For my second post, I had originally planned to write down some of my observations about my new host family or perhaps about what I have experienced as a woman in a Muslim country. But in the past few days, I have thought most about how I identify as an American, because of the events in Libya and throughout the Muslim world.
I should start off by saying that I am safe, and that I in no way feel threatened. My program has explained to us what plans are set in case we should need to be evacuated, but when I walk around in the streets or talk to most Moroccans, the subject is rarely even raised. Most students have said that their families have been eager to assure them that they do not associate the film trailer with America or Americans, and we have been equally as anxious to assure them that we do not believe the actions of a few Libyans to speak for all Muslims. Without internet at home and only shoddy access in school, I actually feel very, very distanced from the events, no matter my physical proximity to demonstrations and frustrations.
I did, however, have one conversation with a Moroccan about the events that forced me really to face how differently we confronted the news. As a devout Muslim, she was incredibly upset and offended by the film trailer’s contents–so much so that she insisted the filmmaker should pay with his life, either by execution or by a life’s sentence locked away. When I tried to explain to her that our freedom of speech limits what the government can and cannot do, I realized how entirely different our experiences with government and with freedom of speech have been. Raised in a country where horrible human rights abuses are in the very recent past–and indeed may still be continuing–she thought it natural that such an offensive man could and should be ‘disappeared’ in a case like this. Even after she acknowledged that she wished her country could have freedoms of speech and assembly like we do in the US, she could not grasp that idea that part of those rights is that we cannot strip someone of those rights.
This conversation coincided with our first week of classes, including our Multiculturalism and Human Rights seminar. It is one thing to learn about the prisons and disappearances and attempts at reconciliation, but it is entirely different to see how that legacy continues here. And it was equally as interesting to feel how deeply my culture and my assumptions about rights are ingrained in me.
Of course it isn’t as though we as Americans don’t argue about the definition of our rights–especially concerning freedom of speech–but for the first time I was confronted by the question of whether it is in fact a universal right at all.
This week was difficult. Hearing the news about the American ambassador and about the film was difficult, and this conversation was incredibly difficult. But this is study abroad. It is finding yourself face to face with someone whose interests and assumptions and conclusions challenge yours.