When Irving, Texas police arrested 14-year old Muslim science nerd Ahmed Mohamed on Monday, it appeared that bigotry had won and that all it takes to be branded a terrorist is to have brown skin and an Arabic-sounding name. Police were called in after his teacher and principal assumed he was going to bomb the school with his oh-so-cool digital clock (with a hologram on the case!) he had put together in his bedroom the night before. When he was brought into a room in the principal’s office to be interrogated by police, the police officer took one look at him and said, “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.” He was then led out of the school with his hands cuffed behind him in front of all his classmates. He was wearing a NASA t-shirt at the time.
For just a short time, bigotry HAD won. It didn’t last long.
The internet exploded with fierce outrage and the nerd community immediately got in on it.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg invited Ahmed to come meet with him and his staff:
Google got in on the action, too:
Hey Ahmed- we're saving a seat for you at this weekend's Google Science Fair…want to come? Bring your clock! #IStandwithAhmed
— Google Science Fair (@googlescifair) September 16, 2015
So did Twitter:
— Twitter (@twitter) September 16, 2015
Last night, on All In With Chris Hayes, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, an astrophysicist at MIT (which Ahmed has called his “dream school”) invited Ahmed to come check out their university. She told him, “You are the kind of student that we want at places like MIT and Harvard.”
UPDATE: Here is the video of the portion of the All In segment with Dr. Prescod-Weinstein along with a transcript:
You can watch the entire segment HERE.
Chris Hayes: I want to bring in someone else who’s voiced their support for Ahmed — Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, an astrophysicist at MIT—which Ahmed has called his “dream school.” Doctor, you’re there, anything you want to say to Ahmed about MIT and what kind of place it would be should he wanna check you out there?
Dr. Prescrod-Weinstein: So, Ahmed, I’m so happy that you’re coming out on top and I just want to say, by the way, you are my ideal student. A creative, independent thinker like you is the kind of person who should be becoming a physicist. As a theoretical physicist I would love it if you took an interest in the mathematical side, although you’re clearly very adept with your hands and at building things, so I hope you’ll think about theoretical physics. If there’s any possibility that you can come visit us at MIT, I would love to give you a tour of the Center for Theoretical Physics and the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics. And I’m hearing from my former advisors at Harvard College that they would love for you to come to the Center for Astrophysics, the Harvard Center Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. So, I really hope that you’ll come visit us in Cambridge. It would be fantastic to have you. You are the kind of student that we want at places like MIT and Harvard.
Hayes: Ahmed, are you gonna … obviously it’s a plane flight and such but maybe you can go check it out. I know it’s early for college, you’re only 14, but, you know, these things start early these days.
Ahmed Mohamed: (laughs) Yeah. Yeah, that’s a fact right there!
Astronauts and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are also eager to have Ahmed come visit and one even promised to show him how they drive the Opportunity rover:
Anytime you wanna see Mars rovers Ahmed, let me know. #IStandWithAhmed
— Mapperwocky (@cirquelar) September 16, 2015
— Mike Seibert (@mikeseibert) September 16, 2015
Finally, the White House sent out an email titled, “We stand with Ahmed”. In it, U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil described how he built electronics when he was a kid, too, and said, “When I brought my work in, my teachers loved it.” That’s a far cry from how Ahmed’s teacher responded when he brought his clock to school in a fruitless effort to impress him:
Yesterday, a 14-year-old student named Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for bringing his engineering project (an electronic clock) to his high school. Officials mistook it for a bomb.
When I was growing up, my friends and I were fortunate to know how to use soldiering irons, circuit boards, and even a bit of duct tape when nothing else worked. We played, experimented, and learned through trial and error.
The best part? When I brought my work in, my teachers loved it. And that fed my desire to embrace science, engineering, and technology. That learning to play with technology — that curiosity — has helped me on every step of my journey so far.
That’s why I’m so proud to see people across the country standing up for the innovation and intellectual curiosity that Ahmed has shown.
That includes the President.
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great.
— President Obama (@POTUS) September 16, 2015
And he’s not the only one. Today, Dr. John Holdren — the President’s top science advisor — reached out to Ahmed and personally invited him to come to join us at the White House Astronomy Night on October 19, where we’ll bring together scientists, engineers, and visionaries from astronomy and the space industry, along with students and teachers. They’ll share their experiences and spend an evening stargazing from the South Lawn.
We think Ahmed will fit right in.
That’s because we think it’s really important that kids with a passion for science and technology have the opportunities they need to reach for the stars (sometimes, that’s literal).
It’s why the President has prioritized broadening participation in science and technology to a more diverse pool of students.
It’s why we regularly host kids from across the country at the White House Science Fair.
It’s why we believe that the National Maker Faire is so important and why we are a nation of makers.
And it’s why we’re dedicated to telling the untold stories of some of the brightest minds in our country — to inspire young people to follow in their footsteps.
Ahmed, you inspire us — and we can’t wait to meet you.
U.S. Chief Data Scientist
The White House
P.S. — Don’t forget your NASA shirt. I’ll be wearing mine.
I was a total science nerd when I was Ahmed’s age. When I was in 7th grade, I asked for one of those big periodic tables that you see hanging in high school science classes. Somehow, I have no idea HOW, my mom found one and gave it to me for my birthday. It is, in part, because of that encouragement that I’m a chemist today.
Bigotry is on the retreat in America this week. I’m sure it’s temporary but, for now, at least, America got a crystal clear look at what bigotry looks like. When it attacks a 14-year old science nerd, a kid who should be encouraged and celebrated and empowered like I was at his age, even the most hardened bigot is forced to see just how ugly, unfair, and un-American it is.
UPDATE 2: Here’s something not being discussed much: Ahmed’s father, Mohamed ElHassan Mohamed, a Sudanese immigrant, has run for president in Sudan twice. Also, when the supreme bigot Terry Jones put the Quran “on trial”, Mohamed ElHassan Mohamed was the “defense attorney” for the holy book. After the trial where Jones found the Quran guilty of “crimes against humanity”, he set it on fire, sparking protests and riots in Afghanistan which led to seven deaths.