Few stories illustrate the absurd degree of paranoia that Americans live with every day or the Islamophobia that has been creeping into our society than the recent arrest of a ninth-grade student, Ahmed Mohamed. Mohamed, 14, is a budding engineer in Irving, Texas and he just wanted to show his teachers how talented he was so he made a clock at home and brought it to MacArthur High School. Instead of being praised for his ingenuity, he was handcuffed and treated like a domestic terrorist.
On Sunday night before the 14-year-old went to bed, he built his clock. He said that he was able to throw it together in 20 minutes with a circuit board and power supply wired to a digital display, everything was strapped inside a case with a tiger hologram on the front and he put it in his backpack for school the next day.
When Ahmed arrived at school, he went directly to his engineering teacher’s classroom to show off his clock, but his teacher wasn’t as happy for him as he thought he would be:
“He was like, ‘That’s really nice,’” Ahmed said. “‘I would advise you not to show any other teachers.’”
The young man did what he was told, put his clock in his backpack and went about his day. Unfortunately, while he was in the middle of English class, it started to beep and his teacher asked him what it was. Ahmed, proud of his work, walked up to the teacher and showed her:
“She was like, it looks like a bomb,” he said.
“I told her, ‘It doesn’t look like a bomb to me.’”
The English teacher kept the clock and while Ahmed was in sixth period, the school’s principal showed up with a police officer and pulled him out of class. The child was led to the office where four other police officers awaited him and one of them, a cop he’d never seen before said: “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.”
Ahmed says that the police officers began interrogating him and he became self-conscious of his brown skin and obvious Muslim name. According to the student, the principal threatened to expel him and the police officers searched his belongings:
“They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’” Ahmed said.
“I told them no, I was trying to make a clock.”
“He said, ‘It looks like a movie bomb to me.’”
Even though he repeatedly told the police officers that it was just a clock, he was handcuffed, paraded through the school like a terrorist and brought to juvenile detention.
I expect they will have more to say tomorrow, but Ahmed’s sister asked me to share this photo. A NASA shirt!
— Anil Dash (@anildash) September 16, 2015
While he was in the detention center, his fingerprints and mugshot were taken before he was released to the custody of his parents. “They searched me, they took a fingerprint and mugshots of me, and they searched me until my parents came….I couldn’t call my parents during interrogation,” Mohamed later explained. “It made me feel like I wasn’t human. It made me feel like a criminal.” His father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, is an activist who once debated Florida’s infamous Quran burning pastor, and was outraged by the treatment his son received:
“He just wants to invent good things for mankind. But because his name is Mohamed and because of Sept. 11, I think my son got mistreated.”
Meanwhile, police may still charge the innocent child with building a hoax bomb, even though they are very much aware that it was only a clock. Police spokesman James McLellan told the Dallas Morning News: “He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation.It could reasonably be mistaken as a device if left in a bathroom or under a car. The concern was, what was this thing built for? Do we take him into custody?”
This isn’t the first time Irving, Texas, has been in the news. Earlier this summer, Mayor Beth Van Duyne became a right-wing hero when she claimed that Muslims were trying to impose “Sharia law” on the people of the state. Alia Salem, with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says Ahmed’s arrest further proves how the Muslim community is demonized in the city:
“This all raises a red flag for us: how Irving’s government entities are operating in the current climate.We’re still investigating [the arrest], but it seems pretty egregious.”
The fact of the matter is, this kid should have been praised for his abilities. Instead he was treated like an Islamic extremist because of his name and the color of his skin. If a white, Christian student had done the same thing, chances are he would have been given a big smile and a pat on the back; he certainly would not be suspended and been humiliated in front of his school. There may be more to this story than is known at the time of writing, but at this point, it looks disturbingly like the racial profiling of a promising young engineer in a city and state where xenophobic sentiments are reaching dangerous heights.
UPDATE: All charges against Ahmed have been dropped and the case is closed. The President has expressed his support for the boy on Twitter. Check out the #IStandWithAhmed hashtag to show your support!
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.