Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Texas schoolboy handcuffed for bringing homemade clock to school

A 14 year old Muslim boy in Irving, Texas was put in cuffs for bringing a homemade clock to school to show off to his teacher. Ahmed Mohamed showed his new creation to his English teacher but was pulled out of school in cuffs at 3 p.m after administrators commented that "it looked like a bomb". The police claimed that they did not believe that Mohamed was creating the clock for fun of it and that it was reasonable for people to be concerned about it being a bomb. The principal, Dan Cummings, sent out a letter stating that the device was not dangerous and reassured that nobody was hurt. He however, goes on in the letter to talk about how students should be careful on bringing prohibited items to school. The actions by the school has lead a backlash against them about how young people in this country should not be shut down from innovating with electronics. Many are also questioning whether or not the school would go this far to detain Mohamed if he were not Muslim. The backlash also included a creation of the new hashtag of #IStandWithAmed. This is not the first time that this city has been in trouble for Islamophobia, since the mayor, Beth Van Buyne, has accused Muslim leaders for trying to create Sharia law in Irving, Texas and has taken measures to ensure that the paranoia does not come true. Although Mohamed has not been arrested and has been let go, he is still suspended from class for 3 days. In response he has vowed to never bring an invention to school again and plans to transfer schools. His father commented "This is not America. That is not us". This story has inspired a White House invitation from the president himself on Twitter, an invitation on Facebook from Mark Zuckerberg, and an internship offer from Twitter. This obviously leads to a bigger question on relations today with Muslim Americans. Only 27% of Americans have a favorable view of Muslims and hate crimes against Muslims have skyrocketed 5 times after 9/11 jumping from 20 actions of violence a year to 100-150 a year. Many GOP candidates will claim that the United States needs to protect itself domestically against Islamic terrorism despite the fact that 90% of domestic terrorism is caused by non-Muslim terrorists and more than 50% of domestic terrorism is caused by white national groups with anti-government ideologies.

Thoughts on US relations with Islam?

Sources:
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/sep/16/sudanse-american-boy-handcuffed-homemade-clock-school

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/17/us/texas-student-is-under-police-investigation-for-building-a-clock.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/02/11/anti-muslim-hate-crimes-are-still-five-times-more-common-today-than-before-911/

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/11/13-years-after-9-11-anti-muslim-bigotry-is-worse-than-ever.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/25/us/tally-of-attacks-in-us-challenges-perceptions-of-top-terror-threat.html

8 comments:

Adjon Tahiraj said...

Thank You for this report Steven. I definitely agree that there there has been a huge increase in hate crimes agains Muslims in the past years since 9/11, however I do not think that in this case it was anything related to ethnicity or religion. If you look at the picture of the clock he made, to someone that knows nothing about technology or science, and all they see is wires and circuits sticking out of a box, so fear closes in quickly about what it might be. And as stated by the police chief, when Ahmed was questioned about why he brought it to school, he kept replaying that it was "just a clock", without giving reason to as why he brought it to school. Link: http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/northwest-dallas-county/headlines/20150915-irving-ninth-grader-arrested-after-taking-homemade-clock-to-school.ece

I agree that Ahmed was doing nothing wrong by just wanting to show his teachers his capabilities. But nowadays, with all the things you hear about people getting shot and killed, you have to think before you bring something of that nature to school without letting anyone know beforehand, and you definitely want to comply with the police while being questioned about it. As I stated, I think anyone who would have brought the clock to his class would get the same reaction form his teacher that day. Ahmed is a smart kid, and he should not be discouraged form wanting to show his capabilities, I just think he should have mentioned it to his teacher beforehand to see if it was ok, since he knew that it wasn't just like any clock you see on a daily basis.

Nonetheless I do think there was an overreaction by the police to put him in handcuffs when bringing him in to the station. I think this part might have involved some racial profiling because you have clearly seen that the device is not a bomb by this point, so there is really no need to handcuff a child when he poses no threat. However I do not think the fact that the police was called in had anything to do with racial profiling, more-than with the safety of the kids based on what the clock was presumed to be.

Justin Chan said...

Thank you Steven for your original post. I am currently "on the fence" about this issue since one's religion has an effect on people's judgement of that person, yet at the same time, Adjon has good point that a homemade clock that looks like a bomb sensibly poses discussion about the potential danger, disregarding the implications of religion. I firmly believe that the religion card expanded this story to allow the public to make comments/relate to the way we view Muslims, and admittedly, it is true that only 27% of Americans view favorably of Muslims.

The question then becomes, to what extent can we explain this unfortunate, yet reasonably occurring incident to the fact that he is Muslim, and how does this incident contribute to the way we feel about Muslims today? Do you think that the way the incident played out was fair?

