I rarely talk about controversial topics. Okay, let’s make that ‘never’.

Politics baffle me, religion is a private matter between me and my god, social issues are something I need to understand in their complete framework before I can take a clear stand and online debate is something I don’t believe in. There’s a reason I steer clear of News hour debates on prime time, unless they are moderated by a panelist who can keep his voice under a certain pitch, which, in Indian TV, is non-existent.

In essence, controversial debate is not for me. Healthy debate, though, I both enjoy and indulge in. These generally happen offline, in coffee shops with close friends or at a family gathering with people I’ve known for years. Online, I have a select few whom I either message privately or in a closed group to share my opinions with.

When it comes to creativity, though, I feel compelled to speak up. In public. By now, everyone has heard, tweeted or shared Ahmed’s story on every social media channel available. Memes have been generated on the subject, political and technological bigwigs have thrown their lot in with the 14-year-old wrongly accused of building a bomb and education giant, MIT, has called the boy over to their hallowed institute.

There are two things I want to call into focus here: One is the question of racism and the other is the threat to creativity.

First, let’s talk about racism. Because, whichever way the politicians and the school try to spin it, it’s pretty obvious that there is a strong element of the boy’s name being part of the entire fiasco. Would they have called in the police if a John Smith had brought in the clock? Would they have panicked and interrogated him if he’d been the principal’s son? What is rather frightening is the careless, almost casual linking of the two concepts here: a thing that has wires coming out of it and the name of the maker.

Yes, I understand that America has been the victim of 9/11. Plus, there are enough terrorism movies and those that celebrate jingoism to make you believe the worst of Arabs and Muslims everywhere. But you also have a page like Humans of New York where the everyday person is celebrated- irrespective of skin colour. Underneath it all, when you cut the skin open and watch, the same red blood oozes out onto the ground.

Did the boy really need to be interrogated? Did he deserve to be humiliated in public?Having done all of that and discovering they were in the wrong, should the school authorities have not apologised once it was discovered that they were wrong?

There now, lies the nub of the problem. People hate being  wrong; and when it’s the case of them vs the people of colour, it’s even worse! Yes, I said it. There is a strong case for racist discrimination here and Ahmed Mohamed would be well within his rights to bring a case on those grounds against the school.

Second and the more pertinent point, in my opinion, is the fact that this deals directly  with a gag on creativity. As a blogger, I feel compelled to say a great many things. Censorship and political correctness though, keep me from doing so, at least in public.

As an aspiring writer today, I am afraid. I understand censorship and the need to place curbs on inflammatory pieces or those that could lead to unrest, anarchy or upheaval. But a part of me fears that, by arresting a 14-year-old who chose to build a clock out of homemade items, somewhere, we are planting the seeds of distrust and suspicion. We are effectively stifling the next generation by gagging their creativity and calling them out when they do something path-breaking. What we should be doing instead is celebrate that  experimental streak, stoke that creative fire, laud that need to step out of the circle of mundane algebra and the dry periodic table.

