#IStandWithAhmed shows America at its best, and worst
The story of Ahmed Mohamed showcased the worst form of Islamophobia in the U.S., followed by unprecedented embrace and public support for the teen
In the last 24 hours, a 14-year-old Muslim-American teen has gone from being perceived as a “bomb maker” handcuffed and arrested by the Texas police, to an innovator celebrated by millions on social media and in the business community.
The story of Ahmed Mohamed showcased the worst forms of Islamophobia and racial profiling in the United States, followed by unprecedented embrace and public support for the teen, exposing the discrimination against him.
Ahmed went to his high school in Irving, Texas on Monday proudly dressed in his NASA t-shirt and holding onto his latest invention: a digital clock that he had made from a pencil case to show his teachers.
If his name were Charles Adams or his skin color was white, Ahmed would probably have been applauded by his teachers.Joyce Karam
Little did he know that his school day would end in him being handcuffed and arrested, taken by the police to a juvenile detention center without his parents or a lawyer, where he was interrogated for “trying to make a bomb.”
Arrested for being Muslim
In post 9/11 America, Ahmed Mohamed was only arrested because of his skin color and for being a Muslim. If his name were Charles Adams or his skin color was white, Ahmed would probably have been applauded by his teachers and classmates for creativity at a time when the U.S. school system is lagging behind other industrialized nations.
It should also be noted that the arrest of Ahmed is not in isolation, given the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. The fear and paranoia that drove Ahmed’s teacher to report him to the police is by no means exclusive to MacArthur High School or to the state of Texas. Hate crimes and negative stereotypes of Muslims have been on the rise across the United States.
Fourteen years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, an average of 100-150 hate crimes target the Muslim community annually, compared to 20 or 30 prior to 2001, according to FBI records. The Chapel Hill shooting in North Carolina last February, and the assault on a Sikh man in Chicago mistaken for a Muslim-Arab last week, illustrate the rising level of bigotry against the U.S. Muslim community.
A poll conducted by The Economist/YouGov in February suggests that a slight majority of Americans (52%) view Islam as more likely than other religions to encourage violence. While this could be a product of increased anti-Muslim rhetoric following the rise of ISIS and other terrorist groups exploiting the banner of Islam, it goes against what Muslim-Americans stand for, and contradicts the message of assimilation and diversity that the United States champions in today’s world.
Ahmed to visit the White House
For the few hours between the arrest and the police asking Ahmed Mohamed repeatedly ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’, to which he responded “no, I was trying to make a clock”, the 14 year old boy regretted taking his invention to school. According to the Dallas Morning News, “he’s vowed never to take an invention to school again”.
Discouraging free thought and innovation because of the state of fear and prejudice is entirely un-American and feeds into the terrorists’ propaganda that the United States is the enemy of Islam. It is also rejected by millions of Americans who have flooded the internet and social media websites in solidarity with Ahmed.
The story of Ahmed’s clock renews hope that despite the prejudice and the fear mongering, the majority of Americans is neither silent nor intolerant.Joyce Karam
The outpouring of public support, the tweet from the U.S. President Barack Obama inviting Ahmed (and his clock) to the White House, and the post from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to host him in Palo Alto are a better reflection of American values than the circumstances that led to the arrest. In one day, Ahmed has received a scholarship to Space Camp, an invitation to Google’s science fair, a lifetime membership to Dallas electronics club, an offer to visit General Electric headquarters and a new NASA shirt – one flown in space by astronaut Daniel Tani.
At a time when fear mongering and stereotypes of Muslims dominate far-right talk shows and statements by several xenophobic Republican Presidential candidates, it is those voices embracing Ahmed that give confidence in America’s future. Muslims have since the 19th century flocked to the United States, charting a better story of assimilation than in Europe, and excelling in opportunities that are not abundant in their countries of origin.
The story of Ahmed’s clock renews hope that despite the prejudice and the fear mongering, the majority of Americans is neither silent nor intolerant. It shows once again that injustice can be confronted, and that a Sudanese-American boy can grow and innovate, undeterred by voices of divisiveness, fear and delusion.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam