Monday, September 28, 2015

How to Talk About Ahmed "Clock Boy" Mohamed Without Sounding Like a Fool

When we're talking about people writing for an outfit like Breitbart, coming across as an idiot on this type of matter may be part of the job description, but for the rest of us....

Credit where it’s due to comedian Bill Maher and HBO show Real Time, which has become one of the few mass media outlets telling the truth about “Clock Boy” Ahmed Mohamed, who was removed from his Irving, Texas school when he brought a device to the school unannounced that resembled a bomb.

If Maher is correct, let's skip ahead to his conclusion:

Maher has repeatedly said that he believes Mohamed should not have been arrested.

That's the gist of the controversy -- that Mohamed was arrested. Had he merely been sent to the principal's office, we would never have heard of him.

So is that the story? A young teenager was needlessly arrested for having a clock, with Breitbart's right-wingers joining with Maher to deplore the stupidity of his arrest? Of course not. What the author actually approves is Maher's claim that the teenager was not as bright as the initial stories suggested, and Maher's anti-Muslim rhetoric. So let's take those issues in order:

Maher used a zinger to shut down the notion that the boy removing the back of a piece consumer electronics and showing it to people makes Mohamed any kind of inventor, saying “This is like pouring milk on a bowl of Cheerios and claiming you invented cereal.”...

It’s the second time that Maher has featured the Clock Kid as a topic of discussion. On a previous episode of Real Time, billionaire Marc Cuban revealed that when he spoke on the phone with Muhamed and asked him questions, he could hear his sister whispering answers to him.

Tee, hee, hee, Maher really put that fourteen-year-old boy in his place. But here's the problem: the boy wasn't arrested for plagiarism, for cheating on his homework, for patent infringement.... Even if we presuppose that he can't even tie his shoes by himself or speak in coherent sentences, that in no way stands as an excuse for his treatment by the school or by the police. It's irrelevant.

When liberal Ron Reagan, Jr. attempted to claim that the device that Mohamed brought to school didn’t resemble a bomb, Maher quickly defused his argument, urging him, “Try taking that through airport security.”

And, as Reagan correctly pointed out, it would not have been a problem -- because you're actually allowed to take clocks, and electronic components, onto airplanes. The boy would have placed his pencil case on the scanner belt, the person operating the scanner might have flagged the item for further review, and upon further review it would have been determined to be a clock. They might also have swabbed the case to test for any residue of explosives, only to again confirm... clock.

While clocks can be used as timing devices for explosives, clocks are present in many things that people routinely take onto airplanes. Cell phones, computers, tablets, ebook readers, wristwatches, travel alarm clocks.... It's really not alarming -- even if it's an alarm clock -- unless there's some indication that it's actually going to be used in association with an explosive device. And no, looking like your memory of the excessively complicated explosive device created by the prop department of a James Bond movie does not translate into it's being anything more than a clock.

On that episode Maher also noted that so many young Muslim men have “blown a lot of shit up around the world.”

The boy's religion has obviously factored into discussion of the case, and appears to be the leading factor in Maher's knee-jerk reaction to the case. It's a factor that is emphasized and amplified in the right-wing media, where you can read conspiratorial tales of how the boy's older siblings or father are activists of one sort or another, and how the whole thing was a deviously clever set-up of the school.

Okay.... so we have a kid who's actually stupid, and does nothing more than disassemble off-the-shelf clocks and put them into his pencil case, but at the same time who is so clever that he tricked the police into arresting him, and tricked the right-wing media machine into engaging in anti-Muslim demagoguery? I think there's a bit of tension between those two positions, but leaving that aside for the moment, proponents of the Muslim angle have a bigger problem:

The school does not report that it suspected that the boy's device was a bomb, real or fake, because of his religion. The school does not suggest that their knowledge of the boy's family played any role in its decision to treat the possession of the clock as a criminal matter, and to call in the police. The police don't claim that they knew the boy's religion, or that they suspected that the clock was something other than a clock because of his religion.

The commonality seems to be that the teacher, school officials and police officers who made the stupid decision to treat this as a criminal matter believed that anything that looks like the time from a bomb in a James Bond movie has to be a bomb -- be it an actual bomb or a fake bomb. That's not a matter of the boy's being the most brilliant inventor on the planet or dumb as a rock; it's not a matter of the boy being Muslim, Christian, Hindu or atheist. It's a matter of the school administration and police acting foolishly and needlessly arresting a boy for his possession of a clock.

The actual story is this: A boy brought a clock to school, whether disassembled or home-made, a teacher was concerned by its appearance, the school overreacted and brought in the police, and the police overreacted by making an arrest. Once you subtract the anti-Muslim rhetoric, you can move straight forward into what seems to be obvious even to a Breitbart writer, "Mohamed should not have been arrested". Your choice to inject more into the story may tell us something about you, but it's otherwise irrelevant.

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