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Why won’t YouTube and Google consider moderators to tackle online hate? | Keith Kahn-Harris

The Guardian World news: Islam - 16 March, 2017 - 08:59
There’s no easy fix of course, but it would help if internet companies faced up to their responsibilities as publishers, and tried the human approach

In preparation for an article I am writing, I spent much of the other day researching neo-Nazi music. I explored the music of skinhead bands such as Skrewdriver and Bound for Glory, national socialist black metal groups such as Graveland, and some of the more bizarre manifestations of white power music (German neo-Nazi hip-hop is apparently a thing).

And how did I do this research? Did I skulk in dodgy pubs with bull-necked men with shaved heads and bulldogs? No, I used YouTube and Google.

Related: Social media sites face heavy hate speech fines under German proposal

Related: Facebook policy chief: social media must step up fight against extremism

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The hijab ruling is a ban on Muslim women | Iman Amrani

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 March, 2017 - 19:19
Religious identity isn’t something you can take off in public. The European court of justice has turned the headscarf into a symbol of resistance

This week’s decision by the European court of justice to allow the hijab to be banned in the workplace is yet another sign of the continent’s obsession with how Muslim women dress.

Related: Europe's right hails EU court's workplace headscarf ban ruling

The French staged ceremonies where Algerian women had their veils removed to show they'd chosen the coloniser's side

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'Not about religion': how Trump officials have attempted a travel ban rebrand

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 March, 2017 - 13:32

Challengers argue the ban’s intent has been to discriminate based on religion or nationality, but supporters of it are trying to classify it as something else

At midnight on Thursday, Donald Trump’s renewed executive order restricting travel from six Muslim-majority nations will go into effect, provided no last-minute legal challenges intervene. When it does, more than 15 months will have passed since, in the wake of a horrific mass shooting in San Bernardino, then candidate Trump announced his intention to impose a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”.

Related: Trump travel ban: opposition rallies as new order set to take effect

Related: Meet Stephen Miller, the architect of the new Trump travel ban

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Dutch PM Mark Rutte 'boosted by spat with Turkey' as election nears

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 March, 2017 - 07:00

Diplomatic row over Turkish minister ban ‘letting statesman-like Rutte snatch ground from rival Geert Wilders, say analysts

Dutch voters go to the polls on Wednesday in a high-stakes general election overshadowed by an ugly diplomatic standoff between Turkey and EU capitals that analysts believe has played in the prime minister’s favour.

A day before a vote widely viewed abroad through the prism of the UK’s Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s US victory, late polls gave Mark Rutte’s liberal centre-right VVD party its clearest lead yet over Geert Wilders’ populist, anti-Islam, Freedom party, which some surveys put down in third or even fifth place.

Related: Dutch parliamentary elections: everything you need to know

Related: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: 'We know Dutch from Srebrenica massacre'

Related: What the Dutch elections are all about … and what they’re not about | Cas Mudde

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Shattering The Stigma of Mental Health

Muslim Matters - 15 March, 2017 - 04:45

Imagine a 20-year-old girl, who had spent her short life misunderstood and ridiculed not only by her peers but by her own family members. Devastated and broken, and suffering for years in silence, her self-esteem was obliterated. She pleaded with her parents for professional help, but her grievances were never taken seriously. Overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and alienation, the darkness of depression took over. Her unbearable loneliness left her feeling as if she didn’t have a choice but to try to end her pain the only way she knew how by taking her own life. Alhamdulilllah, it was a failed attempt, which jolted her parents to wake up from their delusion and finally act.

When the family came in to see me they had no idea that the solution could be so simple. Alhamdulillah we were able to turn her life around in just a few short sessions. She learned to understand her depression, ways to cope with stress and restore the relationship with her parents.

“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.” (Al-Bukhari)

Many people are suffering in silence with depression like the girl in the story, but they are not seeking help because of the fear and the stigma associated with mental health. They are either apprehensive about being labeled or they are ashamed to admit that they have a problem. It is about time we start prioritizing mental health and giving the same kind of medical attention as we do with physical illness. If your child broke his leg would you ignore it and hope it will just get better on its own or will you rush him to the emergency room to align the bone and put a cast on it? What would happen if the broken bone was ignored and not treated? It would obviously become a bigger problem leading to a lifetime of difficulty when it could have been so easily treated. Parents who wouldn’t treat a broken bone would be seen as negligent and unfit parents. They would even be categorized as abusive. Then why do we ignore the emotional wounds of our loved ones? Why do we assume that they will get over it? Bones will not heal sporadically without an orthopedist; a cavity will not go away on its own without a dentist and mental illnesses will not be healed without seeking psychological help from a professional. There are some people who may have limited finances, but in the same way we come up with the funds needed for surgery we need to come up with the funds to treat our family with mental health issues.

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Stigma associated with mental health
  • Apprehensive about being labeled
  • Ashamed to admit their problem
  • Financial limitation
How Mental Health is Generally Dealt With

Mental health is often completely disregarded and trivialized in our communities. Since the symptoms of the disorders may not be as visible as physical diseases, it can be easily dismissed as being made up or unimportant. Due to a lack of education in mental health or experience, many parents prefer to sweep the problems under the rug denying that it is of any significance. Unfortunately, sticking your head in the sand will not make the problems disappear. Pretending that mental illness does not exist only exacerbates the problem. Untreated mental health issues can proliferate and completely take over the life of a loved one. Sometimes this can manifest in extreme depression, anxiety or hallucinations, which can be scary for family members, who then may resort to yelling, threatening and shaming their loved ones into silence. At their most vulnerable and frightening time when they are desperately in need of support, understanding and professional help, they are often ostracized and humiliated. 

Summary: How Mental Illness is Generally Dealt With:
  • Disregarded
  • Trivialized
  • Dismissed
  • Pretend it doesn’t exist
  • Yelling
  • Threatening
  • Shaming
  • Ostracizing
  • Humiliating
Benefits of Early Detection

And We sent not before you, [O Muhammad], except men to whom We revealed [the message], so ask the people of knowledge if you do not know. (Surat Al-Anbiya, 21:7)

In seeking medical attention for our family, we spare no expense to get the most renowned cardiologist or neurologist in the country for advice and treatment. When it comes to psychological advice, though, anyone will do. There is a total disregard for education, experience and competence. It is important to find a professionally trained counselor who is qualified to provide the specific type of treatment that is needed.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen extremes in people seeking treatment. There have been those who come for therapy in their fifties confiding in someone for the very first time in their life that they were abused at the age of four. These individuals delay their healing process and live with pessimism, rancor and resentment throughout their lives. Then there are those who quickly recognize there is a problem and they seek help to prevent it from escalating. These individuals learn to navigate through tumultuous waters of life with grace and confidence, knowing that they took the necessary steps to seek help. Amongst the elite are those exceptional individuals who come before they even detect a problem for premarital therapy, pre-parenting tips and preparation for loss of a loved one. They equip themselves like professional campers in avoiding dangers of conflict in marriage, putting out the fire of anger in parenting, preparing for the inevitable and making the most of their adventurous journey of life.

