A joint piece written with my dear friend and brother Tawhid Rahman, who is the new father of who will surely be the Bangladeshi-Messi™ (all interested clubs can get in contact with us on a strictly first)
Remember this date: September 15, 2015. That was the day America truly jumped the shark on the longest-running reality show: ISLAMOPHOBIA GONE WILD!!...with the arrest of 14 year old high school freshman Ahmed Mohamed for bringing a homemade clock aka for the high crime of being Smart-While-Black/Muslim/Foreign.
Who's Scripting This Stuff?
My first inclination to this story was to just chalk it up to another case of "GODDAMNIT TEXAS!"Namely because all the so-called "authority figures" in this story just seemed like complete clowns. Just check out these Sherlock Holmesian greatest hits:
"She was like, it looks like a bomb," he said. "I told her, 'It doesn't look like a bomb to me.'" The teacher kept the clock
" He said an officer he'd never seen before leaned back in his chair and remarked: 'Yup. That's who I thought it was.'
"He said, 'It looks like a movie bomb to me.''
And my personal favorite:
"He just wants to invent good things for mankind," said Ahmed's father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, who immigrated from Sudan and occasionally returns there to run for president." (Note: OH MY GOD #PapaMohamedIsATotalBOSS #OmaralBashirYouAintShitBrah )
If all of this didn't actually target an innocent kid and humiliate him in front of all of his peers, it would be a wacky hi-jinks worthy of a rejected Seinfeld or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode right?
Beyond Muslim Jimmy Neutron: Troubling Implications
But at second glance, some deeper implications of this fiasco begin to come into focus-each begging many questions. The most obvious being: Why would such an egregious example of profiling based on barely-disguised xenophobic, racial and religious animus be taking place at a school? Are schools not supposed to be institutions of education and learning, complete with a welcoming atmosphere for all in the hopes of serving as a beacon of light for the next generation? If Ahmed had such a gift and passion for designing and building electronics, in a country where STEM expertise is both desperately needed and all the rage, why was the school unable to nurture these obvious talents?
On a more fundamental level specific to this case: If there was a genuine concern of the device posing any risk to the safety of the students, why did the teacher, administrators and police keep this supposedly dangerous device (remember: Allegedly they believed it was a literal ticking time bomb!) in the building for so long? Why was Ahmed and the device not isolated? Why would the school not be evacuated as is rouintely the case for even phoned-in bomb threats? How was the manner in which young Ahmed was investigated supposed to protect anyone at all from these perceived threats; from their imagined worst fears?
Finally: Would you really entrust such authority figures with educating your children and keeping the peace in your community?
Without prejudicing the facts of this case, it nevertheless becomes readily apparent that something doesn't quite add up and asks troubling questions of our society at large.
Beyond Islamophobia: Tackling Social and Institutional Marginalization
We also learned that while it may be 2015, Islamophobia is very much in-vogue. This episode has demonstrated without a shadow of a doubt that Islamophobia will remain an extremely potent force in the 21st Century. Just in case the concerted 24-hour news media vitriol, burning mosques, hate speech by elected officials at virtually every level of government as well as civil society (who are surely just trying to outdo each other at this point), pervasive culture of dread and fear, and the staggering number and range of hate crimes including cold-blooded murder wasn't enough to convince you of course. It wasn't too long ago that an angry mob of armed "protesters" decided to set up shop right outside of an Arizona mosque to abuse and terrify innocent families and chilrden-scenes one could easily have mistaken as coverage of hatred and strife in some faraway conflict-ridden country awash in weapons.
Yes Islamophobia is alive and kicking-but so is a veritable laundry-list of forces encompassing institutionalized marginalization:
Disparate Policing and Institutional Racism
Ahmed's shocking treatment revealed to the world the stunning contradictions and shocking realities of everyday life in our treasured melting pot of a nation and "global village" of a world. We live in a country where five police officers were on standby to arrest little Ahmed and take him away in handcuffs in front of all of his peers, but two police officers casually picked up a mass-murdering terrorist and were only too happy to buy him a Burger King meal. A world where an immigrant nonChristian nonWhite Jimmy Neutron finds his science project treated as a weapon of mass destruction, but a white Canadian is allowed to go through airport security with his pipe bomb and fly on the plane.
