“I’m the person who built a clock and got in a lot of trouble for it.” is what you’d remember Ahmed heroically saying in an interview aired by Fox News. ‘A 14 year old innocent Arab boy who is a science fanatic carrying a boyish zest to invent new things has been ruthlessly scrutinized and shamefully arrested by the Police after being caught by an ignorant teacher who is an uncouth racist‘. And out of all the places, this happened in Texas, the very state considered to be the behemoth of racial profiling.
Unfortunately, this is more than enough information to ruffle anybody’s biased sixth sense. This is catnip for ‘click bait’ websites such as The Huffington Post and TIME to tell you half the story – the very half that conveniently feeds the islamophobic narrative – the very half that exemplifies the resentment against cops crossing the line.
But more importantly, this information is enough for us to turn an unjust blind eye to the true facts. We’ve drawn the curtains of attention too early on a drama that hasn’t finished playing.
To understand the full picture, let’s break the story into chunks.
Ahmed brings a homemade clock to impress his teacher. Which teacher? We’ll get to that. He didn’t make the clock because he was asked to do so – it was no school assignment. Yes, that must be appreciated. Ahmed did make the clock because he is genuinely interested in inventing things. However, when you bring an unsolicited item to school – be it a clock or a water gun – you will invariably have some eyebrows raised.
Moving on to the appearance, my hands are on the table – I am by no means an expert on what a homemade clock looks like. Sure, point that finger and indict me of not knowing what I’m talking about here. But give any layman a metal case with an attached timer and a ‘mere clock’ is not the first thing that would come to his or her mind.
But wait, there’s more. Ahmed is not entirely free from blame’s umbrella. He said he was wronged by the teacher he intended to impress. But I doubt the teacher he wished to impress was his English teacher. He had shown the clock to several other teachers in school before it fell into the hands of the English teacher. In fact, Ahmed’s Engineering teacher (who was shown the clock before the English teacher) appreciated Ahmed’s effort but told him to keep the clock inside his bag, fearing it would raise unwarranted suspicions.
And that is exactly what Ahmed didn’t do. In the middle of the English class the clock beeped and it caught the English teacher’s attention. You can’t stand completely oblivious when a bomb-looking clock exudes a bomb-like sound.
Now comes the matter of most contention – the response. I have seen several arguments such as “They didn’t evacuate the school despite sighting it as a bomb” or “They didn’t get as far away as possible.” And true, that is the sequence of events you would picture in a hypothetical bomb related scenario. But the funny bit is Ahmed wasn’t even accused of making a bomb – he was accused of making a hoax bomb. Nobody thought he actually made a real bomb.
Furthermore, Ahmed wasn’t reported to have been very cooperative while being questioned. Officers said Ahmed was being “passive aggressive” in his answers to their questions, and didn’t have a “reasonable answer” as to what he was doing with the case. So the long hours of interrogation shouldn’t surprise anyone. But at the end of it all, Ahmed was let off after he was found to be innocent.
Thus followed the media frenzy and #IStandWithAhmed blown out of the roof. While Ahmed was praised by celebrities and showered with gifts, his school and the cops were disdained.
Did Ahmed deserve this? No. Did the cops and school management take this too far? Yes.
But did the school have the right to be suspicious? Yes. Was the intent of this whole facade one of racial prejudice? Absolutely not. This is the argument I’m bringing to the table.
Let’s imagine if it was not Ahmed in the spotlight. Let’s say it was a white ‘John’. I am sure a bomb-looking device would emit the same level of concern. The same action would take place, but the media would be less concerned because it would not fit into their romanticized story.
Now what if it was a ‘real’ bomb that John possessed. We can’t discount that possibility. If it was a real bomb and the teacher caught him – then surprise – the teacher is a hero! Saved several lives!
If you’ve started to feel like a hypocrite, don’t worry, this was exactly what I wanted to happen. Just kidding, what I mean to say is don’t lose perspective when it comes to sensitive issues. Jumping the gun and letting bias take over is both misdirected and dangerous. This is clearly not a story of racism. The school did what it had to do – take the matter seriously – the gravity of which is subjective but nonetheless required.
(Photo credit – http://www.dallasnews.com/incoming/20150916-0916ahmedclock.jpg.ece/BINARY/0916ahmedclock)