#IStandWithAhmed, and so should Harker


Alex Wang

Alex Wang (10) wires up a breadboard in his computer architecture class. Ahmed’s plight has resonated with many similar “makers” around the world.

Nearly every day for four months last year, I carried a liter-sized plastic tub filled with electronic components around campus. Like my friends, I toted my crammed, bulky circuit board container from class to class, usually whipping out wire cutters and pliers in the library to complete computer science assignments.

My “nerd kit” allowed me to apply my ideas in the real world. And every time my project powered on and behaved exactly as I had planned, I always experienced immense satisfaction.

Forward to last month: Ahmed Mohamed, a Muslim-American high school student, was arrested and interrogated by the police on the charge of building a “hoax bomb,” which turned out to simply be a pencil case fitted with electronic components for a clock.

Eerie, I thought. Hadn’t I carried a box filled with circuits to school every day? I believed that handcuffs were reserved for people who broke the law, not for students who brought in gadgets to impress their teachers. Reading through the details of his arrest, I didn’t see a criminal or a wayward prankster. I saw a fellow tinkerer, creator and maker taken into custody because of a misunderstood engineering project – then came the outrage.

The circumstances behind Ahmed’s arrest reveal bias. Ahmed’s father claimed in a CNN interview that his son was labeled as a “bombmaker” by his friends after the incident. Ahmed alleges that officers repeatedly asked him whether he had tried to make a bomb during the interrogation, referencing his last name more than once. Yet the police found no evidence that Ahmed intended to cause alarm with his device, nor did the administration proceed with the standard school evacuation in the presence of the “threat.”

These reactions from the police, the school community and Ahmed’s detractors suggest that Ahmed’s name and religion were grounds enough for suspicion about his motives. The only victim of the device was Ahmed himself, who, despite his curiosity, was punished and publicly discriminated against for his cultural background.

According to the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), only 36 percent of high school graduates in the United States are prepared for college-level science courses. When our country lags far behind others in STEM-related subjects, school administrators need to encourage curious minds, not haul them off to prison.

A young tinkerer should not have to carry the burden of rigorously proving that his pet project, crafted through hours of hard work, is not a terrorist gadget or an explosive device.

I stand with Ahmed.

This piece was originally published in the pages of the Winged Post on Oct. 16, 2015.