The world is rallying today around a 14 year old robotics enthusiast in Irving, Texas. Ahmed Mohamed, a first generation Sudanese American high school student, was arrested today for bringing a homemade clock to school. Yes, you read that correctly. Wanting to impress teachers at his new school he brought a clock he had built the night before to school, but instead the school called the police, because as Ahmed describes it, “[a teacher] was like, it looks like a bomb.”
I expect they will have more to say tomorrow, but Ahmed’s sister asked me to share this photo. A NASA shirt! pic.twitter.com/nR4gt992gB
— Anil Dash (@anildash) September 16, 2015
The Dallas News reports that “Ahmed never claimed his device was anything but a clock, said police spokesman James McLellan. And police have no reason to think it was dangerous. But officers still didn’t believe Ahmed was giving them the whole story. ‘We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb,’ McLellan said. ‘He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation.’”
What kind of broader explanation would suffice? you might ask yourself. No clue.
Not an isolated incident
The events that unfolded in Irving, Texas, yesterday did not happen in a vacuum. Earlier this year, Irving’s Mayor Beth Van Duyne was praised by noted anti-Muslim activist and conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney. Gaffney praised Mayor Van Duyne both in an op-ed in March and at his organization’s annual awards dinner in June (where she also spoke), for her work in combatting the threat of “creeping Shariah law” in the United States.
Gaffney is one of the most prominent figureheads within the organized Islamophobia movement in America. In this role, he foments fear of Muslims, casting them as the greatest threat facing the nation. One of his regular theories is that Muslims are using a tactic he calls “stealth jihad” to infiltrate the U.S. government in hopes of overthrowing it from within and replacing it with a Shariah-adherent one. Gaffney’s flippant proclamations about Muslims—and this mayor’s tacit endorsements of them—are not only false, they are dangerous.
As we saw in this case of a boy trying to share his inventions with his school, these accusations can lead to policy and law enforcement practices that unfairly target Muslim kids and aim to discriminate and profile.
After Ahmed was handcuffed, arrested (and then suspended for three days), the school’s principal sent a letter home to the other parents that read, in part: “I recommend using this opportunity to talk with your child about the Student Code of Conduct and specifically not bringing items to school that are prohibited.”
But let’s not forget that no actual suspicious behavior occurred in this incident.
The principal seems to place the blame on Ahmed for bringing his home built clock to school, rather than on teachers and police for their biased actions. One has to wonder if all clocks are prohibited items now? What about watches? What about timepieces? Or does this warning only apply to students with Muslim names?
The principal continues in the letter, “Also, this is a good time to remind your child how important it is to immediately report any suspicious items and/or suspicious behavior they observe to any school employee so we can address it right away.”
But let’s not forget that no actual suspicious behavior occurred in this incident. In a time when being brown, being Muslim, or being perceived as Muslim is (clearly) seen as “suspicious behavior” in this country, are we really just teaching our children that every student named Ahmed (or Mohammed or Fatimah) is someone to be inherently distrusted, to not be treated fairly and with compassion?
Are we really just teaching our children that every student named Ahmed (or Mohammed or Fatimah) is someone to be inherently distrusted, to not be treated fairly and with compassion?