"I felt like I was a criminal. I felt like I was a terrorist. I felt like all the names I was called...in middle school I was called a terrorist, called a bomb maker. Just because of my race and religion." - Ahmed Mohamed #IStandWithAhmedPosted by All In with Chris Hayes on Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old boy who was arrested at school and accused of trying to make a bomb because he'd brought in a homemade clock, appeared on MSNBC for an interview with Chris Hayes on Wednesday night.
"I felt like I was a criminal, I felt like I was a terrorist, I felt like all the names I was called," he said of the experience of being handcuffed, finger-printed, and interrogated by police. The treatment was not totally new: "In middle school I was called a terrorist, called a bomb-maker. Just because of my race and religion."
What is so striking about Mohamed's appearance, for which he is joined by Alia Salem from the local Council on American-Islamic Relations, is just how young he is. Seeing him sitting in the TV studio, obviously uncomfortable as he does his best to answer each question, one is reminded that this is just a child who has been thrust, against his will and by superiors who were supposed to be the ones protecting him, into the position of national celebrity.
Yet he never gets overwhelmed, though this experience must be overwhelming, and manages to get through it — something that a lot of grownups struggle with on national TV, especially when they're the subject of the discussion. It is heartbreaking that he had been put into a position to go on camera and explain what it felt like to be treated as a terrorist for his interest in science, yet encouraging to see him take on the challenge.
Ahmed described the experience of bringing the clock to school that started all this. "I thought they'd be impressed by it," he said, and indeed his engineering teacher was.
But when another teacher saw it and asked if it was a bomb — Ahmed explained that it was just a clock — he was treated very differently. Police brought him to be interrogated in a room in the school, he said.
"They told me, no, you can't call your parents, you're in the middle of an interrogation at the moment," he recounted. "One of the officers did comment on me walking in the room. ... He got back into a reclined chair and he relaxed, and he was like. And he said, that's who I thought it was."
Even for all he went through, Ahmed seems to have come out of the experience, amazingly, more optimistic about the world. When Hayes asked him what he thought about the outpouring of support, this was his answer, and it's really something:
I feel really well after, because before I didn't think I was going to get any support because I'm a Muslim boy. So I thought I was just going to be another victim of injustice. But thanks to all my supporters on social media, I got this far, thanks to you guys. I see it as a way of people sending a message to the rest of the world that just because something happens to you because of who you are, no matter what you do, people will always have your back.
The lesson that "people will always have your back" no matter what you look like is perhaps not the one that I might have taken had I gone through what Ahmed did. It is truly amazing to see him come out from this so optimistic about the world, willing to see the silver lining from his experiences rather than to be embittered by the many ways he was mistreated. It's yet another lesson we could all stand to learn from him.