An unbelievable story, breaks your heart, blows your mind, tells the unexpected truth about all of us, and does not need to be relayed by a storyteller, so much as it needs for the storyteller to get out of the way, just to let the story tell itself, and let the people who wove it, speak for themselves.

Comes the story of an Iraqi immigrant, who claimed his mom had died over the last weekend of January 2017, because of the travel ban that weekend – and then it was discovered to be a great big lie. Amid the tsunami of fake news that greets us every day, this story stands out amid the rest. It’s the story about an Iraqi who arrived in America, as a boy, many years ago, and even served as an interpreter for the American military, special forces, in Iraq.

Mike Hagar

This man is known to be a good community citizen and a philanthropist. However, this same citizen, by all rights a good Samaritan, told the nation that his mother had just passed away. The reason she died, he said, is because she was not allowed back into the country for an operation that she needed – she was denied entry because of the travel ban that weekend, and she had died as a result.

It would be sad if it were true, but this story is more than sad, because the real truth is stranger still. The man at the heart of the story, Mike Hager, is all the things we found him to be – he is a good guy, a philanthropist, even a patriot of the USA. However, in an unexpected turn of events, it was revealed in the first week of February 2017 that Hager [1] had lied about his mother dying as a result of the travel ban, however, [2] his mother had actually just passed away in Iraq one week before the ban was instituted.

This story has something for everyone. If we consider the details of the back story, the story may still not make sense completely, but it will become a little more human. In this story, liberals will understand everybody’s sensitivities, and conservatives will understand that life is complex. But, only people who have lost their mother will understand that it is possible for one to lose one’s mind when that happens. And only in America will we meet a Muslim Imam who will testify to the truth no matter what, and stand up for what is right, all at the same time.

While the ban on entering the United States for nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries was being debated, one Iraqi-American made waves in the media by announcing that his sick mother had been blocked from coming to the U.S. at the airport. “If they had let us in [the United States], my mother would have survived and she could have been sitting here beside me. She left because of him [Donald Trump],” said Mike Hager, American citizen of Iraqi origin.

According to Hager, his mother, a 75-year-old Iraqi woman living in the United States for about 20 years, had fallen ill while visiting her family in Iraq. She was prevented from returning to the United States to be treated, because of the decree introduced by Donald Trump – the now infamous “travel ban.” However, on February 1, we heard the rest of the story, as the testimony of Hager’s Imam, Husham Al-Hussainy, who wanted to rectify the story somewhat, hit the news. Imam Al-Hussainy reported that the woman had in fact died several days before the executive order issuing the travel ban by President Trump.  The story of Mike Hager had been widely taken up by numerous media, in the United States and elsewhere, in full debate on the decree of the President of the United States, because it banned entry to the country for 90 days, and it applied to foreign nationals of Syria, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan.

Naimma - Mike Hagar's mom

Imam Al-Hussainy discussed the dramatic testimony of Mike Hager, a former interpreter for the U.S. Special Forces. His mother, Naimma, a regular resident in the United States, fell ill during a visit to Iraq. According to subsequent investigations, Hagel did lie: Naimma would die five days before the ban was instituted. Yet, Hager still insists: “I did not invent anything…My mother is dead because of the anti-migrant block of Donald Trump…They destroyed our family, I cannot believe,” was his reaction in a local news interview.

Deluded with grief, Hager wanted people to understand that a government ruling can be a dangerous and indiscriminate draconian measure as was the case with the travel ban for any immigrant from the seven Muslim-majority countries named.

Hager had originally arrived in America as a refugee with his family when he was a boy after the Gulf War. He wasted no time becoming a U.S. citizen. His mother, Naimma, had been a regular resident in the United States since 1995. A few weeks earlier Naimma, 75, had returned for a brief visit to Iraq, but had fallen ill. Hager, then had taken a quick trip to pick her up in his native country and bring her back to the U.S. to treat her. He was hoping to save her life. But, Naimma, was on a different timetable.

Hager is, by all rights, a model American citizen. He is a small business owner in Detroit, Michigan. In 2000, he returned to Iraq where he was a contractor for the U.S. Special Forces from 2003 to 2008, where he worked as an interpreter and cultural mediator. During that time, Hager was wounded in the back by gunfire. But, according to his story, nothing he had done was enough to save his mother’s life. It was Imam Husham Al-Hussainy, who cleared the air explaining that Hager wanted to leave for Iraq to be with his seriously ill mother who passed away in Iraq on January 22, 2017.

Indeed, this story has something for everyone. Liberals will understand everybody’s sensitivities, and conservatives will understand that life is complex. Only people who have lost their mother will understand that it is possible for one to lose one’s mind when that happens. And only in America will we meet a Muslim Imam who will testify to the truth no matter what, and stand up for Donald Trump all at the same time.

