(RNS) Ahmed Mohamed is a winsome and kind of nerdy boy from Irving, Texas, who wears rectangular glasses and has the classic look of a 14-year-old hovering on the cusp of adulthood.
His youthful enthusiasm prompted him on Monday (Sept. 14) to bring a successful engineering project, a homemade digital clock, to school to show off to his teachers.
Unfortunately for Ahmed, he attends MacArthur High School in Irving, a city just northwest of Dallas with a population of a little over 225,000, whose municipal government has a history of troubled relations with the local Muslim community.
Ahmed’s English teacher heard the homemade clock’s alarm beep during class. When Ahmed showed it to her, she reportedly said she thought it appeared to be an explosive device. The police were called. They took Ahmed out of class, questioned him and handcuffed him on suspicion of making a “hoax bomb.”
According to a statement by Irving police spokesman James McLellan, Ahmed “kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation.”
It’s hard to understand what broader explanation was required.
Ultimately, no charges were filed, and in a press conference Wednesday, Ahmed said he would probably transfer to another school.
Under the globally trending hashtag #IStandWithAhmed, the questions have been endlessly repeated: What if he had been a Caucasian named John or Joey instead of a Sudanese-American boy named Ahmed? Did bigotry play a role in Ahmed’s arrest?
Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd was quoted in a Dallas Morning News story as saying, “We live in an age where you can’t take things like that to school. Of course we’ve seen across our country horrific things happen, so we have to err on the side of caution.”
I’ve tried to use logic to understand him, but I cannot. What is the category of “things you can’t take to school”? Things with wires? Devices made by boys named Mohamed?
I don’t recall any horrific things caused by high school engineering projects — especially projects that a 14-year-old voluntarily and proudly showed his teachers.
The Irving Independent School District and Irving’s mayor, Beth Van Duyne, have insisted that public safety policies led to Ahmed’s detention.
“I hope this incident does not serve as a deterrent against our police and school personnel from maintaining the safety and security of our schools,” she wrote on Facebook.
So it’s OK to call the cops every time a geeky brown boy carries anything with wires and a circuit board in his backpack?
Van Duyne has not exactly been a friend to the local Muslim community.
In March, she began a personal campaign against an “Islamic tribunal” — actually a religious mediation center — claiming that it was a nefarious institution attempting to replace American law with Sharia.
She became a hero among those who see Islam as a threat and Muslims as a fifth column.
Irving, Texas, may not to be the best place to live if you’re Muslim.
For someone like Ahmed Mohamed, it can be downright dangerous.
The image of him in handcuffs, in a NASA T-shirt, is symbolic of the ridiculous level to which Islamophobia has risen in this country.
High school should be a place to flourish, to explore your talents and interests, to begin understanding the world beyond graduation and to start planning for it. It should not be a place where you must hide the fruits of your ingenuity.
Aren’t the typical concerns of adolescence sufficiently stressful?
The Irving Independent School District and Mayor Van Duyne owe Ahmed an apology.
They need to look into a TV camera and tell the world that their safety policies aren’t focused on students of color and non-Christian teenagers. Shame on them for insisting that those policies are more important than anything — including the self-esteem and creativity of all their students.
(Ruth Nasrullah is a freelance journalist based in Houston. She blogs regularly for the Houston Chronicle and writes for MuslimMatters.org. Follow her @ruthnasrullah.)
YS/MG END NASRULLAH