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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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