The arrest of a 14-year-old Muslim high school student in Texas for bringing a homemade clock to class has sparked a national uproar about Islamophobia.
Mohamed Ahmed, an eighth grader at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, has an affinity for building electronic gadgets in his bedroom. He rose to fame overnight as social media erupted over his controversial arrest on Monday. By Wednesday afternoon, he’d been invited to meet President Obama at the White House–with the clock in hand.
Ahmed’s whirlwind ordeal began when he decided to bring it to school to impress his teachers. One science teacher complimented Ahmed but warned him not to show it to anyone else. Acting on his teacher’s advice, Ahmed left it in his schoolbag. But the clock’s alarm sounded during his sixth-period English class, prompting that teacher to notify the principal and confiscate the clock, which Ahmed had built at his home in 20 minutes.
“It looks like a bomb,” the teacher purportedly told Ahmed, according to the Dallas Morning News.
“I told her, ‘It doesn’t look like a bomb to me,’” Ahmed replied.
Ahmed was eventually led into the principal’s office with a police escort. He was handcuffed despite vehemently explaining that the presumed “bomb” was indeed a working clock, according to news reports.
“We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb,” said Irving Police spokesperson James McLellan, according to the Dallas Morning News. “He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation.”
Following his arrest, a photo of Ahmed in handcuffs surfaced on social media. The hashtag #IStandWithAhmed became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter Wednesday morning, featuring a bevy of support and Tweets lampooning police and school officials for what many considered an overreaction and an example of blatant American Islamophobia.
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
Sad, absurd story about run-in between kid’s innocence and creativity and Texas school’s ignorance and bigotry http://t.co/WoX5tQFsMQ
— Jameel Jaffer (@JameelJaffer) September 16, 2015
Dr. Hussein Rashid, an adjunct assistant professor of religion at Hofstra University and founder of the consultancy group islamicate, L3C, which focuses on religious literacy and cultural competency, began laughing when he was asked about Ahmed’s arrest.
“I’m utterly flabbergasted,” said Rashid. “You got to think about the multiple failures that had to happen here, right? A student who wants to prove he’s good in science goes to his teacher and says, ‘I am a good student.'”
Rashid criticized the teacher and school administration in Texas for involving law enforcement.
“It’s a perfect storm of social factors,” continued Rashid. “There’s a culture of Islamophobia, where your first thought anytime you see a brown person acting smart is that they must be a terrorist because we’ve got this long history of racism where people of color are inherently stupid. And then, so a brown, smart person is a terrorist.”
When it was first revealed that the NYPD was spying on Muslim communities on Long Island, the five boroughs and in New Jersey, Muslim groups said such tactics would discourage members of the community to speak their mind, and in some cases pray at their mosque, out of fear that something they say or do could make them a target of law enforcement.
“This has a real impact beyond getting eighth graders arrested for trying to impress the teacher,” Rashid added. “This has a very casual [message]: we’re all being surveyed right now.”
Dr. Isma Chaudhry, president of Westbury’s Islamic Center of Long Island, was mystified when a Press reporter informed her of Ahmed’s arrest in Texas.
“For how long will ethnic minorities walk on eggshells?” she asked. “That is not right. It’s counterproductive to everything, every belief, that we as Americans have. It doesn’t have to be a religious belief, but a belief in freedom of an individual living a peaceful life. Ethnic minorities have to constantly prove themselves because of a certain name or because of a skin color or because of hair color or eye color.”
MacArthur High School in Irving released a statement following Ahmed’s arrest, noting that the Irving Police Department had responded to a “suspicious looking item on campus.”
“We are pleased to report that after the police department’s assessment, the item discovered at school did not pose a threat to your child’s safety,” said the statement.
Irving police said Wednesday that Ahmed would not face criminal charges.
Ahmed, who has been bombarded with interview requests, thanked his supporters on Twitter.
Thank you for your support! I really didn’t think people would care about a muslim boy. #Thankyouforstandingwithme #IStandWithAhmed
— Ahmed Mohamed (@IStandWithAhmed) September 16, 2015
President Obama showed his support by inviting Ahmed—and his clock—to the White House.
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.
— President Obama (@POTUS) September 16, 2015