Children should be creative, but maybe not if their name is Mohammed

Muslim teen gets arrested and suspended after bringing a clock to school; his father asserts Islamophobia for the reasoning behind drastic measures taken by the school and police.

Photo by Bryan Woolston (DailyMail).

Ahmed Mohammed is a bright and creative fourteen-year old high school student in Irving, TX.  Active in robotics and other science clubs, Ahmed dreams of going to MIT to study engineering.  He enjoys repairing broken electronics around the house, and even builds his own gadgets.  It was one of these homemade gadgets, a clock made from a pencil case, which recently got Ahmed arrested and suspended.

Ahmed took the clock to school on Monday, September 14, 2015, to show his engineering teacher.  Later that day, another teacher saw the clock and thought it looked like a bomb.  Ahmed was removed from class and subjected to questioning from the police.  He was asked repeatedly about the nature of the clock, and he repeatedly told officials it was just a clock.  Unsatisfied with this answer, Ahmed was arrested and taken into custody on suspicion of possessing a hoax bomb.  Texas law specifically states that a person who commits a hoax bomb offense is one who “knowingly manufactures, sells, purchases, transports, or possesses a hoax bomb with intent to use” it or intentionally causes alarm or reaction.  Thus, in order for Ahmed to be “guilty” of this crime, he would have to have intent to bring a clock to school and represent it as a hoax bomb.

Ahmed was ultimately released hours later after officers determined that the device was not dangerous and that he did not intend to create alarm.  Despite no criminal charges, Ahmed was suspended from school for three days.

Many people on social media, including Ahmed’s father, claim that this is yet another example of the growing trend of “Islamophobia” in the United States.

In his press release, Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd said the situation evolved out of an abundance of caution and a concern for safety.  He stated his agency has an outstanding relationship with the Muslim community, but many people are questioning whether the situation would have gone as far as it did if Ahmed did not have an ethnic name or if his skin color was different.  However, many people on social media, including Ahmed’s father, claim that this is yet another example of the growing trend of “Islamophobia” in the United States.

Islamophobia is defined as “an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.”

From where does this fear driving Islamophobia come?  Certainly the first thought that comes to most Americans’ minds is the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  However, the fuel for the fire of Islamophobia did not stop there.  The years subsequent to 9/11 brought stories and images of explosions, destruction, beheadings, kidnappings, and countless other attrocities, all committed in the name of Islam.  One can hardly turn on a news program today and not see a story about ISIS, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, the Taliban, and other Islamic-rooted terrorist organizations.  Today, the word “Islam” is inescapably linked to the word “terrorism”.  This can make it difficult to argue the unreasonableness of some people to conclude that Muslims are categorically violent and do not belong in America.

In 2011, there were over 1.6 billion Muslims in the world (1 in 5 people, or roughly 22 percent of the 2011 world population).  Of these, nearly six million were in North America.  Brigitte Gabriel, a controversial anti-Islamic extremist activist for ACT! For America, speculated earlier this year that roughly 15-25 percent (approximately 180-300 million people) of the Muslim population is radicalized.  “Radical Muslims” is a term used to describe terrorists acting in the name of Islam.  However, according to a January 2015 study conducted by the RAND Corporation, radical Muslims make up a mere 1% of the Muslim population.

This kind of thinking has led to an increase in hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims in the United States.  Hate crimes such as those suffered by Tigani Mohamoud, an Iowa citizen fell victim to buglaries, thefts, and vandalisms.  Others, such as Zaid Naim of Houston, TX, suffered much worse fates.  When Zaid got out of his car after being in an accident this past June, the other driver told him to “Go back to Islam!” and then shot Zaid in the head.  A similar crime occurred in the college town of Chapel Hill, N.C. earlier this year when Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were cold-bloodedly murdered by Craig Stephen Hicks.  Hicks, who many believe was at least partially motivated by anti-Islamic sentiments, shot all three victims in the head while they were in their own home.

There is a phrase . . .“not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”.  Are they?

Are such anti-Islamic sentiments towards citizens like those reactions to teen Ahmed’s clock justified?  Alia Salem of the Council on American-Islamic Relationsthere stated “I think this wouldn’t even be a question if his name wasn’t Ahmed Mohamed.”  There is a phrase that has been used many times, including from Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade,  which asserts “not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”.  Are they?

A study of the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1980-2005 showed that only 6% of the acts were committed by Islamic extremists.  Of the remaining acts committed, the percentages were: 42% Latino, 24% extreme Left-wing groups, 7% Jewish extremists, 5% Communist, and 16% other.  There have been over 300 American deaths from political violence and mass shootings since 9/11 yet only 33 of these deaths were at the hands of a Muslim-American.  Meanwhile over 180,000 Americans have been murdered for reasons unrelated to terrorism during this same period of time.  The sample of Muslim-Americans turning to terrorism is negligably small.  Realistcally, Americans are at least six times to several thousands of times more likely to die from hot weather, accidental electrocution, choking, drowning, a car accident, cancer, a heart attack, just about anything else other than a terrorist attack.

Ahmed’s father stated “”My son’s name is Mohamed—people just think Muslims are terrorists but we are peaceful, we are not that way.” 

Unfortunately, America’s apparent fear of Islam has led us to label an entire group of people as violent simply because of the actions and rhetoric of an extremely dark but very limited sampling of that population.  When asked if Islam promotes violence, Dr. Aslan, an internationally acclaimed author and scholar of religion, stated that Islam promotes neither violence nor peace.  He said it is merely a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it.  “If you are a violent person, then your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent… People are violent or peaceful, and that depends on their politics, their social world, the way that they see their communities, and the way that they see themselves.”

Similarly, Ahmed’s father stated “”My son’s name is Mohamed—people just think Muslims are terrorists but we are peaceful, we are not that way.”  Even though all charges were dropped, Ahmed still faced suspicion, and the school has yet to apologize for their abrupt reaction.  Ahmed’s father has since met with attorneys to discuss a possible lawsuit against the Irving Independent School District.

More recently, school teachers and students of the school district state that the school’s response to Ahmed’s conduct was not an overreaction.  Many have come forward to say that in middle school, Ahmed has been disciplined several times, including weeks of suspensions.   However, equally many have stated that his early suspensions arose from incidents that were blown out of proportion.  Despite what may become of the possible lawsuit, Ahmed’s father has pulled him out of the Irving district completely.

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About Clint Davis, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus (17 Articles)
Clint Davis is a 2017 Campbell Law graduate and served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Campbell Law Observer for the 2016-2017 academic year. Before law school, Clint served as a police officer for seven and a half years in Williamston, N.C. He graduated from the University of Mount Olive in the Spring of 2013 with a degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology. During his time at Campbell, Clint studied abroad at the University of Cambridge (UK) with a focus on the law of the European Union and comparative data privacy. He worked for the Honorable Wanda G. Bryant at the North Carolina Court of Appeals, the Honorable Seth Edwards at the Martin County District Attorney's Office, the Honorable Susan Doyle at the Johnston County District Attorney's Office, and the Honorable Lorrin Freeman at the Wake County District Attorney's Office. Clint also competed on Campbell's National Moot Court Team and served as an associate justice for the Campbell Law Honor Court.
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