Interview with SKB

Q: But you took a very unconventional approach didn’t you? You created a fake profile of a local woman to respond to his page and arranged a rendezvous to meet up ostensibly for a sexual encounter, yes?

A: Well. No, I invited him to have dinner to get acquainted, actually. Saying specifically that getting to know him was the only purpose, but yet obviously he had in his mind that this should be prelude to sex. That was clear from his messages.

Q: What about the fake profile? Why not just be direct? That seems a very odd thing to do.

A: Fair enough. I can see how it may seem odd, but it was based on the style of intervention counseling that I was familiar with. If I had told him, you know, “I want to talk to you about what you’re doing because you are endangering yourself and your family and disrespecting this country immensely, you should stop” He’d probably just dismiss it. I genuinely wanted to get through to him. When I used to do anti-gang violence and mentoring work, a huge array of negative dysfunctional behaviors, drug use, domestic violence, unsafe sex, and of course street violence and criminal activity. And the whole nature of what we were doing was intervention; to turn up at the times and places where these things were going on. And remind young people ” this is not what you want to be” you know, “Your grandmother is sitting at home proud of you because she thinks you are at the library studying, but what if she saw you out here smoking the pipe”

If you’d counsel a kid at the office he’d just deny the behavior. It’s no good counseling somebody when they are in their positive mode. You have to intercept them when they are in the midst of the negative activity to make an impact. That is my experience anyway. So it was important, I thought that Mr. Steiner come to my flat on the basis of the negative reasons for which I was hoping to council him. The only way to do that was to respond to his page with what he was interested in. So I just quickly created a fake profile with a photo of Foziya in the face veil and invited him to dinner.

Q.: Did he respond at that time?

A: He responded immediately, the same afternoon. He agreed to meet the following night and I told him that I wanted a male friend, (meaning, me) to chaperon to dinner so I feel more comfortable. He accepted, but his response was, well he intended to show his openness, to bi-sexuality. He didn’t seem to register that I was trying to tamper his expectations. I was doing that for two reasons by the way. First, I didn’t want it to be too much of a joke for him when he come in and realized what was really going on. And 2nd, I wanted and hoped that the reluctance and timidity of the messages he thought we coming from a Muslim woman might cause him to feel some pang of shame about trying to draw such a person into this type of immoral behavior and maybe he’d change his mind and do the honorable thing regarding Muslim woman and restrict himself with other ex pats if he insisted to continue on this sort of conduct. But unfortunately any message I sent in this tone, he invariably responded with innuendo and double ententes and the more my messages dis-indicated (if that’s a word)  the likelihood of a sexual encounter, the more suggestive his messages became. And I dearly wished that I’d taken a signal from that and just called it all off. It really didn’t occur to me until much, much later in jail, actually that this reveled the degree of his determination that I should have picked up on and realized that things were not likely to  go as I hoped.

Q: Can you tell me about the dinner?

A: My family was traveling and that time, so Foziya was only coming every couple of days to clean the flat and sometimes to make a dish that would last me for a few days. So I’d asked her to come to prepare a proper meal and I myself baked a batch of home made chocolate chip cookies. I put together some photos of my family in an album to show Mr. Steiner and let my children’s toys about conspicuously to catch his eye. Things I thought were sort of universal to the experience parents. The book “Goodnight moon”, Winnie the Pooh doll, things like that. I wanted the room to be full of things that would resonate wit him as a husband and father. To invoke these feelings in him, basically “what on earth am I doing?”

And you know, realign himself with his better, nobler positive identity that was the plan anyway.

Q: So, what happened when Mr. Steiner arrived?

A: Well first, I had to meet him outside and let him follow me to the flat because he wasn’t familiar with the layout of Sharjah. So the first time I actually met him face to face and close up was when he’d parked his car and we were going up to the flat that I was a bit uneasy because I could smell alcohol on him. But he seemed composed, a little nervous or awkward. But I sort of took that as a confirmation that it wasn’t really his normal character to do what he was doing. So I felt assured that he’d respond positively once we started talking, maybe he’d even be relieved.

Q: But things did not go as you hoped did they?