We live in a society where minority youth who dare to go paintballing can be spied onand even indicted for terrorism, while white youth are free to purchase a veritable arsenal of military-grade weaponry, ammunition, and equipment. A nation where police officers casually confront armed "protesters" in the same vicinity as our President, but will routinely use lethal force against unarmed black youth with near-total impunity. "Disparate impact" may be nigh-impossible to prove in a court of law, but on a societal level can there really remain any doubt about differential police practices, institutional racism, and societal attitudes?
Failing Public School Standards and Priorities
In addition to the grossly incompetent (and clearly bored) police officers, the callousness of the treatment by Ahmed's school teachers and administrators bared before the world the flaws of our once-vaunted public education system. We live in a nation where we don't properly invest in teachers, school materials, infrastructure and actual teaching skills-yet will pour money into the failing standardized testing industry. We will tolerate federal, state, local and municipal governments which don't invest in our neighborhoods and communities, but will go full-throlle on superficial "security" measures and policies which ultimately just target and alienate young students and kids from minority communities. We worry far too much about what our children are wearing in class or the "appropriateness" of their hairstyles (often with strong racial-cultural biases at play), and not nearly enough about what they are learning and actually retaining. Not nearly enough about whether their education is actually equipping them with useful skills, or about whether they will have a legitimately fair, merit-based opportunity to access affordable higher education-or about whether the once-famed American Dream is still attainable for them.
What happened to Ahmed is as much a demonstration of the potent force of Islamophobia as it is an issue of religious bigotry, general racism, police militarization, the school-to-prison pipeline, failing public school standards, and the even anti-science and anti-intellectual attitudes capable of turning the overwhelming majority respected scientists into scheming self-interested villains and disgraced quacks into heroes.
The Aftermath: Lessons to be Learned
As a first-generation immigrant and Muslim raised in America who has experienced his fair share of naked Islamophobia, what lessons can be learned from this incident for someone who can relate to some of the sentiments of Ahmed? By going back to consult the source of inspiration for all Muslims, we can see what the Quran has to say about troubling situations like this:
"We willed to show favor to those who were oppressed on earth, and to turn them into leaders, and make them the inheritors."-Surah Al Qasas. 28:5
We can begin to see that although the history of this great country and even the modern-day portrait of our society is tarnished by brutal oppression and marginalization of minority groups, the best solution for us, being among those marginalized, is to no longer settle for being a "minority." Early pioneers of Islam were proactive in not just championing social work, but being pioneers for sweeping social reforms, especially fighting for the rights of women, orphans, and the impoverished underclasses who would otherwise trampled over by their societies. At a time when this vulnerable community was constantly ridiculed, marginalized, and ruthlessly persecuted by their peers to the point of even being tortured and killed, they faced adversity by serving their communities until they were integral parts of them and their voices were bound to be heard. When humanity as a whole has made massive strides in development of technology, education, medicine, law, and we have so many resources at our disposal, what excuse do we have not to actively engage our society to fight for the rights of those oppressed today?
The only way marginalized communities and their allies have an actual chance to be heard-and to actually usher in tangible institutional and social change-is to band together. We must fully appreciate and embrace the commonalities in our shared struggles. The groundwork and momentum for this is already there, but we must continue to sustain this impetus. To liberally (ha) adapt a famous adage from the Honorable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:
We must learn to adapt co-opt all of our noble causes together as brothers, or they will perish together as fools.
Dedicated to young Ahmed. You are amazingly talented masha'Allah, and the sky is the limit little bro: A (way) better high school, the college of your choice, a job with Google, Facebook, Twitter, the White House...your pick! Maybe you can even fulfill your awesome father's dream and be the next democratically elected President of Sudan (and simultaneously accomplish what all of those Darfur campaigns tragically failed to accomplish-to rally the international community to finally rid Sudan of its thoroughly ruthless and thoroughly indicted dictator...hey an aspiring human rights lawyer can dream right? #NoPressureOfCourse :-)
Do YOU want to counter the unholy alliance of Islamophobia-xenophobia-racism-bigotry? Join #TheSalaamGames campaign and help show to the world the bottomless creativity, athleticism, and humanitarianism of the Middle East and the greater Muslim World. Together we can defeat the haters!!..and help needy people in the process