Ahmed’s clock and the politicization of American viewpoints

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The whole month of September tends to be sobering.

Kids return to school, vacations end, and — in the United States — we have to contend with the memory of what happened on September 11th, 2001. But during this month, rather than focusing on remembering those lost, or discussing how our country has changed since that tragedy, most Americans were simultaneously intrigued and frustrated by the strange details of what happened to a certain young Muslim American.

Ahmed Mohamed, a 14 year old with a marked interest in science and some pretty decent inventions to his name so far for his middle school robotics club, was arrested after he brought in a homemade clock. And yes, it did look like a box with electrical circuits, which pretty much constitutes a bomb in the minds of many of us non-engineers.

The New York Post opinion column on the subject, written by Kyle Smith, asserts that this is all just a setup to claim racism.

Ahmed Mohamed in handcuffs (cell phone photo)
Ahmed Mohamed in handcuffs
(cell phone photo)

Smith cites cases of white kids Josh Welch, penalized for making gun-shaped food, and Alex Stone, who was searched and arrested for writing about killing a dinosaur with a gun. Both have suspensions still on their record — no lawsuits, no recognition, no famous advocates.

Certainly they received no comments from the leader of the free world, Smith points out. At the very least, he writes, you would expect someone of Stephen King caliber to champion the rights of kids to have imagination. But no one cared. It wasn’t a “story,” because there wasn’t enough weighty symbolism attached to the central figures.

Smith admits that the police “overreacted,” but sees no difference in their treatment of Ahmed than their treatment of Alex. And frankly, I would agree with him that the left is hesitant to let us acknowledge America’s tolerance and celebration of diversity. It’s like admitting we did something right will lead us to stop venturing towards progress, so we can’t admit that we are — for the most part — a very nice group of people who support each other as Americans. That’s true enough.

But the moronic, outlandish cries of bigots often drown out the quiet footsteps of peaceful coexistence. Events like this, as well as statistics and anecdotes about racial profiling, stand out more than the countless times people from all backgrounds have gone to the same voting booths to exercise the same rights and been quite united, and yet they don’t paint an accurate picture of mainstream American views. I get this.

So Kyle Smith has some good points. (However, just to be nitpicky, can we agree that acknowledging a kid for “imagination” in writing a story about a dinosaur or using a pop tart as a gun is not the same as acknowledging a kid for bringing in a working clock? Yes? Okay, good. Is it also just a little bit significant that Ahmed Mohamed happens to be Muslim American? Just a bit? Okay, great.)

On the other side of the spectrum, The Daily Kos wrote a little piece called “They Didn’t Think He Had a Bomb.” Their perspective? In a hypothetical conversation, they make the case for conspiracy theory, but without all the garden variety wackjob, nutcase, paranoia mumbo jumbo (technical terminology).

If the school thought he had a bomb, why did they put him and the clock in the office and then wait there together for the police to show up? If they really though he had a bomb, why did they put the police and the “bomb” in the same car? If they thought he had a bomb, why didn’t they evacuate the school? If they thought he had a bomb, why didn’t they call the proper authorities (a bomb squad)? If they thought he had a bomb, why didn’t they immediately get the suspicious object out of the area and away from people?

Nothing about their handling of the situation made sense. For one thing, a suspect is just that — a suspect, and if they didn’t feel the need to evacuate the school, they shouldn’t have handcuffed a ninth grader for something they “suspected.” Furthermore, either Texas has some very half-ass security procedures (which seems unlikely, somehow, as they’re a state legendary for handing out the death penalty — the ultimate preventative measure), or something was amiss in this whole equation. By something, I mean everything.

The attitude regarding public safety, particularly at schools, is that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Schools can be closed for threats, and yet no one thought to get the kids out of a building with a potential bomb? Give me a break. So hats off to Daily Kos for pointing out some obvious fallacies there.

Sarah Palin: Yes. it was a clock and no, you’re not the Queen of England. Now go shoot something. (Sarah Palin Facebook page)
Sarah Palin: Yes. it was a clock and no, you’re not the Queen of England. Now go shoot something.
(Sarah Palin Facebook page)

Still others insist Ahmed didn’t actually build the clock himself or that the whole thing was a hoax, and Sarah Palin has already thrown in her two cents, calling the clock “fishy.”

“Right. That’s a clock, and I’m the Queen of England,” she posted on social media.

An ideological feeding frenzy surrounds this topic, which has now become blood in the water for any politician or public figure that dares go swimming. Well, no swimming past this point. Let’s get something straight: What we think about the event doesn’t matter, but how we think about the event is of crucial significance. In other words, the responses to this ought to be analyzed so we can learn more as a nation.

We say we’re free thinkers, so let’s look at the opinions out there and test their weight. If they don’t hold up, we throw them out. If they make a little sense, we consider them.

On the surface, it may seem counterintuitive for me to write something about independent thought while quoting other sources, but I promise I have a purpose in doing so. In my opinion, being able to listen to the opinions of others, then carefully picking out the sane from the “fishy” (such as Palin’s completely unsupported suggestion that we’re being duped into thinking Ahmed made a clock), is part of eventually coming to a meaningful and rational decision.

Maybe having an assortment of views and opinions won’t make you popular in one-sided, political conversations. Maybe taking your time to come to an opinion about something will frustrate the reactive, kneejerk crowd. But maybe, if schools applied the same cautious and investigative approach to their students, we wouldn’t be reading about these kids. Well, at least not until they published their first dinosaur novels or graduated with honors from MIT, right?

In any case, the clock is ticking, so think for yourself.