Don't stand with Ahmed if you're not prepared to support all marginalised Muslim children

If you've been outraged by the teenager's arrest, then don't forget that the UK has plenty of its own Muslim children who suffer from Islamophobia

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The Independent Online

With his NASA T-shirt and thick-framed glasses, the image of the 14-year-old schoolboy Ahmed Mohamed being escorted out of his classroom in handcuffs has broken millions of hearts all over the world. In a bid to impress his engineering teacher, Ahmed built a homemade clock and brought it to school. Instead of being applauded for his incredible skills, he was falsely accused of making a bomb, which led to him being arrested, fingerprinted and interrogated without his parents.

Shortly afterwards, #IStandWithAhmed started trending on Twitter and was tweeted over 80,000 times in one hour. There was universal outrage, and it's easy to see why. This is a scenario that is sadly all too familiar with Western Muslims. Anyone can put themselves in Ahmed’s shoes. The desire to impress your teacher or to have your talents recognised is something that everyone has craved. And to be arrested for doing so, and treated like a terrorist – can you imagine?

It’s great that so many stand with Ahmed, but I can’t help but wonder whether these same people will stand with every other Ahmed who doesn’t trend on Twitter. It's easy to jump on a bandwagon, especially when President Obama gets involved. Even Richard Dawkins has expressed his “outrage” at Ahmed’s story. This is the same man who once described Islam as “one of the great evils of the world”. But has Dawkins batted an eyelid at the soaring levels of Islamophobia, or at the many "necessary" counter-productive projects set up to spot signs of radicalisation in children as young as three?

Ahmed being led away in handcuffs by police


In many ways Dawkins is emblematic of many Westerners, who are happy to ignore discrimination until it's right in front of them. Britain has plenty of its own Ahmeds – young Muslims who have been attacked or marginalised for their religion. But aside from a few headlines, they're mostly invisible, and receive no outpourings of support.

Take the 16-year-old Muslim girl who was recently knocked unconscious for wearing a hijab. This incident shocked so many people that even the Daily Mail was able to report on it without blaming her on the basis of her faith. In July, another teenage Muslim girl was reportedly sent home from her waitressing job at The Savoy for refusing to remove her hijab. These are a few examples of Islamophobic incidents that made it to the news. Many are left unreported, such as the case of my friend’s husband. He was spied on and interrogated by officials when he went to pick his grandmother up from a London airport. When I asked why he didn't report it he replied: “I thought it was normal”.

Ahmed’s story is only the visible tip of an iceberg of prejudice and discrimination faced by Western Muslims. There are many other Ahmeds in the quiet corners of East London or Birmingham, who in the current climate of state-endorsed discrimination have been sidelined because of their faith. Schools were once the bastions of free speech and curiosity. Yet now they have turned into an extension of the Government's security services. The government’s "BRIT Project" is one of the many that encourage teachers to actively look for "signs of radicalisation" in young children. The project introduced multiple-choice questionnaires asking children as young as nine questions about religion that would leave the most discerning theologians feeling confused.

The anti-Muslim sentiment being nurtured by these authorities is even being mirrored by schoolchildren. A survey by charity Show Racism the Red Card (SRTRC) revealed that 60 per cent of children surveyed had negative attitudes towards Islam and 35 per cent agreed that “Muslims are taking over our country”. Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, a Muslim pupil at a school in Oxfordshire was allegedly slapped and called a “terrorist” by classmates. Before the incident, their teacher had suggested that Muslims should have their beliefs “challenged”. The teenage pupil said he didn’t want to go to school anymore. It would be facetious to deny the plight of many more Ahmeds who are too afraid to voice their mistreatment, or who simply believe it’s normal to be mistreated.

I've been so happy watching Ahmed’s traumatic experience turn into a positive via the internet. I want to give him a hug and a high-five for being brave enough to speak out against discrimination. Considering how socially acceptable – and politically necessary – it has become to discriminate against Muslims, it’s a pleasant surprise when anyone takes a stance against it, let alone a 14-year-old child. Sadly, most Muslim children have accepted mistreatment as a normal part of their lives.

The normalisation of unjust treatment towards a particular group is what leads to the inevitable alienation of that group in their own homes. And we all know about the kind of monsters who like to prey on alienated youngsters who are looking to belong somewhere.

Every child should be able to grow without fear of having their ideas criminalised. So we should hope that #IStandWithAhmed will become a lesson for us all in learning to nurture and celebrate curiosity, while taking a stance against all forms of hate.