A kid sets up a clock looking like bomb, gets in trouble for it, then millions of people assume that he only got in trouble because he was Muslim, or non-white.
But this is my current view on this event, point by point, regarding why I do not think racism was a factor in this case (or if it was present, it did not affect the overall situation). I will update or even remove this article if I see evidence or hear points that change my mind in the future.
First, the whole story
A 14 year old male high schooler, Ahmed Mohamed, decides to make an electronic clock on his own time to show his Engineering teacher. It is not part of a school project. He sets up the parts such that it looks a lot like a bomb. See photo on this post. He shows his engineering teacher who tells him it’s cool but warns him not to show other teachers – possibly because he knows it does indeed look like a bomb. But later in English class, it beeps and his English teacher tells him to take out the device. It scares her and she is suspicious of why he made it. School officials believe that it was a “hoax bomb”*. Cops detain the kid for questioning. Ahmed is later released with no charges after they understand what had happened.
The device really does look like a bomb
The actual specifics of the event are the most important factors to look at when judging that particular event instead of making a judgment about this specific case based on occurrences (and perception of occurrences) in events where racism has been a deciding factor in the way it played out.
And one of the most obvious factors to consider in this case is whether the appearance of the clock really could have caused alarm on its own, whether anyone knew the ethnicity or religion of its creator.
And in this case, the device really does look like a bomb. Seriously, just look at it.
People have also begun making memes pointing out the similar appearance to actual bombs. And on this point, consider this: I actually don’t even know if the image on the right even depicts a real bomb! It could be something completely harmless for all I know. But neither myself nor, I bet, the vast majority of the US population can actually tell. We just know that it looks like a bomb to us so we would be justified in being concerned if we saw it.
In fact, the Engineering teacher he originally showed it to advised him to not show the clock to any other teachers – and we can reasonably suspect that this was because he knew it indeed looked like a bomb. I’m not blaming Ahmed for showing it to his English teacher since he was forced in that case, but my point is that his Engineering teacher apparently saw the resemblance to a bomb as well, which bolsters the point that the English teacher and school officials responded as they did due to the appearance of the device rather than Ahmed being non-white and Muslim.
If you saw that object for the first time without first hearing that this whole event had already unfolded and was already investigated by police and it was indeed a clock for an innocent personal project, then a lot of us would suspect that it might be a bomb or hoax bomb too. You know darn well that you couldn’t tell the difference between that and a real bomb if you saw it lying somewhere.
If you saw that device sitting outside a Planned Parenthood center for example, you wouldn’t be the least bit suspicious or alarmed and call the police, even if it had a note with giant letters on it saying “This is a clock”? You wouldn’t think that perhaps some (white) evangelical fanatic left it there, seriously or as a prank? We all know that thing looked like a bomb and it’s perfectly understandable to be suspicious that it may have been a bomb or hoax bomb regardless of the race of the person who brought it there.
So when it beeps in class and from the English teacher’s perspective he was keeping it hidden up to that point since she hadn’t been notified about it by his own volition beforehand, she was justified in suspecting it had possibly been intended as a hoax bomb but he was caught before planting it.
But even regardless of these points, schools have been known to become wildly concerned and punish white kids too even when the object in question does NOT appear to be a real weapon. I will point to some of these examples later in this article.
The school reacted as expected regardless of race
The injustice committed here is that Ahmed was suspended even after school officials found out what really happened. And I don’t think he should have been handcuffed, and he could have simply been taken down to the principle’s office instead of to the police station (although even this is not a huge deal since the police ended up not charging him with anything anyway).
But the reaction by school officials and police was likely not an issue of racism. Remember that if we are trying to judge whether this kid was treated unfairly compared to how other people would be treated in the same situation, then we have to look at how the situation appeared to the people who actually responded at the time. And based on all the available information, we can conclude he wasn’t treated differently from how anyone else would have been in the same situation.