As with all illnesses, early detection and treatment of many mental disorders could be managed and cured. It could be the difference between having a fulfilling, peaceful life or living miserably and destroying the happiness of others. When someone learns to overcome their issues, they are more capable of having meaningful relationships. Early detection could mean more empathy for the one suffering and it could increase their self-esteem by having an in-depth understanding of their disorder. Sometimes it could be life and death.

Let’s not wait until it’s too late to seek treatment for ourselves and our loved ones.

Summary: Benefits of Early Detection:
  • Manage the illness
  • Cure the illness
  • Peaceful life
  • Better relationships
  • More empathy
  • Increase self-esteem
  • Better understanding of the illness
  • Prevent suicide
What Needs To Be Done?

EDUCATION. EDUCATION. EDUCATION.

Did I mention education? The more we inform our communities about the importance of treating mental health, the more we can prevent tragedies and help people live a fulfilling life regardless of their mental and emotional challenges. There is a need for Friday sermons across the country discussing our responsibility as practicing Muslims to treat ourselves and our families for mental illness. In order to create a safe environment to discuss mental illness, we have to be less judgmental and more supportive of one other as a community. We need to talk more openly about it without feeling ashamed. Instead of humiliating and ostracizing those with mental illness, we need to have prophetic patience, a heart full of compassion and the willingness to provide reliable treatment. If we adopt all these new strategies, then maybe we can change the current statistics. Sadly, 56% of adults in the 4.5 million people who suffer from mental disorders do not get treated. Let’s educate ourselves and our communities to shatter the stigma of mental health once and for all.

Review: What Needs To Be Done?
  • Education
  • Khutbas about mental illness
  • Less judgmental
  • More supportive
  • Talk openly
  • Prophetic patience
  • Compassion

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/state-mental-health-america

http://www.newsweek.com/nearly-1-5-americans-suffer-mental-illness-each-year-230608

The Myth of the Depression-Proof Muslim

Muslim Matters - 14 March, 2017 - 22:49

There’s this article I haven’t written yet, the one where I confess to struggling with depression.

In that soul-baring masterpiece I finally admit to sleeping too little and breaking down too often. I talk about having a child with autism, a rare genetic disease, and the heart-breaking pain of watching my children develop the same disease too.

I cry while writing it, you cry while reading it. Its completion gives purpose to my years of private struggle but – but I haven’t written that one yet. So I’m writing this one instead.

We Muslims have some pretty ridiculous myths about depression, and the worst is that somehow there is “no depression in Islam.”

O mankind, there has to come to you instruction from your Lord and healing for what is in the breasts and guidance and mercy for the believers. – Qur’an 10:57

Allah calls the Qur’an the healer of hearts. If depression doesn’t exist, is Allah referring to coronary heart disease?

This myth’s existence is based on the idea that depression is a form of ingratitude or low faith. Therefore, a person in depression mustn’t be “in Islam” so to speak.

Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: “We believe,” and will not be tested?  Allah asks this of us in Surah Anqaboot. You think being a believer means never being stressed? Wrong.

We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false. – Qur’an 29:2-3

Allah tested believers before, and He’ll test believers now. To say that depression is a sign of weak faith is to imply that those with bad lives are guilty of being bad Muslims, and this completely contradicts what we know about the most righteous people. In fact, the more righteous you are, the more likely you are to be tested.

Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqaas, may Allah be pleased with him, once asked, “O Messenger of Allah, which of the people are most sorely tested?”

The Prophet ﷺ said: “The prophets, then the next best and the next best. A man will be tested in accordance with his level of religious commitment. If his religious commitment is strong, he will be tested more severely, and if his religious commitment is weak, he will be tested in accordance with his religious commitment. Calamity will keep befalling a person until he walks on the earth with no sin on him.”

For as long as people have been unhappy, the human mind has struggled with understanding the difference between a test and punishment. A person can suffer and instead of seeing their suffering as temporary opportunity, they wonder what they did to deserve such punishment.

Shaitaan loves this train of thought, because it travels due south. I’ve done everything Allah asked me to. I know I’ve messed up, but I said I was sorry. Why is He is doing this to me? Either Allah’s not fair or Allah’s not really there. Either way, this sucks and I don’t wanna do this anymore.

That’s a dangerous ride to take, and if you don’t change direction before going too far, your options become limited to loss of faith or loss of life. You either give up on Allah and find other reasons to continue living, or discontinue living entirely.

No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that.  – Prophet Muhammad ﷺ

Life is painful and unpredictable and complicated, so when it comes to knowing the difference between a punishment and a test, all you have to remember is this: How are you reacting to it?

If you find yourself faced with depression and you fight it with the help of Allah and all the means He puts at your disposal, it is a test and you have passed it even if you NEVER fully defeat depression. As long as your keep your faith and stay patient, you have shed sins the way a tree sheds its leaves in fall. You trade some pain in this life for reward in the next, that other believers will be halal jealous of.

However, if you find yourself faced with depression and you resent Allah for it, allowing your state to push you farther from Him and closer to any sinful thing you can use to distract yourself from it, then your test has become your punishment. Your response increases your pain in this life AND the next.

Say: “Nothing shall ever happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is our protector.” And in Allah let the believers put their trust. – Qur’an 9:51

A dear friend of mine called me once, knowing that I was struggling. She had been taking a class on the names of Allah, and when she read up on Al-Jameel, she just had to tell me about it.

“Zeba listen!” she said excitedly, “Allah is Al Jameel, He is Beautiful! He creates beautiful things! He loves Beauty!”

I thought of flowers and fractals and fish. I didn’t see the relevance. “And?”

“Don’t you get it? Al-Jameel wrote your Qadr with beauty too. He wrote autism into your son’s Qadr. He wrote beauty in all of it, even in your pain.”

If that hit you in the heart the way it hit me, make dua for Mona. I think of that phone call often, because it was the first time I began to see pain as part Allah’s plan, rather than my own failure at the emotional invulnerability that I believed all good Muslims were supposed to have.

I wasn’t hurting because I was a bad Muslim, badly managing Allah’s punishment for my badness.  I was hurting because Allah was allowing me to experience hurt, and hurt forced me to seek Allah out for healing.