A: Well at first it was fine; the conversation was very normal and calm. He told me that he was fatigued from work and lack of sleep recently and he talked about settling in to a new job and complained about “incompetent” Indians with fake qualifications causing a lot of problems he had to fix and said he’d barely slept the past few days because of this. We talked about the expat life here and his impressions of the UAE, cultural differences and so on, etc. He had seen Foziya when she brought us coffee and she was wearing hijab and abaya and so this led me to open up the topic about the values here, of you know, modesty and about the non mixing of men and women. About how the practices of “casual sex” were totally alien to the society and rejected. We had been talking about his family and marriage and how he wanted to bring his wife and child here to settle. So I really felt like maybe he was becoming disinclined to pursue with his original motive for coming.

Q: So how did he respond when you talked about the values of society and so on?

A:He took it that I was only explaining why Foziya was wearing hijab and staying in the kitchen. He commented about it being “backward way of thinking”. I was trying to sort of gently emphasize that you know that, this is the value system here and it should be and as expats we ought not to interfere with. And I was trying to say things about as I mentioned how foreigners come here on an extended holiday and they get a little reckless without thinking about how this is impacting the local culture or about the consequences in their own lives. He seemed to start sensing that I was trying to convey a message to him personally. He said that people had to be careful and practice “safe sex”. He said he brought condoms. At that point Foziya came in again and gave us cola and we didn’t speak again until she was back in the kitchen. I could feel tension building up during that interim. When she left the room, he started asking intimate questions about Foziya and commenting on her physical appearance stating his eagerness to … his conversation became very explicit.

Q: Hot did you respond?

A: I said very bluntly “Martin that is not going to happen.” I know I should not have been that blunt-. It was at that point that he became really agitated, you know he had his fatigue, he only slept a short time the night before and I think perhaps his nerves were already a bit on edge from that, which I suppose is why he’d been drinking before he came over.When I said that, it sort off. He stated at me, registering what I had said to him. His face changed getting angrier and he was still trying to figure out what was going on and weather I was serious or whether I was indicating I should not “rush things”

Q: So what happened at that point?

Q: What did you say?

A: I can’t remember my exact words, but I had prepared something earlier and it was something like ” I didn’t have you come here for what you think” And I told him that as a fellow expat who’s been here longer and who knows more about the situation, I was concerned about him when I saw his profile and what he was wanting to do. I told him I knew what its like when you come here a first alone and so on and lot of the things I have already mentioned about temptations and what not and people going a bit wild without thinking of the consequences. I told him its very dangerous, I mean just even for health reasons, most non Western expats, locals as well don’t have sex education in schools and don’t understand the risks of multiple partners and its not like Europe here or the States, where everybody kind of does this sort of thing according to the same set of rules. He should think about his family, about saying here a long time, and building a stable life for himself and his family. I said that there have to be boundaries if he wants to do this thing. He should do it with people who are used to it; people who have that sort of culture and value system already. I said this is not, you know, Bangkok or Amsterdam or wherever. These are Muslims and you just can’t play around like that. Even if you get some local girl to go along with it, she has a brother and a father and uncles and cousins and it’s not going to be ok wit them and so on and so on. And of course all of that was not said at once. I’d say something and he’d respond. so some this was said in reply to things that he had said.

Q: And how was he responding?

A: I think when I first started to talk like this, he was trying to figure out who I was, like if I was from the police or some agency or something. When he realized that I wasn’t; that I wasn’t doing this in some kind of official capacity with any actual authority, that I was just some guy imposing myself on his personal life, who was meddling with his affairs and preaching to him and so on, he just became angry. The basic gist of what he was saying was, you know it’s non of my business.  I should be “open” because I’m American. What do I care if two people want to have some fun together etc. He said he’d already been with “Arabs” before. He said that I was crazy and so on.

Q: How did you handle his response\/

A: Well I was saying some of what i had already mentioned. Like about health issues and so on.  But when I saw that he was just so irate, I basically just apologized ad said I shouldn’t have set this up. And that it would be better for him to go.

Q: You asked him to leave?