I believe that this incident has connections to our summer reading book Unspun. The emotional, big story of 9/11 and the effects of this unfortunate incident today makes people have a set mind of all Muslims. In addition, confirmation bias, which is something we have learned in Unspun as well and even in my AP psychology class, may be at play since 9/11 lays down the foundation of the "bad muslim image," and any additional occurrences just add to this belief. What are your responses and beliefs to the questions above?

Charles Cao said...

I slightly disagree with Adjon's point in that this was "not a case related to ethnicity or religion." As most of us know in our society today, anti-muslim sentiments are a very prevalent issue. I was first introduced to this topic with an interview that Ahmed did with msnbc's Chris Hayes.
Here's the link to the video http://www.msnbc.com/all-in/watch/ahmed-mohamed--i-felt-like-i-was-a-terrorist-526915139775
Basically in this short clip Ahmed talks about being brought into a classroom where he was immediately interrogated. When he made requests to contact his parents, the officers told him that "this is an interrogation." After an hour of telling them this was indeed just a clock, the officers still felt the need to handcuff and arrest him. Ahmed pointed out that when they initially brought him into the room, one of the officers made the comment "THATS who I thought it was."
In this particular case its pretty clear that the common stereotypes of muslims as "bomb makers" and "terrorists" most likely caused this police overreaction. Sadly these hasty generalizations against the muslim race are very common occurrences in our country today.

This was a great piece by Vox detailing some of the other events and the overall "islamophobia" in our country.
http://www.vox.com/2015/9/16/9336967/ahmed-mohamed-islamophobia


Sanjana Natraj said...

I find that is it quite clear that the reaction on the part of the school was promoting Islamophobia and was quite overblown. Instead of questioning Ahmed's reasons for bringing the clock to the school in the first place, we should be questioning how the school's reaction toward him was wrong and definitely had something to do with religion. As Mark Zuckerberg stated, we should be celebrating Ahmed's innovation and skill, not arresting him based on our own preconceived notions and the largely negative views on Muslims in society. It was clear that Ahmed did not have any bad intentions and simply wanted to share his inventions with others, and that type of sharing should not be punished.

Anti-muslim sentiments are extremely prevalent in society today, and this event is simply a reflection of our society and the general feelings toward Muslims. While I do agree that people should always be on alert for threats, especially in schools, people should not justify or excuse their feelings of Islamophobia and mask it with excuses, which is exactly what the school did. Combined with the media's extensive cover of ISIS and radical terrorist groups, this had fed American society with a largely negative view of all Muslims, creating an anti-Muslim climate that encourages Islamophobia. I agree with Charles's sentiments that this connects to a larger picture of Islamophobia that is embedded within society today.

This situation also brings up questions. Is there a limit to how far alert and cautious a school can be? To what extent is the school's reaction justified? Can an organization be too cautious? If we see this event as a reflection of American society, then are the prejudices ingrained a society partly justified too? I hope this event sheds light on the clear Islamophobia attitudes that are persistent throughout the world.

Olivia Fong said...

As for the legality of Ahmed's arrest, I do not believe that he committed an offense as defined by the Texas Hoax Bomb Penal Code. The law states that the person must knowingly possess a bomb with the intention to cause alarm as cited by Larry Boyd, the Irving police chief, in his press conference. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/17/us/texas-student-is-under-police-investigation-for-building-a-clock.html) Contrary to Boyd's statement, Ahmed did not possess a hoax bomb but a clock and he did not intend to cause "alarm" to anyone, he was simply trying to show his teacher his clock.

Answering one of Sanjana's question's above, I think that many Americans are blind to the various flaws in our culture and society, one of these being the prevalent existence of racism. Prejudices should never be justified, whether it is "ingrained" in society or not, but sadly people use excuse after excuse to do just that. Ahmed's arrest is another example of this. In a perfect world, there would be no hate, no racism, no prejudices but the fact is that this is far from a perfect world. In any case, the government and its institutions should not be utilizing prejudices against its citizens. It should be setting an example of equality and justice -- two principles that Americans have been fighting for for decades.

From an analytical point of things, should the public make judgments or assume facts without knowing what actually happened? We heard the police chief's side of the story, we heard Ahmed's side of the story but both stories are told from subjective views making them susceptible to spin. Should we being making conclusions even though our information can be filled with spin?

Caroline Mameesh said...

Let's just take a moment and hypothetically think: had Ahmed been white, and named Joey, would he have been handcuffed and treated in such a manner as he was? I think not.

I admit my personal sentiments, that naturally come with being 50% Middle-Eastern, may cloud my judgement here a bit, but I try and be as subjective as I can with issues regarding Islamophobia.

To answer Olivia's closing questions above, I think it is easy to draw some clear conclusions from the information we have been presented. We heard Ahmed's side of the story, we heard the chief's. There isn't too much more one would need, and, thus, conclusions (as surface-level as they may be) can be drawn.