How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him. -Prophet Muhammad ﷺ

Being depressed feels like sitting underwater in the bottom of a well, hating the darkness but starving for the air and strength needed to swim toward the surface. It’s cold and lonely and desperately hopeless down there. Depression feels so very far away from Allah, but it forces me to fight my way closer to Him. And I feel safer and less afraid knowing that Allah put me at the bottom of the well the same way He put Yusuf down there, peace be upon him.

Allah knows I’m  down here. He knows I can make it out. I don’t have to know everything that He knows, I just have to trust Him.

In my other article- I’ll write it one day maybe – I have this totally neat, emotionally satisfying and perfectly well-rounded conclusion. I put depression in its proper context by calling it a test, not a punishment or curse for weak Muslims. I let on that I was depressed before but I’m ok now, and if I can make it out of depression then you can too.

That’s in my other article though. In this one, I’ll be frank. I get sad sometimes, I get really, really sad. And then, I feel guilty for feeling sad. Not because I’m blaming myself for not being “Muslim enough” to get happy already, but because I when I look at my first world life and my first world problems, I feel as if I am making a big stink. Like oh pity me, I’m chronically sick but happily married, well supported, and have a good healthcare plan that covers most of my deductibles and I also don’t live in a war zone. 

None of my self-deprecating objectivity seems to work. I can imagine all the children dying in Syria and Palestine and Burma and South Sudan, but when mine cries in my lap because she’s not feeling well for the 99th day out of the last hundred, I feel like my heart is broken.

I’m trying to remember that my heart is NOT broken though. It’s working perfectly well and doing the things my heart is supposed to be doing. It is aching out of sympathy for the love of my children, because they too are being tested by the will of Allah. My heart is struggling and in pain, and I will use that pain to seek healing by the will of Allah. Because that is what my heart is supposed to do. Hearts are supposed to hurt.

Because Allah has promised to heal them.

The Guardian view on the headscarf ruling: the toughest decisions have been left to national courts

The Guardian World news: Islam - 14 March, 2017 - 19:27
The European court of justice’s ruling allows EU law to be interpreted differently in diverse cultural contexts, but may lead to some countries adopting laws others find uncomfortable

The right of Muslim women to wear the headscarf and full-face veil in workplaces and public spaces has never been under greater scrutiny. It is a right that has long been contested in those European countries whose constitutions guard a strict divide between the state and religion: France and Belgium restricted the right of women to wear the full-face veil in public places more than five years ago, in 2011. But the rise of populism across the continent is fanning the debate elsewhere. As immigration and integration have become increasingly salient political issues governing coalitions in both the Netherlands and Austria have pursued similar restrictions; and Angela Merkel at the end of last year endorsed a partial ban in Germany.

It is in this fraught context that the European court of justice on Tuesday ruled on the right of employers to ban female employees from wearing Islamic headscarfs in two cases referred by the Belgian and French courts. The court came to three key conclusions. First, it ruled that any prohibition on employees wearing Islamic headscarves at work that arises from a more general ban on political, philosophical or religious symbols does not constitute direct discrimination under EU law. Second, it concluded that it is legitimate for an employer to want to display a policy of religious or political neutrality in relation to employee dress, but only for workers coming into direct contact with its customers. Third, it ruled employers cannot use the expressed wish of a customer not to receive a service from an employee wearing a headscarf as grounds for differential treatment.

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Europe's right hails EU court's workplace headscarf ban ruling

The Guardian World news: Islam - 14 March, 2017 - 17:02

European court of justice says garments can be banned as part of general policy covering religious and political symbols

Share your views on the ruling

Politicians on the right have welcomed a ruling by the EU’s highest court that allows companies to ban staff from wearing visible religious symbols, as a long-awaited legal judgment ricocheted into the French and Dutch election campaigns.

In its first decision on the issue of women wearing Islamic headscarves at work, the European court of justice in Luxembourg ruled the garments could be banned, but only as part of a general policy barring all religious and political symbols.

Related: Burqa bans, headscarves and veils: a timeline of legislation in the west

Related: Senior EU lawyer backs workplace ban on Muslim headscarves

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'Faith communities are not welcome in Europe': views on the headscarf ban ruling

The Guardian World news: Islam - 14 March, 2017 - 16:54

The EU’s highest court has ruled employers can ban staff from wearing visible religious symbols. Here are your responses

The European Union’s highest court has ruled that employers can ban staff from wearing visible religious symbols. It comes as part of a ruling on the issue of women wearing Islamic headscarves at work. “An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination,” the court said in a statement.

We asked for your views on this, and heard from a wide range of people across Europe. Here are a selection of your responses.

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At mosque Obama visited, fear replaces hope as new Trump travel ban looms

The Guardian World news: Islam - 14 March, 2017 - 14:23

At the Islamic Society of Baltimore, Obama urged rejection of policies that ‘target people because of religion’ – now congregants are anxious the ban is exactly that

Every March since 2014, the Islamic Society of Baltimore has organized a minor pilgrimage for as many as 60 of its congregants to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holy city for Muslims and birthplace of the prophet Muhammad.

This year, the trip was canceled amid fears that Donald Trump’s travel ban on certain Muslim-majority countries might bar re-entry even to those who call the United States their home.

Related: Washington state seeks to expand travel ban injunction to cover revised order

Related: ACLU launching People Power to resist Trump immigration policies in 'freedom cities'

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Burqa bans, headscarves and veils: a timeline of legislation in the west

The Guardian World news: Islam - 14 March, 2017 - 13:56

European states have moved over the years to outlaw Muslim headwear in public

The movement to limit women wearing headscarves and Muslim veils, such as the burqa and niqab, has been growing in Europe for more than a decade. Now the European court of justice, the EU’s highest court, has ruled that employers can ban staff from wearing headscarves, its first decision on the issue of employees wearing visible religious symbols at work.

Related: Employers can ban staff from wearing headscarves, European court rules

When you are coming into contact either with different institutions or, for instance, you are in court, or you need to see someone’s face at the border, then I would always back the authorities or the institutions that have put in place proper and sensible rules.

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Spain's Moriscos: a 400 year old Muslim tragedy is a story for today

The Guardian World news: Islam - 14 March, 2017 - 13:00

Matthew Carr, the author of Blood and Faith, explains how the plight of the Moriscos, driven from their home country as detested aliens, has urgent lessons for our own age

I first heard about the expulsion of the 17th-century Spanish Muslims known as Moriscos back in 1992, when I was living in Barcelona. This was during the 500th anniversary of Spain’s euphemistically titled “encounter” with the New World; I was familiar with the expulsion of the Jews by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, but I knew nothing of the tragedy of the Moriscos – known as “little Moors” – that took place more than a century later.

