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Ahmed Mohamed Inspires Other Muslim Students to Stand Up to Fear, Be Themselves

Within the last twenty-four hours, the world has had the opportunity to get to know Ahmed Mohamed, the fourteen-year-old boy who brought a clock he made to his high school in Irving, Texas, and was put in handcuffs.

Ahmed’s case is a perfect case to understand the bigotry and hysteria in the United States, which has persisted since the September 11th attacks and festered as isolated instances of violent extremism have occurred.

As an intelligent teen with a delightful smile, Ahmed is also an unworthy victim. He is an instantly likable geek, who adults from Irving to Silicon Valley to the White House hope will have a bright future.

The outpouring of support presents an opportunity to reflect on other cases where students have been targeted for their skin color and religion.

Ahmed, as he recounted on “All In,” was accused by police in Irving of bringing a hoax bomb to his school. He brought the clock to school to impress his teachers. The first teacher he showed advised him to put it away because it looked like a bomb. The second teacher he showed confiscated the clock and reported him to school administrators.

The principal and a police officer took him to a room for interrogation, where four other officers were present. Police and the principal would not allow him to have his parents with him. The police asked if the clock was a bomb. He told them multiple times it was a clock. Then, the police wanted to know why he would bring a clock to school. He explained he wanted to impress his teachers. An hour and a half later, he was put in handcuffs.

“I felt like I was a criminal. I felt like I was a terrorist. I felt like all the names I was called,” Ahmed shared. “In middle school, I was called a terrorist, called a bomb maker, just because of my race and religion.”

While there may be few known cases of smart Muslim students being punished by their school for having an interest in showing off their intelligence, there are countless instances of bullying and harassment. These cases involve students who, to some degree, experienced the same feelings Ahmed confronted during his interrogation and while in handcuffs.

Kristian, whose family emigrated from Trinidad, attended Staten Island Middle School in New York and endured months of brutal harassment for being Muslim. He was called a “fucking terrorist” and punched and kicked.

At times during lunch, students would not only call him gay slurs for having long hair but also call him a terrorist.”You came here to burn our buildings down. People can’t get jobs because of you,” students said.

Teachers and school administrators mostly permitted the rampant bullying until a brutal beating by students occurred. The students were arrested and charged with aggravated assault as a hate crime.

In Minnesota, two students walked up to a group of Muslim high school girls and asked if they wanted “pork bacon.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations chapter in the state reported, “When the girls informed them that their religion prohibited pork, the students made disparaging remarks about their religion. A week later, the two students brought pork bacon to school and shoved it in the faces of Muslim students and chased after them when they tried to get away.”

A teacher in the state reportedly gave students a “can of air freshener.” The students were told to spray whenever Muslim students entered the class.

In Kentucky in 2011, an 8-year-old boy from Somalia was hung by students on a hook in the bathroom. He was found unconscious and told his father the students had tried to break his neck. He had been suffering harassment, and the school administrators did nothing to challenge the bullying from schoolmates.

In Nevada, an American-Egyptian student named Jana Elhifny was called names [DOC] during her freshman year in 2003. Elhifny said, because she wore a hijab, she was told, “You are not one of us,” and, “Leave or we will kill you.”

School officials did nothing for Elhifny when she asked them for help. In fact, they suggested she stop wearing her “scarf.” A friend of Elhifny’s was allegedly told to mind her own business and “act like a good American” when she complained to school officials. Elhifny sued, and the school district paid a settlement of $350,000 without conceding they had done anything wrong.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2009, a 16-year-old Muslim girl of Iraqi descent was attacked on a school bus. She had to get six stitches after a group of students told her Arabs were “dirty,” ripped off her hijab, and dragged her.

Any of these students deserve the same outpouring of support Ahmed received. Yet, typically, when Muslim students in schools become targets for their race or religion, their stories are met with silence.

Because of this reality, Ahmed was surprised by the support he received.

“I didn’t think I was going to get any support because I’m a Muslim,” Ahmed stated during his “All In” interview. “So I thought I was just going to be another victim of injustice.”

Unlike previous cases, Ahmed’s sister made sure photos of Ahmed in handcuffs were circulated on social media as soon as possible. That certainly made a difference in ensuring he was not just another victim.

Ahmed’s courage in appearing before the news media is inspiring. Refusing to be silent means a lot coming from a 14-year-old Muslim teen in a city with a mayor who hysterically accused Muslim leaders of trying to bring Sharia law to Irving.

All Ahmed knows is the post-9/11 world created by U.S. security agencies and fully supported by political leaders. The reaction to Ahmed’s clock is an absurd but perfectly understandable outcome of a “See Something, Say Something” security culture driven by prejudice.

Such a culture pressures young Muslim students in numerous ways, and yet, rather than live with these norms authorities want to impose, Ahmed smiles brightly and tells other kids like him to be themselves. “Just because something happens to you because [of] who you are, no matter what, people will always have your back.”

A Palestinian child looks over the ruins of a stone wall in Ma'asara, on the West Bank, Palestine, on January 8, 2010. (Flickr / Ian McKellar)
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."