A: Yes. I think I ended up asking him three times to go but a a certain point, he started saying that I had nothing to do with it. That I should go because she is the one who invited him. She wanted him to come, not me. If I didn’t like it i should go because they wanted to have a good time. I’m not her father, or her brother and I have no right to interfere, so on and so forth. I was obvious things had just completely gotten away from me at that point. In hindsight of course,  It should have all been predictable. What did I expect really? I just didn’t really think even if he was upset that things wouldn’t be civil, I mean just say ” Thanks for the advice, but no thanks.” Go home, write me off as a religious weirdo and move on. That was the worse case scenario as far as I could imagine, maybe defensiveness or embarrassment. But I never expected, you know, hostile indignation as though I was cheating him of his rights or something. But again, I’m sure the fatigue and alcohol may have factored into his aggressiveness. So anyway, I repeated my request for him to leave and then I left the room and went into the kitchen. I thought that my presence was exacerbating his anger and that if I excused myself he might either calm down or more possibly just leave. Foziya had already left the kitchen shortly after the thing happened with Mr. Steiner coming in unexpectedly and she had gone to her room. Mr. Steiner had sen this from where he was sitting on the sofa as the entry to the sitting room provided a clear view of the corridor and I had noticed him watch her do this and whenever her would mention “her” he would gesture in the direction of her room. I was standing there trying to figure out what to do, how to try to calm things down I wasn’t angry or anything, just at a loss of how to get the situation back under control, when I saw Mr. Steiner very quickly go to Foziya’s room.

Q: What did you do?

A: Actually, I sort of froze for a moment. From my vantage point, I couldn’t actually see Foziya’s door. The bathroom is down the same corridor, so I wasn’t immediately sure where he was going or if possibly, he was trying to find the front door.\to go out. I somehow felt that he was going into Foziya’s room and I just froze. I heard Foziya’s voice. I heard scuffling, I don’t remember if she was saying “no” or “stop” or what she was saying. It was mostly the sound of scuffling. Strangely enough, I suddenly felt incredibly calm. I grabbed the bottle of chloroform which was in the kitchen counter; the cloth wrapped over it and went to Foziya’s room. Mr. Steiner was on top of her, pinning her down on the bed. I didn’t really see her because he was covering her and I just came quickly behind him and brought my hand around with the cloth to his face. I was surprised how quickly it worked. Normally, when I used it, it takes a couple of minutes to knock me out, but it seemed to work very quickly on him. His body went limp almost right away. What happens when you inhale chloroform isn’t like what’s in the movies. It’s not one whiff and you pass out. First, your muscles go to sleep, and you are sort of semi-conscious. And then after a few deep breaths, you black out just like flickering a light switch. I may have not really been aware of time at that moment, but it seemed like Mr. Steiner’s muscles relaxed very quickly maybe because he’d been breathing heavily from struggling with Foziya. So, I lifted him to his feet and led/carried him to my room while he was still semi-conscious and laid him on my bed on his back. I placed the cloth on his face because he wasn’t actually asleep at that point and I really wanted him to sleep for a while, to, you know create a distance between him and everything that had just happened once he woke up. So I left him like that and went to check on Foziya.

Q: You left him with the cloth on his face?

A: Yes, As I said, sleep actually takes a few minutes to come in my experience. For myself, sometimes I have taken as much as 10-12 minutes to sleep and that’s inhaling it without interruption and without being tense or full of adrenalin which I figured Mr. Steiner was, given the circumstances. So, I thought it was best to let him breathe the chloroform for a while. I have never been aware of the risks of doing this. I just thought, the more you inhale, the more you sleep. I thought it just prolongs the effect, if you inhale for a long period. When I wen to check on Foziya, she was gone, she had left the flat obviously, very upset and distressed. So I thought that it would be ideal to sort out some kind of amicable conclusion with Mr. Steiner before she came back. I went to the kitchen, ground some coffee beans and made a fresh pot of coffee. Poured two cups, took some cookies and brought them on a tray to my room to wake Mr. Steiner up. It was while I was trying to awaken him that I realized he was dead.

Q; How did you react when you discovered that Mr. Steiner had died?

