Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Harm that Stereotypes Can Cause

Like many in the social media universe, I was offended by what happened to Ahmed Mohamed.  If you haven't been following the story, he's a fourteen year old high school freshman, and like many kids his age, he loves to tinker. Sometimes, he tries to repair things around his house, and sometimes he tries his hand at inventing.  The other day, he made his own clock.  It wasn't aesthetically beautiful, but it worked and he was proud of it.  So he brought it to school to show his engineering teacher.  He wanted to impress the teacher with what he had managed to do.  And that's where things went wrong.

It should be noted that Ahmed lives in Irving, Texas, where the mayor, Beth Van Duyne, has become a favorite on conservative talk shows for making inflammatory remarks against Islam, and promising to fight against "Sharia Law" in Texas. As fact-checkers and journalists have pointed out, there have been no efforts by any local Muslims to impose Sharia Law; but the facts don't matter to those who fear or dislike Muslims.  So, Mayor Van Duyne became a media darling for her promise to stand up to the mythical threat of creeping Sharia.  (Truth be told, most Muslim immigrants in Irving and in many other cities, including Quincy, MA where I live, have assimilated quite well:  they are happy to be in the US, they want their kids to attend good schools, they become citizens, they work hard, and while some are religious, others are not.  And yes, Muslims use Islamic religious law in their mosque; but that's similar to how Catholics utilize church teachings about taking communion or Jews follow Biblically-based dietary laws.  In the workplace or at school or in most other places, the vast majority of Muslims are fine about America's separation of church and state; and they understand that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of worship to all.  Thus, while Ahmed Mohamed's sisters dress in traditional head-coverings, not all Muslim women do; and Ahmed dresses like a typical American teenager, in fact.)  But back to the story of his invention.

When he showed his home-made clock to his teacher, he was told not to show it to anyone else.  This was not the response Ahmed had expected-- after all, he wanted his teacher to be proud of his ingenuity. But then, another teacher saw his invention... and the next thing Ahmed knew, he was being handed over to the police and asked why he had built a bomb.  The police held him in a room for more than an hour, refusing his requests to call his parents (which, I am told by lawyer friends of mine is not legal-- as a minor, he had the right to have a parent present if the police needed to question him).  The police kept wanting him to admit he had built a bomb; in fact, his principal told him he would be expelled if he didn't admit he had built a bomb.  He kept trying to explain it was not a bomb-- it was a clock-- but they wouldn't believe him. And then they handcuffed him and arrested him for "building a hoax bomb."  He was also suspended from school for three days.

Since that happened, the charges against him were dropped, but the police, as well as the principal and the mayor, have defended what happened, saying they were simply following protocol and trying to keep the school safe.  But like many on social media, I cannot help but wonder: if a young man named John Smith, rather than Ahmed Mohamed, built a home-made clock, would the outcome have been different?  Ahmed's father wonders too-- was it really necessary to interrogate his fourteen year old son for over an hour like a criminal, handcuff and arrest him (humiliating him in front of other students), and take him to the police station?  Ahmed wasn't rude, he wasn't combative-- he just kept trying to explain that he had built a clock. As his father noted, his son is a good kid, with a good reputation, and his love for tinkering is well-known.  Yet the assumption was that he must be a terrorist of some kind.

Okay fine, I know that we live in a post-9/11 world and people are skittish about potential threats.  But based on what reporters learned about the story, this did not seem to be a threat at all.  One wonders if the suspicion about Muslims that can be heard on so many talk shows, and the remarks of the mayor against Sharia Law, played a role in creating an environment where a kid named Ahmed who built a clock was suddenly perceived as someone dangerous.  The story has a semi-happy ending:  in addition to getting lots of support on social media for what does seem like a total over-reaction by the school and the police, Ahmed has received an invitation to attend a special evening for inventors to be held at the White House; he also received invitations to tour Facebook headquarters, visit MIT and visit Harvard.  But I still can't ignore the fact that this young man was treated with such contempt by adults who should have known better. I hope he will be able to forgive those who thought he deserved to be arrested, adults who saw him as someone to be feared, rather than as a creative young man with a bright future.