Even then, I was moved by the tragic fate of these forced converts to Christianity. They were marginalised and persecuted for more than a century before the Spanish state decided they were incapable of becoming “good and faithful” Christians – but they still considered themselves Spaniards even when they were dumped on the beaches of north Africa.

Poignant and often tragic scenes unfolded as the Moriscos were brought to the waiting ships. One old man arrived in Valencia declaring his wish to be buried on Muslim soil but dropped dead while boarding his ship. Other Moriscos died of hunger and exhaustion before leaving the shore. Some parents became separated from their children in the confusion; others left their children behind with local Christians. In the Valencian artist Pere Oromig’s painting Departure of the Moriscos from the Port of Valencia, a Morisco father can be seen kneeling to say goodbye to his young daughter, who is standing with a Christian family.

There were many such farewells as the exodus continued. Even as the Moriscos were boarding their ships, priests, monks, and zealous Christians pleaded with them to leave their children behind so that they could be brought up as Catholics … Doña Isabel de Velasco, personally persuaded many parents to leave their children behind – or had them kidnapped – for their spiritual salvation. Some Moriscos gave in to these opportunities because they felt unable to care for their children, but others defiantly refused, such as the Morisca who gave birth on the docks and then “embarked with the infant in her arms on a harsh, windy and very cold day,” according to a report by the Valencia Inquisition, and ignored the Christians who begged her to leave her baby with them.

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Zaid Karim, Private Investigator, Part 6 – The Secret

Muslim Matters - 14 March, 2017 - 04:45

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

Previous chapters of this story: Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5

1993
Doha, Qatar

I was thirteen years old and freshly arrived in the kingdom of Qatar. My father was overseeing the construction of the new university complex, while my mother – a scientist who specialized in water conservation – was hired to manage water usage at the Qatar Science and Technology Park.

Doha, Qatar

Doha, Qatar

Doha, a scorching hot city perched at the point where the Arabian desert met the Persian gulf, was unlike anything I’d imagined. It was all beige and brown, a combination of ancient mud brick buildings and hyper-modern skyscrapers going up as fast as the Bangladeshi and Korean workers could weld one steel beam to another. The city smelled of fish and dust, and the call to prayer echoed from the low slung masjids five times a day, rising into the sky like the shimmering desert air.

My parents enrolled me in an English-language school for boys. It was called Haq wa Nur or HWN. Of course the school taught English, science and math, and the program was in fact quite rigorous, but the only subjects that, if you failed them, would mean the automatic failure of the entire year, were Islamic studies, Arabic and Quran. This presented a huge challenge for me, as my parents – both of whom were non-practicing Muslims – had taught me nothing about Islam.

The Islamic studies instructor made me his special project, as if I were a feral cat that had wandered in from the foreign wastes. His name was Shaykh Rashid and he was a brilliant, multilingual Qatari who had earned his Bachelor’s degree in Madinah, his Master’s in Manila, and his PhD at Harvard. He was also a martial artist who taught me Shotokan Karate every day at lunchtime, building on my foundation of Kali.

More than that, Shaykh Rashid was a war veteran who’d fought with the mujahideen in Afghanistan and helped to drive the Soviets out. Many people in the community considered him a hero. The Qatari government did not agree, and had jailed him several times since his return from Afghanistan.

Rashid taught me the fundamentals of worship in Islam, the principles of tawheed and fiqh, the science of hadith, and the revolutionary role that Islam has played in human history. He taught us – my classmates and I – that Islam must be dynamic and courageous. He introduced us to writers such as Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawzi and Al-Ghazali, as well as 20th century thinkers such as Abul-A’laa Maudoodi, Maryam Jameelah and Sayyid Qutb.

Around the time I arrived in Qatar, the Bosnian war was ramping up in earnest. With my newfound but immature Islamic awareness, the war hit me like a psychic bomb. The images in the news of Muslim civilians – including women and children – being massacred and raped while the entire world stood by and did nothing – it turned me into a walking ray of lightning, charged with outrage and looking for a way to express it. I challenged my parents, I spoke to my teachers and even the school principal, and everyone kept telling me that it was a great tragedy, yes, but it was not my problem.

I could not accept that. Then, like a spark to kindling, Shaykh Rashid informed us that he was going to Bosnia to fight. I swear I would have followed him if I could, but I was only a child. Before he left I drew him aside in an unused classroom and asked him what I should do, and he replied: “Finish your schooling, and when you return to America live the reality of Islam. Study and teach, be involved in da’wah, slaughter a sheep with your own hands, wash a body for janazah. Experience the deen with all your senses.”

I asked him about jihad. He said, “Jihad is an obligation on every Muslim, from now until the end of time. There is no higher calling.”

Sometimes I wonder, did Shaykh Rashid understand what he was doing when he said those words to me? One might say that he was speaking of spiritual struggle, the eternal battle against the lower self, if not for the fact that he was about to leave for an actual war zone. The year was 1993, not 2003. Jihad was not yet a dirty word. The mujahideen of Afghanistan were heroes even in the West. Still, to make such a statement to an impressionable fourteen year old boy, without framing it in any broader context, without perspective, without explaining the limitations and rules that govern conflict in Islam… I can only shake my head now.

A year later we learned that Rashid was dead, killed in the siege of Sarajevo. Shortly after that – having skipped two grades during my school years – I was back in California for university. I was fifteen years old and on my own, as my parents remained behind in the Middle East.

1995
Fresno, California

In my fifteenth and sixteenth years, I did all the things Shaykh Rashid told me to do. I excelled in my studies. I set up a da’wah booth on campus and found other Muslims to staff it with me. I sourced da’wah materials and created my own pamphlets as well. I assisted in three janazahs. I did indeed slaughter a sheep, and while I still remember the sight and smell of the blood and guts and never cared to repeat the experience, it made an impression and I never again took meat for granted.

Someone told me “If you really want to learn how to do da’wah, you should meet Imam Abdus-Samad.”

Apples on the tree

“He handed out shahadas like apples…”

That was how I ended up across town at the Butler Avenue mosque, talking to this tall, middle-aged Caucasian brother with sparkling green eyes and a deep-voiced laugh.

Originally a Kosovar who still bore the trace of an accent, Abdus-Samad always wore a thobe and ‘imamah (turban) and was da’wah walking. When we were out and about, he never let anyone – from college students to construction workers to senior citizens – pass without asking them, “What do you know about Islam?” Next thing you know, he’d be engaged in an animated discussion, debating the divinity of Jesus or explaining the articles of faith. Abdus-Samad handed out shahadas like apples in a Washington orchard.

