Saturday, September 19, 2015

Ahmed Mohamed: Explosion of Racism/Islamophobia Accusations

By now you've heard the story of the teen who made a clock, was arrested, and then suspended from school.  The pop culture narrative is the following: Totally innocent boy genius inventor was targeted for his race and religion (Islam) by bigoted teachers, administrators, and police.  That narrative is possibly true.  Maybe that's right.  But I don't think there is good evidence to believe it.  In fact, I think another narrative is at least as likely to be true.  That narrative is that Ahmed has a history of getting into trouble at school (his father denies this but so do millions of parents who, in spite of all evidence to the contrary believe their children are angels), he thinks he's more clever than his teachers, and perhaps he even pulled a grand political stunt (just like "Deez Nuts" who is his age).

I present the case for the alternative narrative (which I am not claiming is true, but might be true--plausible for all we know at this point.  In fact, because of what he says in the video he made, I think the alternative narrative--or something like it--is actually more likely than the completely innocent, angel narrative).
The most damning evidence is that, in his video, he tacitly and unwittingly admits that he knew this clock looked threatening and suspicious before he took it to school.  When he discusses making it he says, "I closed it with a cable 'cause I didn't want to lock it [with a lock] to make it seem like a threat, so I just used a simple cable so it wouldn't look that much suspicious."  Now why would someone think that putting a lock on a clock or a pencil box (or pencil-box-clock) would make it look threatening?  Or why would putting a cable on it make it look less suspicious?  It seems quite evident that he thought it already looked threatening and suspicious--that is, it looked like a bomb one sees in movies.  His engineering teacher also seemed to think it looked like a bomb, for after telling him it was nice, he warned him not to show it to other teachers.  The English teacher thought it looked like a bomb, and following school protocol she took him to the principal.  The principal thought it looked like a bomb and so did the chief of police.  To a non-expert, it does look like it might be a bomb.  So why did he make it look that way when there are billions of other ways one can build a clock?  And why did he take it to school when he thought it looked suspicious and potentially threatening?   (Aside: some claim that everyone knew it wasn't a bomb from the get-go, otherwise they would have fled and called the bomb squad.  It does appear that they knew early on that it was not a bomb.  What they did not know is whether (a) it was the rudimentary infrastructure of a future bomb or (b) whether it was not a bomb at all but made to look like one, thus perhaps violating the "hoax bomb" law for which he was initially taken into custody.)

Ahmed takes it to school purportedly to impress his engineering teacher.  His engineering teacher said it was nice, but was none too impressed.  Why?  Well, perhaps because Ahmed along with other students was in a robotics class, and a clock is not as impressive as a robot.

Why did the clock start beeping in the middle of English class, disrupting the class?  Ahmed is obviously smart enough not to have an alarm go off.  Did he just forget?  Perhaps.  But perhaps he's a troublemaker and is trying to stir the pot and get a reaction (or perhaps it was a political stunt). Ahmed admits that he did not get the reaction he was hoping for from his robotics teacher.  But even after that teacher advises that he not show other teachers that clock, he shows it to his English teacher after class.  Why?  It is particularly curious because it went off in the middle of class.  Apparently she did not ask to see whatever it was that was beeping as it was going off in class.  Did she wait until after class to look at it?  (I know I wouldn't).  Or did he volunteer to show it to her because he was hoping to get a reaction he didn't get in the middle of class?

Then there is the police officer who said "That's who I thought it was."  Ahmed used this as evidence that his brown skin was being targeted.  But the officer indicates nothing about brown skin, what he indicates is that he knew of that particular kid, not some brown kid or other (and the only photo we have seen of one of the arresting officers is a black officer.)  How did the cop know this kid?  At my school, the cops knew the trouble makers even if the trouble makers didn't always know the cops.

Next there is Ahmed's refusal to answer the cops questions at the school.  He was questioned for an hour and a half and the cops said that all he would say is that it was a clock.  That's it.  When asked why he made it to look like that, why he brought it to school, what was the purpose for making it, he refused to answer.  Who does that?  What totally innocent kid doesn't break down in tears out of fear, or plead over and over that "I had no idea it would look like a bomb, I just wanted to impress my robotics teacher!!"   It's almost as if he wanted to get arrested.

His wealthy father, Mohamed ElHassan Mohamed, is a former political candidate, running for president in Sudan twice.  No doubt Ahmed hears about and understands politics.  Ahmed's father made news previously by publicly debating alleged Islamophobes. Immediately Ahmed and his father make politicized insinuations of racism ("brown skin") and Islamophobia.  But look at the all the "brown skinned" teachers and administrators.  It's definitely not like Ahmed was the only brown skinned student (and it appears that a few teachers are of Arab descent if not Muslims).  The school is almost entirely brown skinned.  Out of the 2718 students last year, 371 were white!

Why did Ahmed make the video after his arrest?  What was he trying to accomplish?  It seems clear that it was for political reasons.  After all, he was free of all chargers.  And he certainly got an outpouring of support (a trip to the White House!) and thousands and thousands of (evidentially unsubstantiated) accusations against his teachers that they are bigots.  He definitely won, thoroughly sticking it to his school.  

Finally there is the recent news that he will be leaving his school.  That is not at all surprising.  Given the media scrutiny and the accusations of racism and Islamophobia, it's probably better for all parties that they go their separate ways.  Here is the what the school says in response:

A spokeswoman for the Irving Independent School District said that the way the teen's experience has been described in media reports is "unbalanced."
She declined to explain why, citing the need to protect a student's privacy, but said more details would be revealed if the family gives written permission to discuss the incident.
Will ElHassan give permission so that the school is able to legally give their side of the story, perhaps revealing that Ahmed is not the angel his father has made him out to be?  I'm not holding my breath.  But if he does then the general public will be in a better position to have a reasoned opinion about the matter (not to mention our POTUS).

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