We must all stand with Ahmed. By doing so, we stand with our kids and we stand with creativity and tolerance for a better life.
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If you have a few more minutes to spare, please read this incredibly moving and honest piece by Asha Rajan on racism and how it has impacted her own life.

~~~o~~~

*Super kicked by the Editor’s pick this week for this post. Thank you, Yeah Write!

29 thoughts on “Why #IStandWithAhmed and why you should too

  1. I am with you on this. If only if he was John Smith, the reaction would have been totally different. It is sad he was treated they way he was. It is sad he might be injured so bad that it would stop him from anting to try to build something else in the future. The repercussion of what has happened could hinder his creativity as he may no longer believe in the freedom to express himself. Beautiful post, as always

  2. Did you know some people hold the view that they did it on purpose just to humiliate him? As in, they knew for sure it wasn’t a bomb, cos they didn’t evac the school or anything. They did it just to make him feel bad. How terrible is that! Plus, not only did they not apologize, they also sent a rude circular to all the parents (including his) stating “a suspicious and unsafe item was brought to school” Yeah, right!
    There are bigots everywhere, and you’re right, all this censorship makes me seal in a bit of my flaring opinions. Guess we are all a little afraid.

    But on the positive side, look at how many opportunities he got because of his crappy school’s misbehaviour! 🙂

    1. If there’s one thing that never ceases to surprise me, it is the levels of sadism people will stoop to. Thankfully, I have my share of wonderful people who restore my faith in humanity and justice too. Yes, that is the silver lining for sure 🙂

  3. It’s appalling the way he was treated and it’s shameful how many people don’t see the racism. Great post.

    1. Ridiculous overreaction from everyone concerned. I am still at a loss for words when I see the counter attacks of ‘conspiracy’ and ‘activisim’. Someone trolled me on Twitter for posting this and I had to politely ask the person to stop bothering me.

      Thank you so much for reading and for your wonderful words of praise for this week’s Editorial pick. It was such a pleasant way to welcome my weekend <3

  4. People are so scared these days that they act first and think later. I can only imagine how scared and lost he must have felt and all for nothing. It was heartening to see all the tweets from Obama and Mark Zuckerberg. I hope Ahmed has good things in store for him.

  5. Agree with both the points, Shailaja. I have a lot more to say, but I think it will only make a big ramble here. I just wish that the teachers weren’t scared this much and called the police. He didn’t make any threats to kill anyone unlike the mass shootings happened in the past in schools. I just hope if there was a bit of logic shown by the people!

  6. I, too, stand with Ahmed! I also stand with the numerous white students who, over the past several years, have been shamed, suspended, interrogated, and forever changed because they dared draw a picture of a weapon, or they ate a pop tart into a shape resembling a knife, or they play acted normal childhood activities and were deemed “violent.” I don’t think the issue is about racism at all. It is about hyper-vigilant, terrified adults who are single-handedly ruining the creativity and imaginations of our youth in the United States. Thank you for writing about this, Shailaja!

  7. It is quite sad that this happened to a kid. Though I’m happy the country was divided in its reaction to the incident – the bigots are always there but there are also those who threw in their lot with the brilliant boy 🙂 Heartening to see even the President in that list 🙂

    For once, I’m looking at the positive side of this – such brilliance has caught the attention of the international community, the boy will never want for resources *fist pump*

    I stand by Ahmed. I stand for a society that breaks free of its small-mindedness.

  8. The world we live in today is scared, cynical and distrustful. It is easy to jump the gun, to clam up and to just do away with those we consider a threat. It is just so sad. I was overjoyed to see Obama’s tweet and so many others that came to Ahmed’s defense. This is not the first or the last case of racial profiling unfortunately. Hopefully, Ahmed will get justice now that he has got the world’s attention. Think about the untold stories!

    1. As was I, overjoyed I mean. Now I have people trolling me on Twitter, pointing fingers at the father and son who may have crafted a hoax bomb and I feel like asking them one question, ‘How would you feel if this was your child?’ Nothing really warrants an interrogation of a 14-year old child by violating his fundamental rights.

  9. I love how you’ve analysed the many threads, and agree with you on both points. There’s clear racism here, and there is definitely a discouraging of learning, of creativity happening here. I stand with you, and you already know, I stand with Ahmed!

    1. That’s what worries me, to be very honest. Why interrogate a 14 year old for an hour and a half? Haven’t they violated so many rights by doing that? No phone call? No parents present? I mean, granted most of my knowledge comes from watching Law and Order but there is something very suspicious about the way the whole thing came about. And as you already know, I adored your piece and have shared it too <3

      1. There’s so very little information coming out from law enforcement, the school, or the mayor’s office. There’s a repeated claim from law enforcement that we don’t know the whole picture and that the media is presenting a biased view, but they don’t then fill in the gaps! I was delighted to see that the family now has legal representation, and I hope the lawyer advocates ferociously for them.

        Thank you for sharing my piece too! x

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