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Sunday, June 22, 2003  

The Portland Seven:
Part VII: Maher 'Mike' Hawash

I previously wrote about Maher 'Mike' Hawash, 39, at the time of his indictment last month.

PORTLAND -- A former Intel worker pleaded innocent Monday to terrorism charges.

On Friday, a new indictment charged the so-called "Portland Seven" with conspiring to wage war against the United States.

They are also accused of aiding al-Qaida and the Taliban, and the U.S. Justice Department is seeking forfeiture of their assets.

Mike Hawash, who was most recently arrested in the terror plot, entered an innocent plea in federal district court Monday morning. [KOIN TV, May 5, 2003]

My coverage of Hawash, the last of the Portland Seven, is different from what I've had to say about the others because the media has given him the lion's share of attention. People can read material about Hawash plenty of other places. I am one of few commentators who has been interested enough in the others to try to explain who they are. The reason attention has focused on Hawash is that he has been perceived as less marginal than the other defendants. He is presented as 'honorary white,' and middle-class, while the other defendants, five of whom are of African-American descent, are dismissed as typical troublemakers by some of his supporters. His employment record as a software engineer for Compaq and Intel also helps regularize him in the eyes of middle-class white America.

Investigators say five of the Portland Six traveled to China after Sept. 11, 2001. They attempted to enter Afghanistan to fight U.S. troops. Hawash was reportedly with them.

Special Agent in Charge Charles Mathews told KOIN 6 News that Hawash stayed in the same hotel room as one of the accused.

Friends call it guilt by association. They say he frequently traveled to Asia on business.

"The Mike we know was devoted to his family and helping people. He didn't travel to Afghanistan to help the Taliban. His family is here and in Palestine, and that is what he cares about," Steven McGeady said. [KOIN TV, April 29, 2003]

The truth, of course, is more complex. The Bilal brothers are basically Middle-Easterners like Hawash, as is the missing defendant, al-Souab. Patrice Lumumba Ford's academic credentials and intellectual ability are more impressive than Hawash's. None of the black defendants had any criminal record of note before the indictments for terrorism. Whatever the answer to the riddle of the Portland Seven, it is not that 'Mike' Hawash, former Intel software engineer and all-round 'good guy,' was tainted by his co-defendants.

My suspicion is that Hawash's peers at Intel don't really know his story. What they know is Mike Hawash's mask.

We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile;
And mouth with myriad subtleties.  

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

For all Hawash's 'acceptance' by his born American co-workers, they knew a carefully edited version of him. In that version, he was the most agreeable of persons of color and Muslims -- why hardly even a person of color or Muslim at all. But, in the larger world, Hawash must have been less capable of erasing himself. The casual observer, or the cop cruising past him on the Interstate, did not see 'just another white guy from Intel,' but what appeared to be a mixed-race African-American or Hispanic man. The personnel in offices or stores he interacted with heard a foreign accent and saw a receipt signed with a foreign name and probably responded accordingly. Furthermore, as he began to associate with American Muslims of color, Hawash must have become more aware of their grievances and how close to those grievances were to his as a Palestinian set adrift in the contemporaray diaspora.

Born Maher Hawash in Nablus, Palestine in 1964, he is known as Mike in the United States.  He has been a resident of the United States for 20 years, and a U.S. citizen for more than 15 years. Hawash has lived in or around Hillsboro, OR since 1992.  Mike is the third child in a family of six children.  Mike's family was exiled from the Palestinian Territory by the Israeli government in the early 1970s. Like many Palestinians, Hawash carried a Jordanian passport before he acquired U.S. citizenship.  Hawash was raised in Kuwait.  Members of Hawash's family currently live in Nablus as well as Kuwait.

Am I saying Mike Hawash is a terrorist? No. Based on the evidence, I can't say whether any of the Portland Seven are terrorists. They seemed more interested in making gestures to show their solidarity with the Muslim world than in actually harming anyone. The compelling question is whether they really intended to extend gesturing to taking up arms. What I am saying is that I don't perceive him as separate from the other defendants, as his supporters wish. His experiences have been similar to his co-defendants. The evidence against him, including the trip to China and possibly Bangladesh, allegedly in an effort to reach Afghanistan, is the same. Furthermore, because he grew up in the Middle East, it may be easier to link Hawash to training by Hamas or other organizations associated with terrorism. I am not going to predict the outcome of the Portland Seven case, which may break down into two or three cases, but I don't believe Mike Hawash's position is any less vulnerable than the others.'

Note: The poem "We Wear the Mask" was written by Paul Lawrence Dunbar. It can be read in its entirety, here.

11:38 PM