I wasn’t planning on writing about Ahmed Mohamed – the 14 year old boy who got arrested for bringing a digital clock he had built to school. The reason was that I didn’t think it needed comment. I pretty much was that kid, although I didn’t get into this kind of stuff until I was in college. But I built pretty much the same thing outside of class when I was taking digital electronics. It’s a lot of work even if it doesn’t take a great deal of creativity — a fact that I’m sure Mohamed would agree with. But actually getting it to work is totally awesome! And I showed it to everyone, even though no one was as thrilled as I was.
So I totally get the kid. But it didn’t seem worth talking about him because of course everyone would see this as an obvious injustice. It’s like the dentist who killed the lion: everyone agrees so it is really meaningless. It would be like writing an article, “Everyone Is Right: Hitler Was a Bad Guy” or “Mothers Are Necessary for the Continuance of the Species.” But apparently, I was wrong to assume that everyone would be in agreement that the treatment of Mohamed was totally wrong. I hadn’t remembered that Bill Maher existed.
Heather at Crooks & Liars wrote, Bill Maher Justifies 14-Year-Old Being Arrested for Bringing Clock to School. And the video she provided (below) is amazingly vile. Maher is making the argument that this is not racism or even bigotry against Muslims because it just so happens that the last 30 years Muslims have been blowing stuff up. Maher seems totally unaware that bigots at all times and in all places had reasons for their bigotry. Southern segregationists were certain that African Americans were less intelligent and more violent. They had to be kept away from “our women folk.”
But it was worse than Maher. Mark Cuban made repeated mention of something nefarious supposedly going on because during his phone call with Mohamed, his sister was in the background giving him answers to questions. Now this means nothing, other than that maybe a 14 year old nerd isn’t the most media savvy, and mostly feels comfortable talking tech. And that might have something to do with why he wasn’t (by the standards of Mark Cuban) communicative enough with his teachers. But his comments blow apart Maher’s notion that Mohamed is owed an apology. Cuban is implying that there is something behind this all — maybe a test to see if the school was properly guarded against an attack that Mohamed’s sister plans in the future?!
George Pataki was also there talking about “zero tolerance.” But they had already established that this never would have happened to a white kid. And the idea that this looks like a bomb is ridiculous. When I was a kid, my friends and I made bombs — although it might be more accurate to call them glorified firecrackers. But the thing about a bomb is that you need some material to explode. This was an empty case with a couple of circuit boards. If it “exploded,” the worst it would do is burn the hands of the person holding the box.
Heather pointed out something that gets to the very heart of this. She asked of the teachers and administrators, “If any of them actually believed that this kid brought a bomb to school, why wasn’t the school immediately evacuated?” And the answer is obvious: because none of them actually thought that. And rather than arresting Mohamed, why didn’t the police get a bomb expert while they simply detained the boy?
The problem here is exemplified with Maher, Cuban, and Pataki: they all find reasons to suspect a particular minority group. It wasn’t at all surprising that Jorges Ramos was the only one who made any sense. He has direct experience with the way the white majority makes up its own myths to justify its hatred of minority groups. History will not judge Maher as the brave truth teller he fancies himself on this issue. He will be seen as having a major blind spot about Muslims — kind of like Thomas Jefferson and slavery.