When I wasn’t at school or training Kali with Malik Sulawesi (Amiri’s dad), I was with Abdus-Samad, whether hanging out with his family at his home, accompanying him on trips to buy wholesale shoes in Los Angeles (he owned a shoestore), or visiting local prisons to distribute Islamic literature to the Muslim prisoners. He had an imposing but beautiful wife – also from Kosovo – and seven children, and his home was a way station for paroled prisoners, travelers, tablighi groups and fresh converts.

The Imam became like a second father to me, and in time he confided in me much of his history – how he had immigrated to the USA in his teens and become a radical 70’s revolutionary, making bombs for a Weather Underground splinter group, until he was captured and sent to prison for ten years. It was there that he was exposed to Islam, for though he came from a nominally Muslim country, his homeland was under Communist rule when he left, and it was rare to meet anyone under the age of sixty who even knew how to pray.

Abdus-Samad finally accepted Islam during a two year stretch in solitary confinement, when he read the Quran cover-to-cover repeatedly.

As Imam Abdus-Samad and I grew close, the Bosnian war was approaching a climax. The world was shocked by the Srebrenica massacre, while the siege of Sarajevo had reached crisis conditions. If the city fell to the Serbs, it would be a catastrophe. At the same time the Chechen war was raging as the mujahideen struggled to drive out the Russian occupiers. I felt all of these crises deeply. My brothers and sisters were suffering while the world stood by, watching as Muslims were slaughtered, the way travelers on safari might watch hyenas tear apart an antelope.

Something had to be done.

I might have been a fool but I wasn’t an idiot. I did not raise this issue with Abdus-Samad until I knew I could trust him.

I imagined that he would try to dissuade me, tell me to focus on school, or tell me that such talk was dangerous and misguided. Still, I wanted to hear his opinion.

His actual response was to nod solemnly and say, “It’s not necessary to travel to Europe. What the mujahideen need is money. I have people you could talk to.”

So I found myself two days later in a dusty and disused office in Bakersfield, meeting with three other brothers. Abdus-Samad was there as a facilitator. He made the introductions, stated that a third of all takings would go to him – ostensibly to be sent to mujahideen – then left us.

Two of the brothers, Horse and Ghost (none of us used our real names) were African-American Shiah Muslims from Watts, the heart of Los Angeles gangland. The third, to my shock, was Malik Sulawesi, Amiri’s father, the man who had been my Kali instructor since I was a child. Malik was a pale-skinned, ginger-haired Salvadoran of Lebanese origin, a former Communist propagandist who did not begin practicing Islam until late in life. The brothers at the meeting called him Red.

Horse became the leader of the group. He proposed a campaign of robberies to raise funds for jihad. He spoke at length, providing religious justification for such actions. None of those so-called justifications are important now, as they were all taken out of context and misinterpreted. To my teenage mind, though, they were convincing. I was in.

Over the next four years we embarked on a campaign of mayhem across the state of California. We robbed banks and expensive restaurants. We robbed grocery stores on the first and fifteenth of each month (when stores have plentiful cash on hand to cash welfare and payday checks). When we had good intelligence, we robbed drug dealers as well.

All the while I kept up my studies, and somehow managed to graduate with a degree in biology. I felt like a schizophrenic, living two completely different lives. I’d go to the masjid, walk on the college campus, attend Islamic events, hang out with my friends, serve as counselor at the summer camps, and all the while I felt I would split a seam and burst, releasing a torrent of confusion and lies. I’d come to see the cynicism and greed of some of the members of the group, especially Horse, and I’d begun to have deep reservations about what we were doing.

Sure, we raised plenty of money, and I stashed a good amount. But I had begun to feel nauseated before every job, overcome by fear and anxiety. It had never been like that before.

At one point I tried to quit. Imam Abdus-Samad laid a guilt trip on me, telling me that the money we raised was saving lives, that Muslims who might otherwise starve were eating because of us, that if I quit I would be abandoning the mujahideen like all the rest of the world.

Did a single dollar actually make it to the mujahideen in Bosnia or Chechnya? I honestly don’t know. I doubt it.

***

In 1997, Ghost was shot to death in a gun battle with police as we emerged from a bank in Sun Valley. In 1998, Malik Sulawesi – aka Red – was killed protecting me when a gangster got the drop on me during a stash house robbery in Tulare. He literally put himself between me and the bullet. We dragged him out, and I watched him die in the backseat of a Chevy Impala, blood from a hole in his chest pouring onto the seat and floorboards. “Tell my family I love them,” he gasped. “Tell them I’m sorry.”

I never did pass on that message. How could I? We left Red’s body on the sidewalk in front of the Tulare community hospital. His murder was never solved.

There was no one left but me and Horse, and Imam Abdus-Samad pulling strings from a distance. Horse wanted to recruit additional members and ramp up the campaign, but I was done. Malik Sulawesi had been like an uncle to me, and he was dead. We’d dumped his body like a bag of trash. I was exhausted and ashamed. I’d come to realize that everything we were doing was a lie that had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. All the talk of jihad was a cover for men who were still immersed in jahiliyyah, who never understood Islam in the first place, and who were in love with violence for its own sake.

I had been lied to and used.

I quit. I severed my connection with those brothers and got a job – ironically – as a security guard. And I kept my mouth shut.

A year later Horse was arrested while committing a bank robbery with some newbies he recruited. He cut a plea deal with the prosecutor and named names of his associates. One of the names was mine. He did not name Malik Sulawesi, no doubt because he could have been charged with felony murder. He also did not name Imam Abdus-Samad, for reasons I never knew. Maybe he was afraid of him. He was also smart enough to make no mention of “jihad”, realizing that we’d all end up incarcerated for life if the feds knew the truth. Instead he described our group as a simple robbery squad.

I was arrested by the FBI in an early morning raid as I was dressing to go to work. Because I had always worn a mask, and because they never found my money stash nor any weapons, they had no evidence against me aside from Horse’s word. They offered a plea deal based on one bank robbery only, whereby I would serve a minimal sentence.

My family and friends, all of whom knew nothing about my activities, were convinced I was innocent. They wanted to raise money for a top lawyer and fight the charges.

I had no fight left in me, and certainly not a fight based on more lies. I took the plea deal. A guilty plea in an American court requires that the defendant “allocute” the details of the crime, both in order to ensure that the person is actually guilty, and to allow the defendant to present mitigating circumstances. In my allocution I went along with Horse’s version, presenting him as my only partner. I made no mention of Malik Sulawesi, Imam Abdus-Samad, or our so-called jihad. I was sentenced to seven years without parole.

A few years later I heard that Horse had been stabbed to death in USP Atlanta. That left only one person who knew the truth about what I’d been doing: Imam Abdus-Samad. After my release from prison six years later, I avoided him. By that time I had come to realize how I’d been misled. My youthful idealism had been capitalized on and corrupted.