A Many times i have tried to articulate this but it isn’t possible. I mean, all the words I can think of, any culmination of words can’t encompass it. That I was stunned, horrified, confused, shocked __ __. There is no way that I can give you any semblance of how devastating it was. It was as if the bottom just completely dropped out of my being, my existence, of everything. I couldn’t believe it was happening. When I had seen him go to Foziya’s room, I couldn’t believe that was happening. It was like “Did I just see that?” and when I realized he wasn’t waking up, he wasn’t breathing I was like, this can’t be real and I just kept saying “No no no no …..” and couldn’t stop. I tried to resuscitate him and it was like trying save myself in trying to bring him back to life to pull reality back. 6 years later, remembering that moment still seizes me with panic, I’m trying to write but remembering it paralyzes me and really leaves me at a loss of what to tel you and I just feel like lapsing back into just repeating that 2-letter prayer over and over again, even no “no no no no no…” Do you understand that moment, believe me, it hasn’t stopped ever since it happened. The level of my consciousness is always going through it and the endless repetition does not diminish its effect.If you think that sounds dramatic, its only because you’ve been fortunate enough to never experience something as catastrophic as this. It is literally just not possible to express it adequately to enable anyone to grasp it.

Q: What did you do?

A: I didn’t do anything, I just remember sort of sinking down, off the side of the bed and on to the floor, with my mouth open just saying “no” again and again. I know I started walking around the flat at some point but it was surreal. As if I was having a dream or distant memory of the flat. I was in a state of shock. I don’t remember where I was when Foziya came back, it was like it had been ages since I had las seen her. I don’t know how I told her. for some reason, I can’t remember things at that point, with any sound, I can see the scenes, but it was silent. I mean, I can remember some things being said, it was as though conveyed without actual speech, its hard to explain, like voice overs. I think outwardly, I was composed. I was functioning, I mean, I wasn’t wailing or something and I wasn’t catatonic. I know I was talking to Foziya and making decisions and doing things but it was like it was going on somewhere else and I was just watching.

Q: Your actions after Mr. Steiner died, removing the body, using the credit cards, you must acknowledge that all looks very bad. Can you explain why you did those things?

A: It looks very bad because, it is very bad. It is horrible, I’m not going to try to justify any of that or rationalize it. When you don’t do the right think at the immediate moment when it is called for, you probably won’t do it at all. Because with every passing second, it gets harder and harder to do. So the other options start to look more and more reasonable even if they are completely mad. And once you start following those options, you are already past the rubicon, so then you just go full throttle because there is no other way to go. I mean, after I’d moved Mr. Steiner’s body, it was eating me alive that I had done that. It was like I was in a swarm of bees, I coouldn’t stand him being out there like that. The guilt was tearing me to ribbons but I couldn’t go and bring him back at that point. Do you know what I mean? After he died, I took steps that were irreversible. May Allah forgive me.

Q: But why did you take those steps?

Q: Why did you use it to stop Mr. Steiner.

A: Because I knew it would work very effectively without causing any harm. I had no desire to hurt the man. I didn’t want things to escalate. I wasn’t angry or anything, Alhamdulillah. I kept my composure. When he was getting upset and insulting and raising his voice, I consciously lowered my voice, I mean I was tense, sure, because I wanted to keep things calm and they were getting out of control. But I didn’t get caught up in anger and my adrenalin wasn’t pumping or anything. And Alhamdulillah for that because it allowed me to think clearly. When Mr.Steiner went to Foziya’s room, I said I froze. I think that’s precisely because I was not “reacting”. I wasn’t emotional or impulsive. I was trying to figure out what to do when I noticed the bottle of chloroform. That’s when I felt that sudden calm like ” Oh yes, there’s the solution.” It seemed like the perfect way to reign the situation back on. I mean if I’d wanted to harm Mr. Steiner, I mean I was in the kitchen. I had withing reach a heavy cast iron frying pan, a hammer, and a whole drawer full of kitchen knives. If I had been interested in doing something to harm him, I certainly could have, but that’s not what I wanted at all. I just wanted to stop him and stop the situation from reeling completely out of control. I thought the chloroform was the safest and most effective way to do that and frankly I still think that was right. from the choices I had, of how to deal with the situation. I think I made the best decision. Any other method of stopping his assault on Foziya would predictably only escalate the situation whereas tragic consequences of chloroform was not predictable at all.

