Our story so far:
Fourteen-year-old kid in Texas goes to school, taking with him a homemade electronic device of some kind. The kid’s a tinkerer.
He shows the device to a teacher, who tells the kid he should put it away and not show it to anyone else, as it might be mistaken for a bomb.
The kid says it’s a clock. He puts it inside his backpack, however, and reportedly doesn’t show it to anyone else.
In a later class, the device emits an alarm. Oops. Now the kid is busted and has to explain the thing to school authorities. They have the police come in, on the possibility that the kid has brought a bomb to school. He’s handcuffed and questioned. He’s suspended, and the police investigate, but ultimately say they’ll file no charges.
All in a day’s work, right? In a country where a seven-year-old can be suspended for eating his Pop Tart into the shape of a gun, it’s just what can happen if you take a homemade electronic device to school uninvited.
Unless the 14-year-old’s name is Ahmed Mohamed (who looks like a nice kid, by the way). And his father is a member of CAIR and prominent in the local community. (And also prominent in politics in Sudan, for that matter, where, in spite of living and working in Irving, Texas, he ran for president in 2010 and 2015.)
In that case, your weird-looking homemade device isn’t the problem, and the fact that you took it to school uninvited, just to show people, isn’t an error of judgment. The problem lies entirely with the teachers and the school administrators, who are prejudiced against you because you’re Muslim.
If you were a kid of pretty much any other ethnicity or religion, the news media would have little interest in you, and you’d be lucky to get off with your suspension and a stern warning to you and your parents. No one would want to hear your excuses. Bad judgment is bad judgment.
But you know how this turns out, sports fans. These scripts write themselves. Barack Obama has now lauded the kid for his homemade clock and invited him to the White House.
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great.
— President Obama (@POTUS44) September 16, 2015
The snap-judgment infosphere is barking up a storm, shrieking that the entire benighted country of this terrible America is stuffed to the gills with prejudice. We’re the worst country on the planet. Well, Texas is the worst country on the planet.
People who in other circumstances would realize why the school erred on the side of caution – who would probably applaud it – are suddenly the Admiral Farraguts of the Unidentifiable Device Brought to School scenario. Damn the wires trailing from the suitcase – full speed ahead!
The issue here isn’t whether you think it’s stupid to suspect that young Ahmed Mohamed’s “clock” might be a “bomb.”
People who are supposed to know better get that stuff wrong, when there are no Muslims in sight. People who don’t know better, but are alarmed by seeing suspicious-looking things they can’t explain, even when they have no idea who might be behind them, also get that stuff wrong. Being wrong about suspicious devices that might be bombs happens – and to non-Muslims.
The issue is that none of us should have an immunity card to play on these things. It was an error of judgment for the kid to take his homemade “clock” to school without an approved reason. (Hilariously, Gawker hunted for students who took homemade clocks to school and didn’t get arrested for it. Every single one of Gawker’s examples involved a science project, competition, or fair – in other words, the kids brought their devices to sponsored, approved events.)
How seriously should schools take the possibility of bombs, including fake bombs, hoax threats, and mere suspicious-looking devices? My, isn’t that an interesting question. We could go at it for hours on that one. Schools’ policies range from foolishly overzealous to foolishly indifferent. (Overzealotry would be where John Hawkins puts it.)
But however you come down on it, you can’t say that schools don’t take it seriously when Muslims aren’t involved. The kids involved in the incidents here, here, here, here, and here can tell you that.
You can make an error in judgment without intending harm, and if that’s the case with Ahmed Mohamed, it should be taken into account. He doesn’t need to be treated like he deliberately perpetrated a hoax.
But if he weren’t Muslim, he wouldn’t be hailed as a Martyr to Phobia for doing something stupid. Honesty about that is what matters in this situation.
Oh, and Obama owes this guy an affirmational tweet, and a White House invite.