Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Ahmed Mohamed suing for $15m is the most American thing he could do

It has been almost three months since the racist and Islamophobic incident concerning 14 years of age Ahmed Mohamed and MacArthur High School. Ahmed was accused of building a bomb in the guise of a clock [1]. To date, the City of Irving and the Irving Independent School District are yet to issue an apology and the Mohamed family is set to relocate to Qatar for better opportunities. Legal action is being taken and the Mohamed family has asked for $10 million from the City of Irving, $5 million from the Irving Independent School District and an apology for damages [2].

What is surprising (or not) is the amount of (overt and covert) racists and Islamophobes, of whom some were fully in support of Ahmed's plight, now seem to be creeping out of the woodwork and crying "opportunism" and "ingratitude" as he got his “15 minutes of coverage, didn’t he?”

American civilisation at its finest

Perhaps these bigots forget that the suing culture is strong, effective and may well work as an effective deterrent for future instances such as these. Especially judging that the City of Irving, MacArthur High School as well as police authorities have a history of deeply entrenched racism and Islamophobia [3] [4] [5]. After all, if anything is evident from history, the present treatment - and until White supremacist power structures are overthrown -, the future for ethnic and religious minorities, particularly with Black and Muslim Americans, lives, rights and dignity are not valued or afforded. Money, however, as we are often reminded is.

The "American dream" or as some would argue, the American nightmare, is to raise capital, to spend capital and to dream capital. America is the face of capital. Therefore, one of the most American things Ahmed Mohamed could do is sue the City of Irving and the Irving Independent School District. Figuratively speaking, you hit racists where it hurts and seeing as the famous Michael Jackson song "they don't care about us" is as relevant today as it was when it was released, that would be their pockets. It seems like Ahmed Mohamed and his family are once again holding up a mirror to America and the world, and if bigots do not like what they see, the onus is not on Ahmed and his family, it is on them.


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The issues behind Ahmed Muhamed’s arrest extend far further than a clock

It came as no surprise to me when the news broke that a 14-year-old American schoolboy of Sudanese descent [1] had been arrested for bringing a time-measuring device that he had built to school.

Perhaps because I am a person of colour, that also happens to be Muslim, and I’ve spent years trying to promote science from non-European civilisations, this turn of events seemed inevitable.

My work involves challenging assumptions that place Europe at the centre of scientific progress; whilst this seems simple, it is in fact a radical break from the norm.

Centuries of explorations made by non-European civilisations are starkly absent from our academia, history books and mainstream media, and it’s children like Ahmed who are now paying the price. Had our academia, history books and mainstream media been inclusive – balanced and with a longer view of history – it wouldn’t be quite so easy to believe that boys named Ahmed are only capable of making bombs. If it were better known that this is a child whose heritage boasts a long tradition of learning and scholarship that nurtured noteworthy personalities such as Idris Alooma, renowned for being a pioneering 16th century king who patronised scholarship then perhaps then perhaps a clock wouldn’t have looked so jarring in his adolescent hands [2]. After all, many Muslim scholars such as Al-Jazari excelled in producing time pieces, in particular water clocks [3], some historians even assert that it was Ibn Yunus who discovered the pendulum [4].

The problem we are faced with is summed up clearly by the images below, one showing a white British child applauded for building a nuclear fusion reactor, and the other showing Texas schoolboy Mohamed arrested for building a clock.

Aside from the lack of legal due course, the fact that as a minor Ahmed was refused a parent or guardian to attend his interrogation, along with the blatant racial and religious stereotyping, how and when did it become acceptable to view such a large amount of people with fear and/or contempt?
If people truly say that #IStandWithAhmed, they should start campaigning for more balanced and inclusive education systems that celebrate diversity in their curriculums, teacher training, resources, material and content. Dubious initiatives to ‘prevent violent extremism’ serve only to ‘other’ children like Ahmed. Rather it would be far more impactful to build need education systems that recognise all civilisations’ contributions to the sciences, rather than painting science as anathema to societies of the Global South. It is only then that children from minority backgrounds will stop being perceived as dangerous anomalies when they show innovation and ingenuity.
[3] Al-Jazari, Ibn Al-Razzaz. The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices. Translated by Donald R. Hill. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1974.
[4] Carlisle, Rodney. Inventions and Inventors. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2004.