The voice coming out of the television screams. French. 1 million words per minute: Protests. Riots. The American Ambassador, killed in the Libyan embassy. I tune in, as my family continues to nonchalantly eat Ceebu Jen from the communal bowl. An American. A Youtube video. September 11th. “Innocence of Muslims.” A blur of confusion. I bring the spoon of rice to my mouth, keeping my eyes on the silver bowl. Do they hear? I’m sure they do. They don’t ask: not right away. And for a while, I assume that they never will; that they will accept that I wouldn’t believe in desecrating the prophet anymore than they would believe in killing an ambassador.
But then, everyone starts to ask. “You know the American who insulted the prophet?”
Yes, I’ve heard the news, but he was not an American, not by my standards. How can you associate me with the monster who attempted to insult the prophet and destroy the peace? He should be tried as a terrorist. What he did was truly disgusting. Do you expect me to agree? Or do you expect me to apologize? I should have to apologize no more for colonialism than I should for a shitty youtube film maker trying to bring about a holy war. How can I apologize for something against which I stand so firmly? But then again, what is an apology? Is it taking responsibility or is it separating myself from what has been done? Deep breath. In. Out. Rethink. A thought, rolling around, cementing. The anger and the deep yearning to recreate the peace spin on my tongue like flies fighting over a drop of spilled honey. I swallow the the flies, the honey, and my pride. How do I ask others to demonstrate peace toward someone with whom I have not yet made my peace? And instantly, I forgive him, because I know that anger can not separate him from me. It can only make us more alike.
Finally, broken French and all my empathy: “Yes. I heard, but know that most Americans do not agree with him. Most Americans respect all religions. What he did was truly horrible, and I am sorry. I am really, really, sorry for what he did. But still, violence, for me, is never the answer.”
And the uncomfortable, yet warranted, moment of awkward confirmation ends then, with an uncomfortable, yet warranted, moment of awkward silence.
I hope they see us as different.
And I know that they do because nothing has changed, and my condolences seem to be enough, at least for the time being. My host mom continues to greet me every morning, and I continue to lethargically walk to school, stopping at my favorite stand to buy a mango. I stay for a while and sip my Cafe Touba, observing those who pass. Asalaa maalekum. Maalekumsalaam. Local friends are not lost. Sounds of the organ still blast from the church and the prayer call continues, steady and monotone, against the hectic world news feed that comes roaring over the peaceful streets of Senegal.