How Ahmed Mohammed, a student in Texas, won the internet

Opinion piece originally published with LinkedIn

Clock

It was bad enough that a teacher in Irving, Texas wrongly suspected her 14-year old student, Ahmed Mohamed, for being a terrorist. Despite knowing he made the electronic clock for a school project, his teachers and school officials called the police and had him arrested.

What made it worse was that one of the arresting officers confirmed the anti-Muslim bias underlying Mohamed’s arrest. When the boy walked into the room, a police officer remarked: “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.” 

The young boy explained that this remark made him conscious of his brown skin and his name. The entire ordeal, he said, made him feel like he wasn’t human.

As a Sikh American who keeps a turban and beard, I empathize with this feeling. Every time I pass through airport security, I am racially profiled and sent for additional screening. More than once, I’ve been pulled over by a police officer who wants to do a “random background check” on me – even though I was in the passenger seat. I am often treated as a second-class citizen, both my own government and fellow citizens, because of the way I look.

Americans of all backgrounds, including me, recognized the injustice against Ahmed Mohamed – simply because of his Muslim identity – and rallied around him yesterday to their support and solidarity. Twitter users created a hashtag campaign — #IStandWithAhmed — that had nearly 400,000 tweets worldwide.

One of my tweets went viral, and I’m glad it did. I think it means a lot to have someone who is not Muslim speak out against discrimination based on Islamophobia. Furthermore, Muslim Americans showed solidarity in responding to the brutal hate crime against a Sikh father of two earlier this week. I felt I had to show support for Ahmed Mohamed because my faith has taught me to stand up against bigotry and injustice of any kind.

The outpouring of support included tweets from prominent techies, including Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Marc Andreessen (Andreessen Horowitz), and Aaron Levie (Box). Each of them extended a warm invitation for Ahmed Mohamed to visit and encouraged him to continue making clocks and to continue pursuing his dream.

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