I couldn’t blame others entirely, of course. I’d plunged myself into that awful situation. But all the men who knew me best, and who should have seen the destructive course I was on and set me straight, instead only sped me on my way to the crash.

Do such things still happen? Do such cells such as ours still exist? In this age of massive Homeland Security surveillance, I doubt it very much. But pre-9-11 America was a different place. There was a world beneath the world, one that 99% of American Muslims did not know existed. Within that world it was a free-for-all. It was an underground of sly justifications and unrepentant gangsterism. Most Muslims will likely dismiss this claim as fiction. It is not.

***

Since my release from prison I had occasionally seen Imam Abdus-Samad at Eid prayers. He always tried to engage me in conversation and I always declined, whereupon he’d give me a puzzled look as if he couldn’t understand the reason for my aloofness. I never knew if he was putting up an act, or if he genuinely did not understand how he’d duped me and derailed my life.

I couldn’t count how many times I’d thought about going to see him since my release, to confront him over the events of the past. But it was a conversation best left unborn. 9-11 had changed everything for American Muslims. If any of that money had indeed ended up in Bosnia or Chechnya, I didn’t want to know. Such a thing could doom me to confinement in a communication management unit — a maximum security prison for Muslims—  for the rest of my life.

Besides, Abdus-Samad was an old man now, and I’d heard that his health was poor. What would be the point of attempting to resurrect the past? The entire Muslim community – and even the non-Muslim faith communities as well – admired the Imam. His children had established successful careers. He was a grandfather and great-grandfather. Entire generations of Central Valley Muslims had been inspired by him. Let them have their hero. After all, who was I to say different? I was no one. An ex-convict with a grudge. A pathetic young man who let himself be fooled, and as a result threw away the best years of his life.

Finally, to be honest, I still loved Abdus-Samad. In spite of everything and against all reason, I loved him. I looked upon him as a second father. I didn’t want to hurt him. Let the old man live out his days in peace.

***

Thursday, February 4, 2010 – 11:00 pm
Fresno, California

In spite of the late hour, I couldn’t wait until tomorrow to visit the Butler Avenue mosque. Time is the biggest factor in missing persons cases. With every moment the trail was getting colder.

Pizza boxes

“I bought three large pizzas…”

I went through the drive-through at a delivery-only pizza place and bought three extra large veggie pizzas.

I had a headache that felt like a tiny person had squeezed into my skull and was carving his name into my cerebral cortex with a hammer and chisel. I did not want to visit the Butler Avenue mosque. These memories of the past left me feeling sapped and guilty. I was inclined to agree with Farah Anwar’s assessment of me as a useless person. I wished I could be almost anywhere else right then.

The negative thoughts would not help me find Anna. I pushed them aside. I would have plenty of time to hate myself later. In spite of my headache, the aroma of the food in the car made my mouth water.

Pizzas in hand, I parked in front of the masjid and knocked loudly on the heavy wooden door. Eventually I heard locks turning and a deadbolt sliding, and the door was opened by none other than Imam Abdus-Samad himself.

Abdus-Samad stooped forward, his gnarled hands gripping a walker for support. His formerly blonde hair had turned entirely white. He smelled of incense and musk. He angled his head, looking up at me with one green eye, regarding me with a kind of distant vapidity as a frown creased his forehead.

I was shocked at how decrepit he appeared. He’d always been a powerful, energetic man, always on the move, drawing other people into his orbit. Now he was a ghost of his former self.

For a long moment I didn’t think he recognized me. Then his expression brightened. “Zaid Al-Husayni,” he said with a wan smile. “You are a sight for an old man’s eyes.”

I hefted the pizzas. “I brought food. I apologize for the late hour.”

“Welcome, welcome.” He moved aside slowly and opened the door wide. “The brothers will be happy to see you.”

I entered the masjid and performed a balancing act with the pizzas as I removed my shoes with one hand. I followed Abdus-Samad down the main corridor. The only sounds were the clacking of his walker as he picked it up and set it down, and his ponderous breathing.

Halfway down the corridor he stopped and turned again to look at me. “Why have you not come to see us, Zaid?” he asked quietly.

I thought there would be more to his question. I waited, but he added nothing.

What was I supposed to say? There was too much to say, and little of it good. The words crowded my mouth like marbles, so that I could not speak. I stood mute, not meeting his eyes, feeling like I’d made a mistake in coming here.

“No matter,” he said finally, and resumed his slow walk. “A man must do what a man must do.”

In the dimly lit back room, three brothers slept in sleeping bags against one wall, but the rest were awake. Three sat together reading Quran, while others read singly or prayed. One was typing on a laptop. I knew about half of them. The room smelled of perfume oil and mildew. The heater was off or turned very low, presumably to save money, and the brothers wore layers of clothing to ward off the chill.

“Oh ma-sha-Allah,” someone exclaimed. It was Jafar, a convert from Ethiopia who’d come to America twenty years ago on a running scholarship. “Look who it is. Our very own Muslim P.I.” He said it admiringly, and I knew he was sincere because sincerity was in Jafar’s nature. He was soft-spoken, gentle and always kind. I’d known him all my adult life and had never heard him so much as raise his voice.

I saw Derby, a short and rotund fellow who, I heard, had been diagnosed with lupus, but who couldn’t afford treatment because he didn’t have insurance.

AbdulWali, a tall and thickly muscled man whose leg had been severed at the knee in a factory accident years ago, then reattached, would walk with a cane for the rest of his life.

Li’l Hamza – as the brothers called him – was a small, energetic Filipino-American who’d been mistakenly shot in the head by the police two years ago. He recovered, but the brain damage robbed his ability to self-censor his words, so that he said whatever came into his head. He had a lawsuit pending against the police department, and always claimed that when his ship came in he’d buy all the ahl-us-suffa a grand house in which to live.

There was a white dude whose name I didn’t remember, but I’d heard that he’d converted in prison and was trying to raise enough money to have his Nazi tattoos removed. They adorned his forearms and hands prominently – ugly black images of skulls, swastikas, flames and SS lightning bolts.

They gathered around me, clapping me on the shoulder and shaking my hand, and of course relieving me of the pizzas. One went to fetch paper plates, cups and beverages. Soon the brothers were chatting animatedly as we sat on the floor eating – except for Imam Abdus-Samad, who sat in a chair with his plate on a small folding table.

“We are overjoyed to see you akh Zaid,” said Jafar the Ethiopian in his calm, mellifluous voice. “But I am certain there must be a reason for this visit. We have not seen you in a minute.”

A “minute,” I knew, was African-American slang for, “not a short while but not an objectionably long time either.” It was funny to hear Jafar mixing in such slang with his otherwise very grammatically correct and measured African English.