Q:Early on, there were a lot of very sensational things reported in the local press about you and your case, some very lurid and shocking allegations. Can you respond to that?

A: Yes,the official version of things can’t seem to settle on weather I’m some kind of pimp or Muslim extremist. I’ve not seen anything that came out at the beginning, but I’ve seen a couple of the later articles. It’s not surprising, really. Newspapers have to sell Ads and reporters have to turn out copies and support that objective. Making what they write conform to consistent line of reasoning doesn’t factor into the process very much. And of course, the media has only ever had one source of information which happens to be the entity whose function is to convict people. So it was all just predictable, I think.

Q: But, the allegations have to have come from somewhere. It’s been written that you ran a sex website, dealt in prostitution, even that you were involved in funding al Qaeda. What’s the basis for this kind of allegations?

A: I assume those things came from either police source that had some role in the investigation or from my case file itself. In fact, the only way I’ve been able to sort of figure out what’s in my case file is by seeing what kind of things are being written in the press. And this suggests for me the extent to which things in my case file must be incredibly tangled. You understand when I was being questioned, I was being extremely co-operative, I told them everything, hoping that they would grasp the circumstances and realize what a total catastrophe it all was. That I absolutely never meant for it to happen. And they were telling me to sign the confession and plead guilty and I’d get like 3 years. So I took it that despite the massive language barrier, they actually did grasp all of that and that I was being charged with maybe, manslaughter or reckless endangerment or something. It wasn’t until I had my first court hearing in Sharjah, six months later that I realized I was being charged with premeditated murder. And then when I saw the stuff on the newspaper, I understood everything I had said had gotten drastically twisted, almost beyond recognition.

Q: You mean these allegations are due to misunderstanding because of mistranslation?

A: Not only that, I mean, the thing is, I don’t mean to be overly analytical here, but I think a lot of these distortions and exaggerations come down to pressure on state institutions to perform; institutions that are still in development just as the state is still developing here. Institutions like the police and prosecutors office believe they are doing the best they can, but maybe they are pushed beyond their capacity. Because I can kind of make out how the reality of the events in my case got bent and garbled through the process. Like, the basic original facts are still kind of perceptible under the even weirder version that has formed around them as a result of misinterpretation, misunderstanding, bad translation, cultural blinders and just plain confusion. Having said that, I was also told more than once during the various interrogation sessions that the press here would report the story however they were told to report it. I assume this had two possible meanings. One, more benign than the other. Either it meant that the press would report my case only according to the information the authorities chose to release to them. Or that the press would actually be directed to report my case in a certain way. I’m inclined to believe in the former more than the latter. I don’t think there is that kind of direct censorship control of the media here. Nevertheless, in either case, I think the authorities were confident that the press would not question whatever story they were given, especially the English language press. Ex pat reporters don’t have much incentive to “rock the boat” given their status as guests in this country. When I was being interrogated, by I assume, State Security ( I don’t really know who they were as nobody ever identified himself and everyone wears the same white khandoura and head dress; but these men were particularly well perfumed and told me that they were very important and I believed them) I was told that, quite matter-of-factly that they could put our any story they liked about me and no one will know any different and yes, obviously slander and defamation are sort pf a prerogative of State Authority __ __ No matter what state it is __ __. and they opt to utilize it there’s not much that you can do, I mean as soon as the State calls you a Devil, no matter how much you try to defend yourself, or try to disprove that, some people will always say ” He’s only saying that because he is a Devil”. So,Hasbi Allahu wa ni mal wakeel, but I think that most of the distortions and inaccuracies in the press about my case are not deliberate, insha Allah but are due to misunderstanding and lack of misinformation and misinterpretation etc.

Q: Can you explain?

Q: You mean the assumption of guilt?

A: Yes. I mean like I said I gave the whole story outright. I cooperated fully. But that assumption was absolute. They started to ask me about which mosques I go to and which sheikh taught me, etc etc. and I told them I understood why they were asking. i.e. to see if I was an extremist or something and they admitted that yes, they wanted to find some kind of explanation because as they themselves said “Someone like you doing something like this is not normal.” or words to that effect.And rather than accepting my account of what happened which makes the case not mysterious at all. They insisted on the assumption of premeditation. Thus, turning it into a conundrum and “not normal” and that’s something in the institutional DNA, I guess.

