By Victoria Venable
Elm Staff Writer
Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old in Texas, made headlines when he brought a homemade clock to school as an engineering project. His celebrity was not a result of his technological innovation, but rather from the response of the school officials who thought the project looked suspicious. In what has been labeled as a blatant exemplification of the growing Islamophobia in America, the Texas school responded by handcuffing and interrogating the student for bringing in what they thought was a bomb.
Within 24 hours of his detainment, Mohamed’s story was dominating the web with the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed leading the way. His story caught the attention of Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Each reached out to Ahmed with words of support and praise. By the time President Barack Obama extended an invitation to the White House, the charges had been dropped and Mohamed had switched school districts.
With the help of national outcry and trending hashtags and photos, Mohamed went from “I felt like a terrorist” to “It feels outstanding to have their [Obama, Clinton, Zuckerberg’s] support.” The 14-year old inventor attended the Google Science Fair last week on a personal invitation from the CEO, Larry Page, according to Daily Mail.
Tweets from the president? Invitations from major IT heads? Nationwide social media campaigns in your name? What a great end to the story. What a feel-good tale about a boy who felt the sharp hands of prejudice only to then reap the fruits of reparations, right?
The issue with this framing of the story is that it neglects the systemic issues of the original story, that Mohamed was suspended, arrested, and interrogated without cause. Sure, we can celebrate the stream of support coming in for Mohamed, but let’s not forget that the issues of Islamophobia and the misuse of police authority still affects millions of Americans every day.
Islamophobia spiked in America in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. Since then there have been fluctuations of Islamophobia in our nation, according to a Pew study. Today, we would like to think that the majority of Americans now understand that the Setp. 11 attacks were conducted by radical Muslims who make up a very small portion of the religious group and the majority of Muslims pose no threat. Here we are, in 2015, with a 14-year old boy in handcuffs and a presidential candidate, Ben Carson, insisting that a Muslim could not effectively act as our president on “Meet the Press.” Shockingly, a Pew Research Study revealed that about 45 percent of Americans would be unlikely to vote for a candidate if they were Muslim.
While there were a slew of Tweets and outreach supporting Mohamed, there was nearly as much said against him. In his normal way, Bill Maher, who has been accused of Islamaphobia in the past, used his platform on “Real Time” to express his unwavering opinion that the clock was mistaken for a bomb because it “looked like a … bomb.” Continuing this trend, Sarah Palin took to social media to say, “That’s a clock, and I’m the Queen of England.”
We’ve come a long way from 2001 but we have much farther to go and it will take more than a hashtag to change that.
The sad fact of it is the process of the law did not occur in the case of Mohamed. He was arrested prematurely, denied access to his parents, and questioned without an attorney. According to CNN, juveniles in Texas may have a parent, guardian, or attorney present during interrogation. However, Mohamed was repeatedly denied this request. This case, therefore, was about more than just racism and religious intolerance, this was a case of denying civil liberties.
In this instance, the stripping of civil liberties did not result in lost life or sacrificed freedoms, but when policemen are denying personal liberties without consequence and school officials are acting on their racial intolerance we will continue to see cases with less optimistic endings. I’m elated to see the flood of support for Mohamed and his family, but a Tweet from the president does not correct this violation.