Remember that the teacher who turned this into a big deal was not the teacher who he had voluntarily shown it to earlier in the day. She did not know he had taken it out and shown it to anyone else. At the time the device beeped in English class, presumably the Engineering teacher he originally showed it to was not sitting there next to her ready explain that Ahmed had voluntarily showed him the device earlier. He or she may have not even known about what was going on until after school officials had already contacted the police.
The only information the English teacher had was that something beeped, she told Ahmed to show her, and it looked like a bomb. He then claims it’s a clock. But would you think that a teacher living in the post-Columbine era would blindly believe a white kid in this situation or would they be skeptical and want to investigate? Since it looks a lot like a bomb to her and to a lot of other people, she alerted school officials and they thought he might have been planning a bomb hoax, which is a serious crime in the US.
Schools are hypersensitive to violent imagery and especially bomb threats, especially since Columbine and zero tolerance policies have been implemented. Like the police chief said, “We live in an age where you can’t take things like that to a school.” And that is regardless of your ethnicity or religion. Now, do these hypersensitive policies make sense? Often, no, in my opinion. But that is a separate issue from whether Ahmed was treated as he was due to racism.
Notice that I am not saying that there is never racism or a double standard used by anyone ever. I am saying that there is not evidence of a double standard or racism being applied by these authorities in this case. People assume that since racism and double standards have been issues in other cases and from other people, it therefore did happen in this case too. But that is not a rational line of reasoning. That sort of thinking leads to incorrect assessments and makes this country’s public dogmatic and causes even greater unnecessary political divisiveness.
To summarize: It’s not oppression of Muslims; it’s Columbine-induced paranoia about perception of weapons.
White non-Muslim kids get in trouble for similar things too
There are numerous cases of white kids getting in trouble for far less than a device that genuinely looks like a bomb. But they don’t get hashtag campaigns and cries of racial injustice, because mainstream Progressive society does not have a preconceived bias to believe that any time a white kid gets in trouble it’s because of his or her race, while there is a preconceived bias to believe that any time a person from a minority group or a Muslim gets in trouble or has a grievance, it is definitely because of their race or religion.
Many Progressives begin with the assumption that some massive injustice has been done (unless the kid is from a majority group) and that the people who got him in trouble are all evil bigots who are just acting completely absurdly for hateful reasons and there was no valid rationale behind their actions at all.
These are some of the other examples I found of kids who have been suspended or arrested over far less than bringing a device to school that looks like a bomb. At least some of these kids are definitely white while the ethnicity of the others are not clear (but very unlikely to be Muslim or of Arab descent, considering their names), so it goes to show that it happens to everyone.
Racism is a genuine problem in the US that is evident in many events, but I do not see evidence of it being a factor in Ahmed’s case in light of similar cases of post-Columbine hysteria.
However there are also people who claim that they know of cases where white kids did similar things to Ahmed or even brought real weapons to school or sent an intentional bomb threat and yet were not treated as badly as Ahmed.
But keep in mind that the result of an incident – whether kids get arrested or not, or suspended or not – will not always be identical in different cases even when racism is not a factor, simply due to the different individuals involved and other details of the event such as how teachers found out and what information they had at the time.
What we can do though, is look at the variety of these cases and clearly see that many, many white kids also do get arrested and suspended for all kinds of things related to misunderstandings or actual hoaxes or weapons.
Remember that the charge of racism is called into question by the fact that white kids have been arrested for such things, but the skeptical position on this issue is not called into question by the fact that some white kids have not, because it doesn’t have to happen every time to prove that it can indeed happen without racism being a factor.
An additional issue worth discussing
Ahmed has received massive praise from all over social media for being so intelligent and innovative as to create this clock – even from the President. But it turns out that all Ahmed did was take a commercially available alarm clock, remove the plastic enclosure, and attach it to a pencil case. Well congratulations, Ahmed. You have a bright future… perhaps in patent infringement and product knockoffs.
So it looks like Ahmed was trying to get brownie points with his teachers by making them think he created something quite clever when he really did no work at all, and he has been rewarded beyond his wildest dreams with praise from around the country and the President, offers from Harvard and MIT, and thousands of dollars worth of free gifts from Microsoft. The situation is truly incredible.