ONE thing is obvious. Fourteen-year-old Texas schoolboy Ahmed Mohamed is a lot brighter than the Republican Party’s favourite Sarah Palin. That’s not a personal attack — it is just the obvious truth.
Palin has attacked President Barack Obama for inviting young Ahmed to the White House after he was wrongly arrested and handcuffed — mainly for looking like a Muslim and building a clock that actually didn’t look much like a bomb.
Ahmed was detained for making a clock that his teacher assumed was a bomb. Palin declared: “Right. That’s a clock, and I’m the Queen of England.
“Ahmed Mohamed, an evidently obstinate-answering student,” she continued, “was bringing in a homemade clock that obviously could be seen by conscientious teachers as a dangerous wired-up bomb-looking contraption.”
In reality the bright young schoolboy created a sophisticated electric clock built into a pencil box for his school science fair.
Science fairs are an inspired part of technology teaching in the US that encourage students to make exciting projects. A huge web-based world and a vast mail order industry offers all sorts of sometimes extraordinarily complex science fair experiments.
Sadly his teachers took one look at the device and his Muslim appearance, accused him of building a bomb and had him arrested. Ahmed was taken from his school to police headquarters, where he was interrogated about his intentions with the device with particular questioning focused on his surname and Muslim appearance.
Ahmed’s father expressed his anger at his son’s treatment. “My kid was hurt and was tortured and arrested and mistreated in front of his friends inside of the school,” he said. “That is not America.”
Just a few weeks ago in a Morning Star feature about the Birmingham Six (M Star August 15), I wrote that in the 1960s British police could arrest you for looking “a bit Irish.” That philosophy, it seems, is alive and well — but now it is looking “a bit Muslim” that can get you into trouble.
Islamophobia shows its ugly face all over the globe. But the case last week in Irving, Texas, takes some beating.
Ahmed’s parents came to the US from Sudan. They settled in Irving. There, at the Sam Houston middle school, their son Ahmed became known as the kid who made crazy contraptions.
His classmates brought him their broken electronic devices and Ahmed fixed them. He built a radio-controlled car that could run on land and underwater. He built his own phone charger. His school mates called him the “Inventor Kid.”
Then just a few weeks ago he started his freshman year at MacArthur high school, where no-one knew him. The tall kid in the geek’s glasses did what he did best; he built something.
Ahmed’s clock wasn’t a beautiful thing, but his inventions never were. His clock was a mess of wires and circuitry but it kept perfect time.
When he proudly took it to school his teacher took one look and called the police. Ahmed didn’t get a gold star. Instead he got three days’ suspension from school.
Then the police took over, the student was handcuffed, arrested and taken to the police headquarters by Irving officers.
Irving has a history of Islamaphobia. This March local Mayor Beth Van Duyne accused local mosque leaders of attempting to set up a shadow court system following Islamic law.
The imams said they were merely mediating minor disputes, not bypassing or contradicting US law. Nonetheless, Van Duyne and the Irving City Council passed a resolution supporting a Texas anti-Sharia Bill.
The predictable happened: angry crowds assembled outside mosques, and local Muslims requested police security after racist threats.
Khalid Hamideh, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Irving, said: “The mayor is a crusader on the fringes of the far-right, and unfortunately there are some misinformed people who listen to her.”
Ahmed’s siblings say they are increasingly regarded with suspicion and disdain. One of his sisters had to leave a new job after her boss tried to force her to remove her head scarf while at work.
In Ahmed’s case all official police charges were dropped, but the school suspension stuck. Reactionary and racist Van Duyne publicly announced her support for the actions of the school and police.
Obama took a different view. He invited Ahmed to come and see him at the White House saying: “Cool clock, Ahmed.
Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science...”
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg invited Ahmed to visit him too and Twitter asked if he wanted to work for them as an intern.
Ahmed is now the centre of a movement supporting scientific curiosity among school students and denouncing any sort of racism, but sadly — as Sarah Palin has proved once again — Islamaphobia is alive and well.