Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old high school freshman in Irving, Texas, was arrested Monday for bringing a homemade electronic clock into class, which was mistaken for a bomb by a teacher. Ahmed was suspended for three days and questioned by police because they believed the clock was a “hoax bomb” designed to scare people. The one silver lining is #IStandWithAhmed, an outpouring of support on social media Wednesday that saw everyone from President Barack Obama to Mark Zuckerberg and several members of NASA showing their support for the teen. However, we must remember that this incident is caused by the Islamophobia that has, in many ways, defined the United States for the past 14 years.
While the arrest of a high school student is just the latest example of Islamophobia, it is far from an isolated occurrence. Since 9/11, tensions in the United States have been running high, and have been exacerbated over the past year with the rise of ISIS. Generalizations about the nature of Islam as an especially violent religion have created an unsafe environment for Muslims, who are often the subjects of violence rather than the perpetrators they are made out to be. From nationwide protests that occur when Muslim groups seek to build mosques to the mayor of Irving’s inane attempts of fearmongering about non-existent Shariah courts, Islamophobia has risen sharply and Ahmed’s arrest is only the most recent ugly example.
Given the polemic nature of events like these, the timing of Ahmed’s arrest seems foreboding. An example of how non-white students are treated by the law: Taylor Wilson, a white high schooler, built a nuclear reactor and subsequently presented the project to Obama at a White House science fair in 2012. Last night, Republican candidates took the stage for this year’s second GOP debate, where Ahmed’s arrest was discussed. While notorious loose cannons like Donald Trump have little hope of being silenced in their Islamophobia, conservative media outlets like Fox News must be careful in their rhetoric surrounding this arrest. After all, statements like these have a direct effect on, say, someone like Ahmed’s teacher, who chose to alert the authorities instead of praising her student.
In any case, the future of this country depends on kids like Ahmed Mohamed. This kind of blatant Islamophobia — institutional, social or otherwise — has sadly become the norm post-9/11, and the continued demonization of an entire religion should be unacceptable. Instead of defending the officers who arrested a high school freshman over an engineering project, we should be encouraging more people to imitate Ahmed’s curiosity and fortitude. This country needs more people like Ahmed and fewer like the teachers and police officers who let their actions be dictated by misguided fear.
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