This was a clear display of bias, unfair judgement, and was the result of America's constant perpetration of the Middle-Eastern "terrorist" stereotype.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes are five times more common than they were before 9/11 (Washington Post). That is an astonishing statistic, and one that is rather sad. 9/11 occurred fourteen years ago. It's unbelievable that anti-Muslim hate crimes occur at such a large rate, even after all this time has passed with just a couple widely-reported instances of terrorism.

Not all Muslims are terrorists, and while I think many Americans claim to realise that, instances like these provoked from ignorance, lack of understanding, and bias prove that many Americans still worry about Muslims.

And frankly, with the U.S.'s War on Terror, we can't expect Muslims to sit back and watch the attacks come their way. If we really expect to have a War on Terror, then it is going to be a war. There will be instances where the Middle-East will fight back, and it will be at rates far less than the U.S. does unto them. Ahmed was doing nothing of the sort, but this point is still one to consider.

Middle-Easterners may not even fight back for means of terrorism. They may fight back out of frustration and anger, as we are killing innocent civilians.

I openly admit that my opinion is clouded with personal feelings, and it is undoubtedly the unpopular one. However, I challenge you to think long and hard about the way America over-blows and perpetuates a fear of terrorism, and consequently of Muslims, in its people, and how instances such as Ahmed's affect your everyday Middle-Easterner, who can start to feel outcast in a society, built upon freedom and democracy, judging him or her on preconceived notions.

1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/02/11/anti-muslim-hate-crimes-are-still-five-times-more-common-today-than-before-911/

Monica Mai said...

I disagree with Adjon that this circumstance wasn't a case of racial profiling. Anti-Muslim sentiments are very prevalent today and very pervasive to the lives of Muslim people. Though, I do think that for a clearer sense of what actually happened, we should look into the school's history of any prejudice, especially the teacher.

I read this interesting post on social media (Personally, I think social media can occasionally be a good source for news and analysis), where it said that the teacher was either consciously or unconsciously trying to humiliate him. According to (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/09/16/they-thought-it-was-a-bomb-ahmed-mohamed-texas-9th-grader-arrested-after-bringing-a-home-built-clock-to-school/), the teacher that pulled him out "kept the clock, and during sixth period, Mohamed was pulled out of class by the principal and a police officer."

Basically, the social media post said that if the teacher actually thought it was a bomb, then she would've alerted authority right away and the school would've evacuated the students to keep them safe... if they really thought it was a bomb. It makes sense though. Why would the teacher just confiscate the clock if she thought it was a bomb? That doesn't seem like it would keep the students safe either. I thought this was interesting because her actions were different than her supposed intent.

Anyway, based on the US's history with Islamophobia, I think it's reasonable to say that Ahmed's arrest and consequent suspension is related to Anti-Muslim sentiments.

Rachael Howard said...

I feel like it was perfectly acceptable for the school to suspend him because the clock did not look like a "normal" clock, it had lots of wires and a timer, switches and was in a brief case (http://controversialtimes.com/news/14-year-old-arrested-for-making-homemade-clock-bringing-it-school-to-show-engineering-teacher/). I mean in middle school they told us that if you brought a plastic sword to school on Halloween because you were being a pirate or something that you would get suspended. Many schools have very strict rules about bringing "weapons" on to school property. However the tricky part is deciphering what is and what is not a weapon. I for one don't think that a plastic sword is not a weapon but in the eyes of the school administration it is. I think that with all the public shootings and the 9/11 fears that have happened within the past decade or so that people in general are extremely sensitive and fearful thus schools are cracking down and over reacting/ making quick assumptions about things too quickly. I for one think that the school did not act unjustly because everyone knows that schools over react to stupid things such as a plastic sword on Halloween but I do think that schools as a whole need to reevaluate their definition of a "weapon". I presume that this school had a student handbook or something of the sort where it states their rules on bringing "weapons" to school, however if they did not have a student handbook or something in which the rules were given and made aware to the students in a written form then I believe that the school had no right to suspend him and should probably give him a formal apology. Also I think the main reason this whole thing got so much attention was because he was Muslim and lives in Texas. I think if this happened to a white child in Texas there would be little to no media attention to it. I think him living in Texas has a lot to do with this article becoming so popular because most people think of Texas as a racist state because it is in the south (not saying this is true but in my opinion I think that most people think of Texas as overall less accepting/open minded as the bay area because of its past (slavery)).
On another note, this kid has been given thousands of thousands of dollars worth of products from Microsoft (http://microsoft-news.com/ahmed-mohamed-gets-surface-pro-3-and-more-goodies-from-microsoft-ceo/). I have even heard that he has been given a 3D printer and other companies have also given him stuff and opportunities as mentioned in the blog, however I could not find articles on the 3D printer and the other companies. I think the overwhelming media attention to this is a little much considering the school/police didn't even press charges, however I am hopeful that school administrations everywhere will learn to be a little more relaxed with what they consider to be weapons.