“Cause he don’t care about us,” Li’l Hamza piped up. “Nobody do. He only here ‘cause he need somethin’. Look at him wearin’ that fedora ‘stead of a kufi like he don’t know who he is. Imitating the kuffar.”

“Now now,” Jafar said reprovingly. “There is no need for that.”

I cleared my throat. “He’s right about me needing something.”

“See,” Li’l Hamza crowed triumphantly. “White folks don’t come to black folks ‘cept to take. Never to give.”

I rolled my eyes. Li’l Hamza wasn’t even black, he was Filipino, and I wasn’t exactly white. “I’m looking for Tarek Anwar,” I said.

The brothers glanced at each other uneasily.

“He don’t come ‘round ‘cept when he hungry,” Li’l Hamza said. “He know not to show his face when he drunk or high. But he been scarce lately.”

“That is sadly true,” Jafar affirmed.

“Then where can I find him?”

“I’ve seen him around,” Derby commented. “But I don’t wish to speak badly of the brother.”

“Walk me out,” I suggested. I said my goodbyes and stood. Imam Abdus-Samad did not acknowledge me. He simply sat chewing his pizza, staring blankly at a star-patterned curtain that hung in the doorway of the adjacent bathroom. I wasn’t sure he even remembered that I was there. I paused in front of him, all manner of thoughts tumbling in my head. He looked up at me, and I saw in his eyes a trace of the dynamic personality and razor sharp mind that had made him one of the most formidable men I’d ever known.

“You cannot move forward,” Abdus-Samad said suddenly, “unless you release the past. Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala gives us hardships in order to open our hearts, not close them. We all make mistakes.” His face reddened with emotion, and for a second I thought he would cry, something I’d seen him do only once in all the years I’d known him, many years ago when his eldest son drowned in the Kings River. “I can only be the man I am,” he said. “You can only be the man you are.”

I felt a flash of anger. “You don’t get to tell me what kind of man to be. Not anymore.”

I turned and walked away. Only later did it occur to me that Abdus-Samad had been trying to apologize.

I never saw Abdus-Samad alive again. To the end of my days I will regret my words to him that night, and my rejection of his apology, nebulous though it was.

***

Derby walked me to the door. “It’s important that I find Tarek,” I told him. “It’s about his daughter.”

He nodded solemnly. “A’ight. I’ve seen him a few times hanging out in front of a bar on Jamestown. Place called the Hamhock. But you have to know, he’s deep in the street life. I think he stays in a dope house right around there somewhere. I don’t know exactly.”

I put a hand on Derby’s shoulder. “Thanks bro.”

“What was that with the Imam?”

“Ancient history.”

“You two go back, huh.” It wasn’t a question.

“What’s the Imam’s situation anyway?” I asked. “He doesn’t look good.”

Derby shrugged one shoulder. “Going downhill. Forgets things. Talks about the old days like he’s still in them. He was talking about someone named Red the other day, saying he was a shaheed and lived in the body of a bird in Jannah.”

A shaheed? I thought bitterly. Is that what we’re calling it now? Well, Red saved my life, so maybe he was indeed a shaheed. Maybe his niyyah was pure in that moment. Allahu ‘alam.

This development worried me, partly for my own sake but mostly for the Imam’s. It surprised me to realize that I genuinely cared about him. It also bothered me. I wanted to be free of the past. These connections felt like hands rising out of a swamp, gripping my ankles, trying to pull me down.

***

The Hamhock was easy enough to find. It had a neon sign of a pig sitting in an armchair with an apple in its mouth and a martini glass in its hand, or hoof, or whatever. The sign flashed on and off every few seconds. I imagined my own life turning rhythmically on and off. What a nightmare that would be. I kind of felt sorry for the pig.

I parked on the street then removed my gun from the trap and strapped it to my ankle. I’d never been in a bar before, let alone one in a rough neighborhood like this. I didn’t know what to expect. Walking into the bar with trepidation, I fingered the knife clipped to my pocket, thinking that I might have to defend myself if the regulars reacted with hostility to the presence of an interloper. That’s what always happened in the movies.

Jukebox

“…Mexican ranchero music playing on the jukebox.”

It turned out to be a dingy, poorly lit place, with crushed peanut shells on the floor and Mexican ranchero music playing on the jukebox. Four Mexicans in cowboy boots and hats played pool at a table at the back of the room, while a tired-looking middle aged black woman in a tight sequined dress and heels sat at the bar, nursing a drink. The bartender was a lean white fellow with ropy arms and bad teeth. Jars of pickles and bowls of unshelled peanuts rested on the bar.

No one paid any attention to me at all.

I approached the bartender and showed him an old photo of Tarek that I had on my phone. “Hey man. Have you seen this guy in here? He’s a friend of mine.”

“If he was a friend,” the bartender drawled, “then you’d know where he was, wouldn’t you? Now what are you drinking?”

I gave the man an obviously fake smile. “Diet Pepsi.”

The bartender laughed. “Hittin’ the hard stuff, are you?” He set the soda on the bar. “Two fifty.”

Two fifty for a can of soda? I laid three dollars on the bar. “So have you seen him?”

The bartender eyed the money pointedly, not picking it up and not saying anything. I received the message and added a twenty dollar bill to the pile.

He scooped up the cash. “Sure, but not lately. He comes in, drinks himself under the table. A man on a mission.”

“When did you see him last?”

“Maybe a month.”

“Do you know where I can find him?”

He raised his eyebrows. “This is the Hamhock, not the CIA.”

I left the place and drove up and down the street, trying all the nearby bars. Some had mostly Asian clientele, some black, some Mexican. Some bartenders recognized Tarek, but none had seen him lately. The Asians would not speak to me at all, no matter how much money I offered.

I was exiting a Vietnamese pool hall when something slammed into the side of my head. My skull exploded with pain and I fell to the ground, instinctively shielding my head with my arms. I think the blow might have killed me if my fedora had not absorbed some of the impact. Splotches of purple and red swam before my eyes. Someone kicked me viciously in the ribs and I tried to roll away but crashed into something hard and metallic. The pain in my head was like a blanket of fire smothering my thoughts. I couldn’t remember any of my training. I couldn’t even tell what was up or down.

I am not a huge guy, and while I am skilled with the knife and stick, I’m sure there are better fighters out there. But here’s the thing about me: when I’m knocked down, I get back up. I’m ferocious that way. When I’m in the middle of a battle, I eat pain like lettuce, and I’m not afraid to die. If these guys wanted to beat me, they’d have to kill me.

“Take his wallet,” a man’s voice ordered. It was a young voice with a trace of a Southeast Asian accent.

