Institutional Islamophobia shamefully threatens students

Fourteen years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, America continues to perpetuate the discrimination and fear-mongering of Muslims. Islamophobia and unjust violence against Muslims can even violate the rights of children. Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old high school freshman from Irving, Texas, was arrested in school and accused by police of building a “hoax bomb.” Mohamed actually built a homemade clock and intended to show his engineering teacher his impressive work. It was apparently well known in the school that Mohamed was a student interested in creating inventions and who wanted to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the future.

Teachers at the school immediately saw a Muslim boy with a homemade clock as a threat, ostensibly as a result of profiling. Teachers who are supposed to encourage and support students completely failed at the hand of their dangerous internalized biases.

It is incredibly shameful that creative and smart children like Mohamed are being discouraged from scientific and engineering fields early on in their lives because of America’s misunderstanding and fear of Muslims. Students like Mohamed need to be supported, understood and protected by their teachers.

It is unacceptable that Islamophobia is so ingrained in our law enforcement that when seeing a Muslim child was the suspect, a police officer said, “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.”

Fortunately, Mohamed’s story became viral for positive reasons. Overwhelming support for Mohamed flooded social media as people shared the iconic photo of his arrest and spread the hashtag #IStandWithMohamed.

President Barack Obama—whose middle name “Hussein” was bait for many Islamophobic micro-aggressions by politicians and the media over the years despite him not even being Muslim—tweeted in support of Mohamed: “Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.”

The majority of responses to this event have been supportive and positive. It seems hopeful that Islamophobic violence—at least against children—may be prevented in the future. But we cannot just address community paradigms about Islamophobia; we need to address the problem in our law enforcement.

American citizens may cry out against injustice against Muslim children as much as they want, but if we fail to acknowledge the serious prejudices and biases in America’s law enforcement, we might as well not be crying out at all.