  1. The problem began with the mayor who had a clear racial bias against Muslims, and on top of that, a political agenda, but the adults who were blindly following her lead are equally culpable, in my opinion. Every single person who participated in the violation of this young man's civil rights should be ashamed of her behavior. What is the deal with these people who take unfair advantage of their elected offices to use the citizens as their political scapegoats?? Shaking my head...

  2. Nonsense! Read the facts here then make your comments:

    1. Well if that were the case, the police should have proceeded with filing with the D.A. the hoax bomb. They didn't, why? Because there was no intent to having a bomb or to bring a "hoax bomb", all the charges were dropped.

      On the other hand, if the school was truly following protocol why didn't they shut the school down: (page 6) it is based upon their SRP (Standard Response Protocol). If Ahmed brought a bomb in, why wasn't the SRP implemented? Another question is, can a teacher or Principal determine if a clock is a bomb? Can you tell me then the reason the school called the police department hours later after the teacher did her due diligence and reported it to the Principal? And I find it strange that Irving Police Special Operations Division ( bomb squad did not show up but a couple of beat cop who probably have no training diffusing or safely detonating a bomb, even a hoax bomb safely, even when they transported both Ahmed and the clock from the principal's office to the police car to the station.

      Oh and when someone makes a threat in Irving Texas, this is what happens: They shut the school down.

      Did what the school teacher do was correct by telling the principal? Yes. But waiting for hours and then questioning him seems kind of questionable. A threat gets the school closed down, an actual device doesn't? If the school was worried about the device being a bomb in the first place, why the delay?

      Maybe this isn't an issue of race, but another conservative writer wrote that this is what happens when

      Police, lawyer release statements on student's alleged dinosaur killing

      The person from Reason said that people were overreacting. As for Ahmed being agitated for being questioned by the police and being friendly to the media according to Breitbart? It's his right to remain silent as a U.S. citizen. Remember Bundy Ranch? The Bundy ranch supporters had guns pointing at federal agents, they too were agitated, but the difference between the Bundy Ranch supporters and Ahmed? Ahmed had a clock.

    2. You are comparing apples and oranges. Nice try but since these folks have to worry about being hyper sensitive to pc nazis, I think they showed restraint. Looking at the full scenario, considering who his father is and what he professes, one would have to be naive to not raise a red flag. You folks are sheep and the Muslims are wolves. They will take advantage of your naivete.

    3. What if it was a bomb? People and students would have been killed and the school district would have had to put out billions in a lawsuit. If they were truly concerned, why wasn't the bomb squad called by the police? Makes no sense and as for your quote:

      "You are comparing apples and oranges. Nice try but since these folks have to worry about being hyper sensitive to pc nazis, I think they showed restraint. Looking at the full scenario, considering who his father is and what he professes, one would have to be naive to not raise a red flag. You folks are sheep and the Muslims are wolves. They will take advantage of your naivete."

      Nice try but since these folks have to worry about being hyper sensitive to pc nazis is offensive to Dr. Halper, you know she's Jewish and her people were slaughtered by that being a pc nazis to point this out? If you're a Jew, then I find it offensive that you use this kind of colloquialism as an adjective.

      I guess that's par for the course for conservatives: racist and insensitive towards Jews.

    4. OK "prog" talker. Progressivism is the dirt road to despotism. You offer nothing to counter the issue. Islam is the scourge of the earth. Yet, you refuse to believe that.

    5. So TBone, why wasn't the school on lock-down if the school thought Ahmed had a bomb? You see you don't need terrorists to cause damage and mayhem, all you need are morons like the school and police department to go after a 14-year-old

      As for progressives (there is no such thing in the English lexicon as progressivism (English Only?)) they supports logic as it seems conservatism lack the logic to shut the school down in case the clock was a bomb, because I doubt that a school principal had the training to determine if a clock is a bomb. Forget the politics, what about the safety of the children?

      That's why our country is in trouble idiots like the principal taking care of the children.

  3. Also, you are the ones obsessed with race. It's always a race thing with you folks. In fact, jumping to the conclusion that all folks involved were racist is racist by its very nature.

    1. Tbone, thanks for the comment, but I don't know who "you people" refers to. I'm just another American. As for quoting Breitbart, I realize for you and some conservatives, it's reliable, but it's actually a very biased source. Got any that are more objective?

  4. As time progresses, it seems that you have jumped the gun.Silly, petty liberals. You just can't ever get to the point that you acknowledge the problem: You are WRONG.