I couldn’t afford to lose my wallet. It wasn’t the money that I cared about the most, but my P.I. card and badge. I couldn’t perform my job without them. My hand shot to my pocket to protect my valuables – and came to rest on the cold steel of my knife clip. It was a familiar, reassuring sensation. I knew that knife like I knew my own name, and I knew exactly how to use it.

A hand seized my wrist to yank it away from my pocket. I let my hand be pulled away, and the knife came with it. Even with my head still ringing, I had practiced drawing and opening the knife so many times that I could have done it in my grave. Undertaker, beware.

I snapped the knife open and slashed at the arm still gripping my wrist. The knife was razor sharp and I felt only a slight resistance as the blade scythed deeply through flesh and sinew. Someone cried out in shock and pain, and something clattered to the ground.

My vision was clearing. I had rolled up against a light pole. I used it for support and came to my feet unsteadily, the knife held in front of me, my back against the pole. My head and ribs still ached, but I took that pain – and the accompanying fear – and fed it to my primal, savage self. My posture steadied and my grip tightened on the knife.

There were only two attackers, both in their early twenties, and both Southeast Asian. Vietnamese maybe, or Cambodian. They were dressed all in red – red Bulldogs t-shirts, red baseball caps, red sneakers, and red baggy shorts that hung low on their hips gangster style, revealing red jockey underwear. The damn Bulldogs again. They were a plague on this town.

One of the two seemed a bit older and harder, with a scar that ran from ear to jawline. The leader, no doubt. He carried a crowbar – that was what he’d clobbered me with. A single teardrop tattoo below his left eye indicated that he’d killed someone.

The other fellow boasted a scraggly mustache and a gold tooth. He’d apparently been carrying a metal baseball bat but dropped it now that the inside of his forearm was laid open to the bone and pouring hot blood all over the sidewalk. He hugged the arm tightly to his chest, moaning in pain and crying real tears.

“There’s some more red for you,” I said, grinning. I licked my lips and let out a barking laugh. There’s a kind of insanity that comes over me in a fight, a mania that revels in the conflict and sees it as an opportunity to take every negative emotion in my gut, ball it up and release it like a grenade at this person who thinks – who imagines – that he is the predator and I am the prey.

In reality it is the other way around.

The leader – I’ll call him Teardrop – cursed and stepped forward, swinging the crowbar at my head once more.

There’s an art to defending against a heavy, blunt instrument like a crowbar. Picture the attacker’s arm fully extended, with the weapon whistling through the air. Now imagine that the end of the crowbar is drawing a line through the air, forming an arc. That arc represents the continuum of maximum impact. That was where I didn’t want to be. All I had to do as a defender was position myself either outside the arc – beyond the reach of the weapon – or deep inside it, where the weapon would have little impact.

I went in, because that’s what I do. Teardrop’s hand struck my shoulder, the weapon wrapping around me and thumping my back harmlessly. My knife, on the other hand, plunged into his belly to the hilt. Before he even had a chance to register what was happening, I pulled the blade out cleanly – I could have twisted it out but didn’t, so give me credit for self-restraint – grabbed the back of his neck, pulled his head down and kneed him in the face.

I wanted to finish him by driving the knife into his neck, but somehow I held back. Instead I reversed my grip on the knife, holding it icepick style. I crouched and – with a single, swift motion across the back of Teardrop’s ankle – severed his Achilles tendon. The man screamed in terror and agony and collapsed to the ground.

Job done. I considered this a humane finish. The belly wound, while painful, would not kill him – my knife possessed only a three-inch blade after all – while the leg tendon could be surgically repaired. He might never be able to run again, but so what? The better for his victims to escape, or for his future enemies to run him down.

I turned to deal with the younger one, Gold Tooth. My eyes were wide and my nostrils dilated. My mind was empty of thought. Raw, untreated emotion coursed through me. I was, in that moment, a human whirlwind of violence.

Gold Tooth was already stumbling away, trailing blood behind him like performance art. Part of me wanted to pursue him, drive the knife into his kidney or liver. My hands shook and my jaw muscles worked as I forced the rage down.

I put my knife away, picked up the fedora where it had rolled into the gutter – thankfully it was not stained with blood, as it would have been difficult to clean – and limped back to my car, cradling my ribs where I’d been kicked. Parking in front of my office, I removed the cash from the trap, hoisted the backpack containing the surveillance equipment, and unlocked the office door. When I flicked the light switch, nothing happened. The office remained dark.

The electricity had been shut off, I realized. I hadn’t paid the bill.

After locking up and fishing my flashlight from the backpack, I went into the bathroom. I doubted very much the police would come after me. Thugs like those Bulldogs don’t go to the police. No sense taking chances though. Balancing the flashlight on the side of the sink, I proceeded to clean up thoroughly, carefully washing the blood from my hands and arms, paying attention to my fingernails as well.

It was not the first time I’d had to do this.

I cleaned the knife, first with water then with bleach. I stripped my clothes off in order to inspect them. Only then did I remember the gun still strapped to my ankle. I sighed. Ah, well. It was for the best. If I had shot them I’d be looking at manslaughter charges.

There was blood on my t-shirt and shoes. I washed those as well, soaping and scrubbing with a sponge until I was sure they were clean. I hung them on the shower rod to dry. Then I washed the sink itself carefully, with water and with bleach, remembering to remove the drain stopper and clean that as well.

I briefly wondered if the thugs might locate me. I doubted it. I did not frequent bars and pool halls. The neighborhood where I’d been attacked was known as Little Saigon. Though it was only a few miles away, it might have been another world. No one there would have recognized me.

On My Way to Paradise

“It had a strange cover…”

After putting on three layers of clothes and unfolding the cot, I laid down and took out the book that Alejandra Rodriguez had given me. On My Way to Paradise. This day had been insanely long and even my blood cells were stumbling in weariness, but reading at bedtime – even if just for a few minutes – was a habit ingrained in me from childhood. Using my flashlight, and with the blanket pulled tightly around myself to ward off the cold, I tried to read.

I couldn’t say whether I actually managed to read anything or not. I was startled awake when the flashlight fell from my hand and clattered on the floor. I realized I’d fallen asleep with the book in my hand. Turning off the flashlight, I recited Ayat al-Kursi. Tomorrow I would continue the search for Tarek in earnest, Insha’Allah. Derby had said that Tarek slept in a dope house on Jamestown Street. I happened to a know a person who knew the ins and outs of the Fresno drug trade better than anyone alive. There wasn’t a dope house, stash house or dealer he didn’t know.

I didn’t want to see this particular person. It had been two years since we’d spoken and I would have liked to keep it that way. I saw no other option, however. I had to see Badger.

Next Tuesday: Zaid Karim Private Investigator, Part 7: How Did My Husband Die?

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