to go to the INS because I did not want my marriage to be fake. I wanted someone to stop me and show me I was wrong, show me there was some way to restore something of what I thought we had.

Nobody stopped me. Nobody slowed me down. It was very humiliating to tell anyone what she had done. I felt stupid and small sitting in their office. I felt like a rat because I did not want to get Khadija into trouble. But she needn’t have worried. It was explained to me that the INS would not have any way to disprove the police report or second guess the judgment of the two judges who had imposed restraining orders (both based on that same police report, which was based on her direct, willful false account to the police). Regardless of the outcome, even with an annulment of the marriage, Khadija would be allowed to stay permanently in America. She had gotten what she wanted. The INS would not even ask her to come in for questioning.

“Even after everything she has done?” I asked.

“Yes, we understand what she did. We believe you but we cannot prove it. We would have a hearing, but then she would say she is a victim of domestic violence. She has documentation (the paper trail). We can’t do anything. One-way fraud happens all the time.”

Then maybe to make me feel better, because I was choking back tears (I’d been telling them several other private details about our marriage that convinced me it was bogus), they told some stories of Eastern European immigrants who would meet Americans on the internet, marry, make off with gifts, clothing, and money and then show up at a battered woman’s shelter and make fake claims just weeks after their arrival. The papers from the shelter alone were enough to secure permanent American residence. They didn’t even need to bring in the police. Bottom line: Khadija will be allowed to stay. And no, they would not even call her in for questioning.

I was frustrated and I was relieved. For what she had done, I certainly thought she deserved to be sent straight back to Morocco in disgrace. But I didn’t want that.

It seemed to me that the INS itself was deeply implicated in the mess. They essentially told my wife: The only way on earth you can come to America is to marry Mr. Harrison. Then down the road, if you have cheated Mr. Harrison and are afraid he will file for divorce, the only way you can stay in America is to make him appear abusive. Get two written reports and you’re home free.

But what was this really all about, other than indentured slavery? Khadija inside American borders can earn $30,000 a year (by working two jobs as she is presently doing); doing identical work in Morocco (if she could find this much work there, which she couldn’t), she would earn only $1,500 a year. (She earned 29 cents an hour at her job in Morocco. Employment is very limited and much worse-so for women.)

The rules themselves, the rules on paper, were creating astonishing disasters. The INS took no responsibility for the train wrecks it caused. I wanted fairness and justice between us. I wanted the truth to be recovered. I wanted my name and peace of mind restored. I wanted relief from all the endless institutional madness. I wanted to no longer be a victim of the empire of paper.