By now, most of us are familiar with–and enraged by–the case of Ahmed Mohamed, the 14 year-old Irving boy who was arrested on Monday after bringing a homemade clock to school. The story has gone viral, painting Texas in a very unflattering light yet again.
The story is infuriating for more reasons than I can count. Here are a few questions:
- What kind of person handcuffs and arrests a ninth grader, without even letting him call his parents?
- If the school was really so concerned about a bomb, why didn’t anyone call the bomb squad or evacuate the building?
- Why did the police officer who arrested Ahmed declare “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.” upon seeing him?
- Why were none of these non-Muslim kids who brought homemade clocks ot school arrested, yet Ahmed was?
- How come a 14 year-old (in a NASA T-shirt, no less!) gets arrested for bringing in a clock, yet white kids can open carry actual guns without consequence?
The list goes on and on–you get the idea.
In the ensuing flood of articles that have come out about the incident, several have noted that decades of Islamophobic rhetoric nationwide. Max Fisher at Vox highlighted several instances of Islamophobia specifically in Dallas over the course of this year (more on those later). And while it’s true that Islamophobia is a problem nationwide, it’s worth pointing out that Texas in particular has a long history of Islamophobic bigotry rearing its ugly head, making the incident in Irving less surprising, though no less infuriating.
Our BOR archive is sadly littered with stories of Islamophobic words and actions from Texans, including an unfortunate number of elected officials. For instance, we’ve got:
- The Travis County Republican Party promoting a video calling for all Muslims to be discharged from the American military.
- The southwest Texas town whose church posted a sign asking 2012 presidential voters to “Vote for the Mormon, not the Muslim.”
- The San Angelo Tea Partiers who proclaimed that “There are four Muslim families in San Angelo…and that’s four too many.”
- The Muslim community organization whose “Adopt-a-Highway” sign was vandalized outside Round Rock.
- Protesters harassing schoolchildren and and Rep. Molly White demanding a loyalty oath at Texas Muslim Capitol Day earlier this year.
- Oh, and our current state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller posting a photo on Facebook implying that the U.S. should drop a nuclear bomb on the “Muslim world.”
That’s not even including the laundry list of incidents in Dallas brought up in Vox, such as protestors disrupting a Muslim group’s anti-terrorism rally, and the brutal murder of an Iraqi man in his own front yard. That list doesn’t even include Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne’s own history of crusading against an imagined threat of Sharia law. Even Ahmed revealed that he had been previously called a “terrorist” by his classmates, children who have learned the ways of hate from their community.
Feeling disgusted yet? Well it’s about to get worse–according to the last Census, Texas is the state with the highest number of Muslims in the nation. You would think that having over 400,000 Muslims in the state, living their lives just like everyone else, might promote deeper understanding of the humanity of people who are our neighbors. Instead, people in our state have reacted by doubling down on racist, hate-filled language and actions.
Perhaps that’s why it’s despicable, and yet not at all that surprising, to see the letter from MacArthur High School to parents, blaming Ahmed for violating the student code of conduct. While Principal Dan Cummings assured parents there were no threats to their children, he failed to mention the greatest threat of all that emerged from this debacle–that a child could be arrested in school for a science project without even having the chance to call his parents.
That’s why it wasn’t surprising, but still horrifying, to see anti-Sharia crusader Beth Van Duyne, mayor of Ahmed’s hometown of Irving, posting this tone-deaf message on Facebook after the incident:
(She has since edited the post to indicate a small amount of empathy for Ahmed.)
It is deplorable to think that this is where we are now, in a state where anti-Islamic rhetoric is so common that an elected official can openly blame a ninth-grade science student for his own arrest. Texas, we must do better. Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Carol Donovan said it best in her press statement today:
“Suspicion and fear don’t make us safe. Keep making and building, Ahmed.”
Finally, as a palate-cleanser, I encourage everyone to check out Ahmed’s official Twitter page to see all of the heartening responses he’s gotten from across the Internet. (He’s been invited to the White House! And Facebook! And MIT! And he got a scholarship Space Camp!) This is how creativity and ingenuity should be rewarded, and it shouldn’t take an arrest gone viral to get it there.