Q: But it is suggested is it not, that your use of the credit cards is evidence of a motive ?

A: That I committed murder to steal the man’s credit cards, that is not any more plausible than the Mossad agent scenario.It’s horrendous. I mean, that is completely grotesque. I don’t know  how to respond to something like that.

Q: But it does seem to form the main argument of the prosecution to prove intent.

A: Ok, Let’s leave aside the face that it is just inconceivable on a human level and the fact that valuing a human being is more than money  an innate feature of my whole life and everything I’ve done and written since I was a kid. And the fact that money has never been a motivation for me in anything I do. Leave aside the fact that this notion is just a complete impossibility, utterly horrendous __ __ leave all that aside, it still makes no sense. You’re talking about roughly $5000. I mean , I have turned down assignments that take more than that for many projects and what have you. Look, my wife was working in a good job. I had Ad revenue for my blog. If we needed extra money I could always do some freelance commercial business writing at about$4/word on average. I could make that amount of money with like 6-7 pages of text. Alhamdulillah, financially we were stable. We had a very nice, comfortable life. Like I said if I wanted extra money, I had options. It is just unimaginable tat I would suddenly become somebody who attacks and robs people, much less someone who could take a man’s life to get some money. I mean, seriously if that is the idea, you know, why not just mug somebody coming out of a bank or something. It is just absurd to try to justify the assumption of intent on this premise. It has no logical basis. Its just as far fetched as any of the scenario they come up with in order to classify Mr. Steiner’s accidental death as a murder.

Q: You said that you used the cards because you needed the money to get yourself our of the country. If your financial situation was so good, why didn’t you have money already?

A: Well, as I said, we just spent a large amount of money for my family’s trip to Gaza, buying gifts for relatives and their expenses while there, have pretty well cleaned out our extra cash for the month. As I recall we’d just paid a 3 or 4 month installment on the rent I think. At that moment, when Mr. Steiner died, it just happened that there wasn’t much surplus. Like I said, I’ve never been motivated by money. I do sort of standard for-pay work mostly to support the work I love to do. It doesn’t pay much. You know, to meet expenses and still give me time to do other things. In the States, I preferred to word temporary jobs and do freelance work so I’d be able to have time to write, read and research and do volunteer work and stuff. The pursuit of wealth isn’t something I was raised on. And the material lifestyle of the Prophet (s.a.w.) was exceedingly simple. This is one of the assets of Islam that originally resonated with me. So we never tended to have big savings at home, but we were stable. And if we had a reason to need more income, there were options. But obviously when Mr. Steiner died, I was low on funds. I didn’t really have time, you know to check up on freelance offers or write an advertorial or something and get my fee at the end of the next pay cycle. Nor was I in any kind of frame of mind to even think about that. I used those cards because I was in a state of absolute desperate panic. I hated it and I was terrified of doing it, bu it was the only way I could think of to be able to get out of the country. I mean, if this had all happened intentionally, if I actually killed Mr. Steiner on purpose by a plan, an essential element of that plan would have been how to get away. Would somebody really cook up some intricate plot to commit murder and not include some kind of escape capture? I never used a credit card in my life, except maybe a department store card like 20 years ago. I didn’t even know if it would even be possible to use those cards without an ID. I didn’t know if the cards had any credit balance. Do you understand, that I was absolutely flailing, grasping at straws, just to be able to find ways to get out of this disaster.Allah forgive me. When he died, it didn’t even occur to me to use his money and when he hadn’t any money it didn’t occur to me to try to use his credit cards. I was thinking ” How much water do I need to take with me if I’m going to walk through the desert?” Did I ever imagine in my life that I would be rifling through the pockets of a dead man? Dear God, its a nightmare.

Q: Many people can accept that Mr. Steiner’s death  was accidental but your actions after his death raise doubts about that. Particularly, the apparent shopping spree with his credit cards. How can you respond to that?