On behalf of Ahmed Mohamed, clock maker, I just wanted to say “sorry.”
Why am I apologizing for him? Because I know that people with hurt feelings and in defensive positions tend not to listen. And what has happened to Ahmed is something that affects us all.
Apparently he was passive aggressive when questioned. I’d like to let all of the offended parties know that I’m sorry that he was upset at you and, in turn, upset you. You felt threatened. I understand that bit – at least I can empathize with it. But I want to try to help you understand why Ahmed was upset. To do that, I want to place you in his shoes, no matter how unlike him you think you are.
Imagine the unlikely scenario that you baked some amazing Calvin and Hobbes cupcakes and took them to Bill Watterson himself. You managed to find the reclusive artist only to be immediately remanded into custody on suspicion of attempted murder. Nobody had any real evidence other than saying your cupcakes looked like cyanide capsules to them. And, to add insult to injury, these people who have a certain standing and respect in society. Now lots of people who you never met began to accuse you of trying kill Mr. Watterson to ensure that he could never draw another cartoon again!
I – at least – would feel pretty angry at first that my intentions were so completely misrepresented. Now, perhaps, I wasn't raised as well as you, but I can’t see myself responding in a demure manner as I was questioned time and time again about my "malicious" intentions. After the second time of telling my captors that I was just trying to give Mr. Watterson some bomb-diggidy cupcakes, I would grow tired and passive aggressive, too. I’d probably use profanity and tell people that I wished horrible things happened to them. In other words, I would have acted a lot worse than Ahmed.
After a while, once (hopefully!) free again, I might realize that I was lucky that nobody pulled out a gun and shot me as a suspected threat, particularly in an open carry state like Texas. To add insult to injury, I’d feel terrible about myself and probably wouldn’t ever bake another batch of cupcakes again.
The former is a feeling I had when the police were called on me for taking photos in public, as a twenty-year-old photography student. The latter is a feeling I experienced as an eighth-grader (and clearly with the intelligence and maturity of an eighth grader). I designed – admittedly in the wake of Columbine – a cartoonish horror themed put-put golf park a la Scooby Doo or Count Chocula for my math class only to be sent to the office as a potential psychopath. But that’s me.
What about you? I do hope you haven’t felt what I felt and what Ahmed feels. It's a miserable feeling and I truly don't want people to have to experience it. I am sorry that Ahmed has had to feel it. But I hope you can empathize with that feeling.
I hope that you can at least imagine how you would feel and how angry you would get. Maybe the equivalent situation for you is something different. Perhaps you drew some tribute art for Bobby Jindal, made a lace collar for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or did something you thought was cool, creative, or innovative to get you noticed by someone you admired. But, instead of getting a thank you, you got threatened and told that you were a threat.
Could you perhaps forgive Ahmed, who is, after all, only a fourteen year-old-boy, for getting a little peeved? Maybe you can even find it in yourself to say sorry to him?
But that isn’t enough. We have to stand with Ahmed. Yes we – me and you. Fearing teenagers’ ingenuity is not a good place to be at as a society. Treating brown or Muslim people with constant suspicion is not likely to make for happy lives either of the suspected or the suspicious. Sometimes those fears turn unnecessarily fatal. Such prejudiced fears, and the resulting inappropriate actions, are damaging to everyone, not just the minority.
Ahmed has said that he will never take another one of his inventions to the school again. I hope that does not mean that he will stop to innovate. It is a loss that extends past Ahmed. While he won’t feel comfortable pursuing his interests in school, his fellow students will also be deprived of the ability to learn from him. Maybe another curious student at the school will feel the same way and crawl into her shell never to share either.
I can hear the “political correctness police” saying that we shouldn’t worry about a handful of kids and that there is a serious threat we are facing. They're right. This is a problem that is much more than Ahmed. In 2012, the FBI declared the foreign language capabilities in the Federal Government are a “National Security Crisis.” It is a deficit that affects languages such as Arabic and Farsi. Now, if folks are scared of ISIS and the Iranian nuclear capacity, then we should be doing our best to develop agents and potential agents rather than deterring them.
This encouragement/discouragement process starts young, even before the fourteen years that Ahmed is. When people are told by their peers, and worse, by people who represent the state, that they are not welcome in their own homes – the countries they were born and raised in – why are we surprised when they are reluctant to defend the people who are quick to discard them?
And, please, don’t let Donald Trump fool you; a large military will not be enough to protect the US. Intelligence will, and alienating people who could serve the country for the best is not likely a good way to recruit them into doing dangerous activities.
We need to really talk about what freedom means and remember that it is for everyone regardless of their race, language, religion, national origin. Failure to fight for those freedoms will hurt us all in the long run as prejudiced fears stunt the growth and betterment of society.
John F. Kennedy speaking of the need to remember that very basic democratic principle, saying in a 1963 speech, “I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”