[Media prompt] “This is the first time in the last 17 years on which I’ve been working on post-9/11 discrimination issues that I saw a critical mass of Americans wake up and realize that we had a deeply rooted problem of prejudice against a particular religious minority.” – Sahar Aziz, law professor.
His parents argued again last night. He lay awake until they stopped, the quietness as unsettling as the bickering. It was an old quarrel, and he knew it by heart. Afterwards, unable to sleep, he removed the dust cap from the end of his telescope and contemplated Mars, which is what they were squabbling about. Adults, he had noticed, were prone to rehashing disputes, long after their points of view had been rendered immaterial by circumstances. They were stuck here, and there was nothing they could do about it.
He woke before the first call to prayer, noticing he had forgotten to replace the dust cap to protect the lens, and squinted against the eyepiece to look at Mars again before slipping it on. Like the call for salat al-fajr, the near dawn prayer, which now started to moan from the minaret, it seemed far away. Secretly, he agreed with his mother, but the last ships had left before he was born; they were Muslims now and, unless there was a miracle, Muslims they would stay.
At breakfast his father was silent, as usual; he rarely spoke, other than to quote verses or correct unacceptable behaviour, an endlessly narrowing field of comportment. His mother served breakfast in silence, and afterwards he left for school, waving as he shut the front gate.
Today was September the Eleventh, and he had remembered to bring everything, unlike last year, when he had been humiliated. At the assembly, he advanced on the flag pole with the other boys of his age group, the twelve-year-olds who would leave for the madrasa after graduation. Muhammed, the head boy, lowered the American flag, just as he had been taught, pulling the halyard steadily and reliably so that it descended in exactly ten seconds. There was a moment of tension as the two boys assigned to detach the flag from the swivel snaps fumbled the procedure, but they recovered, folding ‘Old Glory’ into a tight square.
His mother had shown him the pictures, against his father’s express desire, of the last ships for Mars. The final one, which the Caliphate nicknamed ‘White Flight’, had room for hundreds more when it launched. “It’s not as though we couldn’t get on,” she’d told him. Sometimes she cried afterwards. He thought of this now as he struck his match, setting the symbol of American imperialism on fire, watching the flames rise.