Written by Fiona Longmuir

In The News

Standing with Ahmed

A bright teenage Muslim boy was arrested and suspended in Texas for making a clock and bringing it into school. Fiona Longmuir joins President Obama in standing shoulder to shoulder with Ahmed, and she doesn’t think we should be standing for this kind of shit anymore.

Ahmed handcuffed

Photo: @OfficalPrajwol on behalf of Ahmed’s sister.

This week, in News So Horrifyingly Racist, It Makes Me Want To Cry, a 14-year-old boy was arrested in Texas for building a clock and bringing it into school to show his teacher. This, by any standard, is a completely brilliant thing for a 14-year-old to be doing. When I was 14, I spent most of my time trying to choose a suitably mysterious song lyric to put in my MSN name. But there was a glaring problem that probably never crossed the boy’s mind. His name was Ahmed.

His teacher, who presumably attended the Inspector Clouseau school of explosive identification, took a look at the young Muslim boy standing in front of her with a digital clock face and decided that he presented a potential risk to the safety of the school. Ahmed was led away in handcuffs and fingerprinted.

After being questioned by police, they graciously decided not to press any charges. Perhaps because there were no charges to press. The school, instead of owning up to what is obviously a hugely embarrassing mistake, sent out a letter to the parents of all students, informing them that a suspicious device had been confiscated from a student and that they should use this opportunity to remind their children not to bring prohibited items to school.

Even leaving aside the racism element for a moment – and believe me, we will be coming back to it – what kind of school discourages its students from pursuing extracurricular learning and showing it off to their teachers?

But that question, of course, assumes that the clock would still have been considered a “prohibited item” in the hands of a white student.

Fortunately, in a gorgeous turn of events, a photograph of Ahmed in handcuffs, NASA T-shirt and all, began circulating on social media and he received a massive outpouring of support from the scientific community, including messages of support from Chris Hadfield, Mark Zuckerberg… oh, and this guy:

Most excellent.

But the thing is, despite the huge support he has received, Ahmed will probably never bring an invention to school again.

This story tells Ahmed and millions of other Muslim kids a very familiar tale: you’re not one of us; it is your responsibility to make us feel safe. Muslim people are forced to constantly police themselves, to put on a big smiley I’m-not-a-terrorist face and reassure us. The burden is on them to prove themselves, rather than on us to challenge our shitty racist assumptions.

This isn’t just about one kid. How many kids just give up and stop striving because it’s just easier to stay out of the spotlight? How many kids stop trying to be exceptional because they’re afraid it’ll be viewed as something sinister? How many deliberately slide under the radar because they’re so exhausted by everyone constantly viewing them through a racist lens?

One person clever enough to tell a clock from a bomb.

One person clever enough to tell a clock from a bomb.

Let’s not forget, even after it was established that Ahmed had been arrested for BUILDING A CLOCK, he was still suspended from school. He was made to feel like he had done something wrong by applying the knowledge that he loves outside of the confines of the classroom.

We need to stop. We need to teach all children, but especially those belonging to oppressed groups, that they deserve the space they occupy in the world, that the world is there for the taking if they want it. Because in this one action, spurred by one moment of Islamophobic presumption, a child was made afraid to do what he loved. And that is a totally unacceptable tragedy.


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Written by Fiona Longmuir

Fiona Longmuir is a professional storyteller, reluctant adult and aspiring funny girl. When not getting naked in tube stations and binge-watching inappropriate TV shows, she can be found scribbling at the Escapologist's Daughter.