Josh Lehrer: Scientific, academic progress, not only minorities, is under attack

Case Western Reserve United

Adjectives such as abhorrent, appalling or disgraceful fail to give an accurate portrayal of what happened last week to Ahmed Mohamed.

If by some miracle, you were too busy studying this past week to see this news story break, I’ll give you the lowdown. Mohamed is a ninth grade male student who was attending MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas. He brought a clock that he had disassembled, tinkered with and then reassembled using a pencil case over the weekend into school on Monday because he was excited to show his teachers of his work, all while wearing a NASA T-shirt.

Rather than being met with praise and nurturance, he was removed from class by the principal and interrogated by five police officers under the suspicion that the device was in fact a bomb after his English teacher had reported it.

What ensued was what has made his story so sad and revealing. He was handcuffed and arrested by the officers and then taken to a juvenile detention center for fingerprinting, all because the officers felt Mohamed was being “being passive aggressive” in his responses to their inquiries and did not have a “reasonable answer” to the questions related to the device.

He was initially detained under a Class A misdemeanor of possessing a fake bomb. Not until after this took place were Mohamed’s parents notified and told to pick up their child at the facility where he was being held. Furthermore he was suspended from the school and there remained the possibility that he would be criminally charged until later into that week.

What happened was immoral and unlawful, as so many “standard procedures” that the school officials and law enforcers are required to follow were violated. If his name did not contain anything that could associate him with a particular religion and culture—that is, Islam—it is very difficult time to believe this would have transpired.

The rally of support that immediately followed this horrible incident was indeed commendable. I only hope that all of the positive backing from leaders like President Obama, Facebook and its founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter, Google, MIT and others will serve to continue to inspire him.

I could go on a diatribe about the lawfulness and constitutionality of it all, but why bother? The fact of the matter is that a young Muslim boy in Texas who epitomized the nature of scientific curiosity was subjected to punishment and maltreatment in a system that was designed to protect and even encourage him. Instead, it failed to do so, and moreover probably dispirited him and his love of discovering the natural world around him. Ahmed Mohamed experienced nothing short of clear xenophobia and Islamophobia for trying to demonstrate to people who initially motivated him of his unique abilities and adoration of scientific innovation.

As Case Western Reserve University students, we all have a duty to feel disheartened by such an incident. Our university has played instrumental roles in the advancement of knowledge. We are a school that has been ranked among the geekiest and among the best of America’s universities for contributing to the public good. I need not cite data in order to express the pride and joy we supposedly have for attending such a pioneering research institution of higher learning.

I call on you, as not only CWRU students, but as future leaders of our communities, to do your utmost to inspire the future generations to fall in love with the sciences and the beauties of learning. It is our obligation to go above and beyond this too, by dispelling and dejecting entrenched stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory practices against minority groups who have the same potential as all of us to impact our respective fields of study.

I want leave you all with a profound message from Mohamed himself after all these events.

“Go for it… Don’t let people change who you are.”

I stand with Ahmed.

Josh was immediately enraged by this incident when he first heard of it. He waited until the next week to write about it in the hope of coming off as both informative and evocative. He is a fourth-year student.