What a 14-year-old Muslim boy, Ahmed Mohammad, in Texas, the US, had to experience a few days ago is a classic example of the good and bad about America. As it happened, having made a digital clock at home using a metal briefcase style box, digital display wires, and a circuit board, he proudly took the device to school hoping, one imagines, to receive appreciation from teachers for his technical prowess and, perhaps, the admiration of his peers. Instead he got the shock of his life when the school accused him of bringing in a hoax bomb and called in the police to arrest him. Wearing a NASA T-shirt the teenager who wishes to go to the MIT one day was led away from the high school in handcuffs, and was told he could not return to school until the police decided whether or not to charge him with the alleged hoax bomb.
Surely, the school and the police would have treated a white boy in place of Ahmed, a Muslim from an African immigrant family, differently. To give them the benefit of the doubt, though, in the prevailing environment some initial suspicion would have been understandable. But once he had explained the object and it was found to be what he said it was, there was no justification whatsoever for subjecting him to a humiliating treatment. It seems to have arisen from a lethal combination of racial prejudice, still alive and well in the country, and Islamophobia. As White House Press Secretary was to say when the incident caught media attention, "this episode is a good illustration of how pernicious stereotypes can prevent even good-hearted people, who have dedicated their lives to educating young people, from doing the good work that they set out to do."
The incident also shows the good side of America that celebrates pluralism and reveres creativity and innovation. That aspect revealed itself with a massive outpouring of sympathies for the Muslim boy from all sections of society. Not only the police who had handcuffed him were forced to drop the charges, Ahmed found himself catapulted from zero to hero. As the media flocked to his home, government, local church leaders, and high profile organisations and individual showered him with praise and invitations. The White House invited him to attend an astronomy night event schedule for next month while President Obama asked him, in a social media tweet, to bring along his clock. The NASA also asked him to come for a visit. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, summed up the majority sentiment everywhere in the world with his comments: "having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest. The future belongs to people like Ahmed." The post received a resounding endorsement with more than a million immediate likes and over 163,000 people sharing it.