Arrest of clock-making kid a sign of anti-Muslim times

September 18, 2015
Police arrest 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed for making a clock.

There are sprawling industries and self-proclaimed career “terrorism experts” in the US that profit greatly by deliberately exaggerating the threat of terrorism and keeping Americans in a state of abject fear of “radical Islam”.

All sorts of polemicists build their public platforms by demonising Muslims and scoffing at concerns over “Islamophobia”. The most toxic ones insist that such a thing does not even exist, even as the mere presence of mosques is opposed across the country and are physically attacked.

The US government just formally renewed the “State of Emergency” it declared in the aftermath of 9/11 for the 14th time since that attack occurred, ensuring that the country remains in a state of permanent, endless war and subjected to powers that are still classified as “extraordinary” even though they have become entirely normalised.

As a result of all of this, a minority group of close to 3 million people is routinely targeted with bigotry and legal persecution in the Home of the Free, while fear and hysteria reign supreme in the Land of the Brave.

What happened in Irving, Texas, on September 15 to a 14-year-old Muslim high school student is far from the worst instance, but it is highly illustrative of the rotten fruit of this climate of cultivated fear and demonisation.

The September 15 Dallas Morning News reported “Ahmed Mohamed — who makes his own radios and repairs his own go-kart — hoped to impress his teachers when he brought a homemade clock to MacArthur High,” but “instead, the school phoned police.”

Despite insisting that he made the clock to impress his engineering teacher, consistent with his long-time interest in “inventing stuff”, Mohamed was arrested by the police and led out of school with his hands cuffed behind him. When he was brought into the room to be questioned by the four police officers who had been dispatched to the school, one of them — who had never previously seen him — said: “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.”

As a result, he “felt suddenly conscious of his brown skin and his name — one of the most common in the Muslim religion.”

After finding no evidence that this was anything more than a clock or any indication of any kind that the talented and inventive student built it as anything other than a school project, police did not charge him.

Following a worldwide outpouring of solidarity on social media, Mohamed has received invitations to demonstrate his skills at inventing from US President Barack Obama, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

However, he received a three-day suspension from school and, the BBC reported on September 16, “police spokesman James McLellan said that, throughout the interview, Ahmed had maintained that he built only a clock, but said the boy was unable to give a ‘broader explanation’ as to what it would be used for”.

The behaviour here is nothing short of demented. And it is easy to mock, which in turn has the effect of belittling it and casting it as some sort of bizarre aberration. But it is not that. It is the opposite of aberrational. It is the natural, inevitable by-product of the culture of fear and demonisation that has festered and been continuously inflamed for many years. The circumstances that led to this are systemic and cultural, not aberrational.

The mayor of Irving, Beth Van Duyne, became a beloved national hero to America’s anti-Muslim fanatics when, in February, she seized on a fraudulent online chain letter, which claimed that area imams had created a special court based on sharia. In response, Mayor Van Duyne posted a Facebook rant in which she vowed to “fight with every fibre of my being” the nonexistent “sharia court”.

One anti-Muslim website gushed that Irving “is being called ‘ground zero’ in the battle to prevent Islamic law from gaining a foothold, no matter how small, in the US legal system” and hailed her as “the mayor who stood up to the Muslim Brotherhood”.

That led to support for a bill introduced in the Texas State Legislature banning the use of foreign law, which its sponsor made clear was targeted at least in part at these “sharia courts”. The Irving City Council went out of its way to enact a resolution supporting the state bill. It was enacted in June. City Council member William “Bill” Mahone “denounced the vote and urged Irving to ‘embrace the Muslims’” — then lost his seat in the city election “by a wide margin”, the May 10 Dallas Morning News reported.

I have spoken to Muslim groups in Irving and there is a small but thriving community there, which in turn has produced intense anti-Muslim animus.

Just like Ahmed’s arrest, Irving is not aberrational but representative of the US broadly. The US just a few years ago went into a shameful fit of mass hysteria over a proposed Islamic community centre near Ground Zero — as though Muslims generally were guilty of that attack — but since then, in obscurity, proposals for ordinary mosques have faced all sorts of opposition, or once they do exist, physical menacing and violence.

A 2014 Pew Poll found that Americans feel more negatively toward Muslims than any other religious group in the country.

There are all sorts of obvious, extreme harms that come from being a nation at permanent war. Your country ends up killing huge numbers of innocent people all over the world. Vast resources are drained away from individuals and programs of social good into the pockets of weapons manufacturers. Core freedoms are inexorably and inevitably eroded in its name. The groups being targeted are marginalised and demonised to maximise fear levels and tolerance for violence.

But perhaps the worst of all harms is how endless war degrades the culture and populace of the country that perpetrates it. You cannot have a government that has spent decades waging various forms of war against predominantly Muslim countries — bombing seven of them in the past six years alone — and then act surprised when a Muslim 14-year-old triggers vindictive fear and persecution because he makes a clock for school.

That is no more surprising than watching carrots sprout after you plant carrot seeds in fertile ground and then carefully water them. It’s natural and inevitable, not surprising or at all difficult to understand.

[Adapted from The Intercept.]

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