We will probably accomplish more by emphasizing the values of the Imam, than the weak moment of a man who has just lost his mother. Yet, even though what Hager did was not right by any stretch – it was just plain wrong, and he still cannot admit it – when one’s mother passes away, nothing may seem right for a while.

However, what Imam Al -Hussainy did will always be right, and somehow between these two men, Hager and Al-Hussainy, we are seeing a snapshot of two immigrants, two American men, at their very weakest moment, and at their very strongest.

*  *    *  *  *    *  *  *  *      *  *  *  *  *      *  *  *  *  *  *        *  *  *  *  *  *  *  

Some Random Thoughts on the Social Psychology of Immigration

Martin Luther King and Mohatma Gandhi were the two great agents of social change from the twentieth century. They were both famous for promoting non violence and showing people how to protest using civil disobedience. Strange to grow up with these figures and these ideas all around, and to find us all living in a world now that has no place for even talking about civil disobedience, for the time being. They faced the American government and the British empire, arguably two of the most powerful governments ever to exist. But they never said they advocated civil disobedience ‘unless you’re facing somebody who is really evil, then you better start freaking out’.

When someone once asked Gandhi what he thought about western civilization, he answered that he didn’t know there was any. Pretty funny answer. When King gave one of his greatest speeches, he articulated a different view. He said that he had a dream “that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”

*  *    *  *  *    *  *  *  *      *  *  *  *  *      *  *  *  *  *  *        *  *  *  *  *  *  *  

If you allowed two people to be placed on an isolated island in infancy, and grow up together outside of all social influences, what would they be like? I don’t know, but I can tell you this. If one was black, and one was white, or if one was Arabic and the other was white, they would not grow up to become racist bigots. Isolated individuals do not create racism, large groups of people do.

*  *    *  *  *    *  *  *  *      *  *  *  *  *      *  *  *  *  *  *        *  *  *  *  *  *  *  

Maybe the oldest things that we all share in common are the most human elements of our lives. Among those must be what it feels like when your mother passes away. If you have not lost your mother, you might not know, but if you have, then you might know very well what happened to Mike Hagar’s mind and Mike Hagar’s heart when he lost his mother. The love between parent and child must be the one thing we all share as humans. The nativity scene is what Christmas and Christianity is all about, the sanctity of the love between mother and child. It is fundamentally easy for individuals to share life and to love life together. All the earliest societies were egalitarian, and made of relatively small groups of people who shared everything.

On the other hand, the ability to love one’s country is a relatively new thing on the face of the earth. Not that no one ever loved their homeland, but the modern nation-state, framed with a Constitution, founded in the acknowledgment of the unalienable rights of all humans to equal justice, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, with well-defined borders, and capitalist free markets, is a new thing on the face of the earth. So, in many ways, we are all still just beginning to become accustomed to what it means to have a nation, to love one’s country, and to pledge allegiance to what it stands for.

*  *    *  *  *    *  *  *  *      *  *  *  *  *      *  *  *  *  *  *        *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

This story is about a man who lost his mom, whom he loved above everyone else. It is also about another man who loved his country, his new country, that he had emigrated to, committed to, struggled to make a home in, and when given the chance, did what he thought was the right thing to do, for his fellow Americans. They both came from the same country, settled in the same place, and were members of the  same mosque. The strong one was the Imam, the leader of the mosque.

Yet, although the immigrant who lied to the country, when he was grief-stricken with his mother’s death, did the wrong thing, we all know he was a good person before that, so we know it is entirely possible that he was acting out of his moment of greatest weakness. He can come back from that, and be a good person again.

And the Imam must have been vexed when faced with the choice of covering for his fellow member of the mosque, and a fellow emigre to the USA, or outing his friend before the entire nation so as to set the record straight, even though it was for all the right reasons. He showed a private strength of public character, and a lot of conviction about doing his duty, even in the face of a wicked double-bind.

The fact that they are both immigrants has nothing to do with any of it, once you see their souls in their sheer humanity of it. You don’t have to be an immigrant to be vexed by life. But, what has to happen for those of us here, to want to welcome those who come here? We have to be able to see ourselves in them. Being immigrants forms a special emotional component for the story because that person is torn between their home country and pledging allegiance to a new country - that takes a special kind of strength, and it is part of what made America great. Somehow, both of them knowing each other and coming from the same place to become responsible Americans implicates all of us. But, strictly speaking, it’s just a story of two humans, going through the best and the worst of it, like we all do. At his weakest moment, one man did the wrong thing. And the other man, at his strongest moment, did the right thing.

In America we have a special culture. We all believe in the possibility of redemption. We believe in giving people second chances. We do not judge people by the weakest thing they ever did.  We always root for the underdog. We love mom and apple pie, and the flag, and above all, we always respect a person who fights for truth, justice, and the American way.

I guess I’m betting on both of them. I guess I just wanted to say that I am betting on both of my fellow Americans.

~The End~