It Could Only Happen In America

07 February 2016

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

Last September, a 14-year-old boy whose interest is robotics and who wanted to impress his teacher, made a homemade clock out of scrap material to take to school to display to his class. But when he showed it to his teacher, all hell broke loose and school administrators at the MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas alerted police because they thought the device Ahmed that had built was a bomb.

The boy, Ahmed Mohamed, a Muslim of African origin from the Sudan, was then confronted by the arrival of five Dallas police officers who immediately arrested and handcuffed him and took him to jail. The school suspended him as well. He was not allowed to contact his family during questioning. Ahmed was then sent off to a juvenile detention center where he was fingerprinted and his mugshot taken before he was finally released to his parents.

The 14-hour ordeal alarmed the boy to a degree that perhaps most of us would not understand. As he told reporters later, it was ''very sad'' that his teacher thought his clock was a threat. ''I built a clock to impress my teacher but when I showed it to her she thought it was a threat to her. I'm very sad that she got the wrong impression of it.'' His ordeal soon hit social media and generated a huge wave of protest at the manhandling of this student with cries of racial profiling and Islamophobia. The publicity brought its own rewards, however, when Ahmed was invited to meet President Barack Obama at the White House not long after the incident.

Now flash forward to a few months later. In early January of this year, armed white men seized the headquarters of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, a parcel of land that is owned and managed by the US Federal government. These armed militia men kept US Forest Rangers at bay threatening to kill if necessary. Calling the land ''ours'', the Malheur invaders said that they wanted to put control of public land in the hands of ranchers and local governments.

This armed militia, led by an out-of-state Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan, ''wants the federal government to relinquish lands so that ranchers can graze their cattle and log more freely.'' They want to privatize land for their use instead of leaving it for the benefit of all.

The response of the US government should have been immediate. This was an armed invasion of federal land. And yet 48 hours into the takeover, there was no measurable response causing the New York Times to wonder why ''no effort was made to keep the occupiers from coming and going as they pleased.'' The UK Guardian some days later said that ''federal authorities were considering plans to cut off power and place the Refuge under siege.''

Inspired by his father Cliven Bundy, a Mormon, who had encroached on public land and was confronted by US Forest Rangers a year earlier and had proclaimed that ''The Lord told me if the sheriff doesn't take away these arms from federal agents, we the people will have to face these arms in a civil war. This is your chance to straighten this thing up,'' Ammon is now in a direct confrontation with the might of the entire US government.

Cliven Bundy once publicly speculated whether African-Americans would have remained better off as slaves. ''I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom,'' he said. Such is the ideology of white supremacists.

Almost there weeks after the takeover, the standoff continues. The government's inaction has created a buzz in social media. Dismissing the excuses that the authorities want to avoid bloodshed, many Oregonians want this militia to be arrested and charged with trespassing on federal property. One prominent Oregonian went so far to say that if Bundy and his band were Muslims or black, they would have long been exterminated by the power of the arsenal under US authority.

Fortunately, there is no Ahmed Mohamed this time around to blame Muslims for an act of terrorism, an act that does not seem to warrant an appropriate response.

The author can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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