US Muslim teenager arrested for making clock
Since his mistaken arrest, schoolboy Ahmed Mohamed has become a celebrity in America and will meet Barack Obama. Much ado about nothing? Or an important stand against anti-Islamic phobia?
During an English class at MacArthur high school in Irving, Texas, this week, an alarm clock beeped. Irritated, the teacher demanded to know who was responsible. The culprit was Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old engineering enthusiast. The clock was in his school bag. He switched it off.
But this was a clock Ahmed had invented, designed and built himself and brought it in to show his class. At the end he took it out of his bag and brought it to his teacher.
‘She was like, it looks like a bomb!’ he said. ‘I told her: it doesn’t look like a bomb to me.’ Hours later, he was handcuffed and arrested by school resource officers as part of ‘standard procedure’ after being summoned to a school office to explain the device. They led Ahmed into a room where four other police officers waited. One he had never seen before leaned back in his chair and said: ‘Yup. That’s who I thought it was.’ Ahmed felt suddenly conscious of his brown skin and his name -- one of the most common in the Muslim religion.
In under 24 hours Ahmed’s story went viral on social media. A day or two later he had some high-profile supporters. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, said ‘having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest’ and invited Ahmed to visit him at work. Google managers invited him to bring his clock to its science fair. Hillary Clinton tweeted ‘Assumptions and fear don’t keep us safe -- they hold us back. Ahmed, stay curious and keep building.’
To cap it all, Barack Obama tweeted: ‘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.’
Mountains and molehills
Many argue that the story of Ahmed’s clock is important because it is a symptom of a growing national phobia —- in this case of Islamic terrorists. There have been similar cases in which a 13-year-old has been arrested for burping like a machine gun, a seven-year-old boy was suspended for chewing his pop-tart into the shape of a gun and a ten-year-old got the same treatment for making a gun shape with his hand. It is, they say, eerily close to the witch hunts of 17th century Massachusetts or the McCarthyite anti-communist hearings of the 1950s. Little wonder, then, that a clock can be regarded as a lethal weapon, and a budding inventor as a terrorist.
Rubbish! say others. This is just a high school fiasco created by one misguided teacher (who will now be highly embarrassed) and some heavy-handed local cops leaping to conclusions. Ahmed, at least, seems to have got a guaranteed opening at Facebook out of it, something many another teenager would give their eye teeth for.
- Is it fear that makes us overreact?
- A sledgehammer to crack a nut. Does this phrase apply to Barack Obama’s intervention?
- Write a letter to Ahmed to help cheer him up.
- Build a clock.
Some People Say...
“White kid makes a nuclear reactor? He’s a genius. Brown Muslim kid makes a clock? He’s a terrorist.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- That would never happen in Britain! We’re much more tolerant .
- Not really true. The sole UK charity monitoring anti-Muslim hate crime said it had recorded a ‘significant’ increase in incidents in schools in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris with both parents and teachers reporting verbal and physical attacks against Muslim students.
- What can I do if I witness or experience anti-Muslim attacks or bullying?
- Here’s what the charity TellMAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) says: ‘If you have been a victim of an anti-Muslim prejudiced incident or hate crime and are still in danger, please call 999. If the threat is now over, please use our online form to report it. Once we have your information secured, one of our trained case workers will call you to discuss the issue further.’
- A town in Texas USA about the size of Wigan in Britain -- with nearly 20 high schools.
- Witch hunts
- Among the most famous of these were the Salem witch trials which were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. The trials resulted in the executions of 20 people, most of them women.
- McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence. It also means ‘the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.’