Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ahmed's Explosive Clock

So this teenaged kid in Irving, Texas, builds a clock from scratch* and takes it to school.  He wants to show it off to his teachers.

Instead, he triggers a bomb scare and gets handcuffed while the police try to figure out whether he's a terrorist.

It's become the sensation of the week:  a Muslim boy ends up getting invited to the White House by President Obama because a digital clock he manufactured out of bits and pieces of wire and stuff scared officials at his school.

This story is making big waves because it is so frustrating on so many levels.  On one level, parents demand that schools have zero tolerance when it comes to violence, but when a school reacts to a suspicious object, suddenly administrators are guilty of a litany of faults, from overzealousness to stupidity to racism.

On another level, in an era when teenagers are portrayed as flaunters of entitlements and seem exceptionally hostile to authority, we have a geeky kid bringing an unsolicited contraption into a school facility and then, at least as school officials have suggested, becoming belligerent when questioned by big, bad, enemy adults.

Then there's the racism angle, with the teen, named Ahmed Mohamed, being of Sudanese descent and a practicing Muslim.  He's a skinny, slight, bespeckled boy of 14 years who winds up getting handcuffed, of all things, hours after school officials first learned of his home-made clock.

Police officials claimed handcuffing the small teen was for the safety of their officers.


Meanwhile, when a story like this breaks about a juvenile, don't we need to ask:  WHERE WERE THE PARENTS?  So their kid makes this contraption and wants to take it to school.  Okay, fine.  Hey - do you know how to make an alarm clock out of some wires and a metal briefcase?  Neither do I, so to his credit, Ahmed deserves the right to be proud of his creation.  His desire to show it to his teachers is legitimate.

But still; shouldn't his parents have said, "Hey, cool stuff, son!  We're proud of you!  However, to the untrained eye, it kinda looks a bit sinister.  We think you need to ask your teacher first before you take it to school."

Turns out, Ahmed's technology teacher did warn the teen about making a big deal about his contraption to others in the school.  It was his English teacher who, later in the day, confiscated the clock after it beeped annoyingly during class.  Ahmed's day went downhill fast from there.

Topping things off was none other than the President of the United States, who jumped on the anti-cop bandwagon by Tweeting Ahmed an invitation to visit the White House.  Talk about exploiting both a school kid and a particularly hot social media frenzy!

Such child's play.

Indeed, all of this took place within approximately 48 hours, testifying more to the speed at which social media can foment people into hysteria rather than the ability of rational news consumers to properly digest what otherwise could have merely been a story about an abundance of caution gone awry.

And things did go awry.  For example, the technology teacher should have suggested he protect the homemade clock in his classroom while Ahmed finished out his school day, instead of letting him cart about the contraption.  Another big "fail" hit when the school district dragged its feet before contacting Ahmed's parents.  Isn't that a pretty egregious violation of parental rights?  Even if officials considered Ahmed to be a sinister terrorist intent on blowing up his high school, wouldn't you want to contact his parents immediately?  If for no other reason than to detain them as well as their son, so as to make sure whatever evil plot they'd hatched didn't fully deploy?

For the folks crying unbridled racism in this case, the lack of urgency on the part of school officials to quarantine Ahmed's family may be a fairly substantial alibi.  It seems as though they were mostly being sloppy and prejudiced against Ahmed and his geeky persona, not his Muslim background.

Of all the ways this incident could have been handled differently, all of us second-guessers and armchair quarterbacks still expect a lot of school officials - generally under-paid officials who are apparently expected to act perfectly and appropriately all the time.  Despite the fact that we're living in an increasingly complex and dangerous world.

Some like to think that latitude should be given to parents like Ahmed's, since they're probably naive to the expectations, presumptions, and apprehensions that govern American school protocols these days.  But perhaps this episode should show ethnic minorities like Ahmed's family that they need to respect the burden of proof our society still expects from them when it comes to being beyond suspicion in cases like this.

No, ours is not a perfect society.  But can we simply blame school administrators for over-reacting here?  If they over-reacted, perhaps they did so because Ahmed's parents didn't have enough foresight to see how their son's clock could cause problems before he set off to school Monday morning.

And consumers of social media need to stop taking sides without considering all of the sides to a particular story.

Oddly enough, this story did what Ahmed's clock couldn't:  it blew up.

* Of course, this is all predicated on the presumption that Ahmed is correct, and that he did indeed build this clock on his own.  There's no proof of his claim, is there?  For all we know, somebody else could have built this and gave it to him to take to school and claim as his personal handiwork.  But that's just me being cynical, right?

Update:  A large Muslim advocacy group has warned against blaming the police in this case.  Instead, they blame the culture of fear politicians have incited in our country.

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