Suspicious Pop-Tart guns versus scientific suitcase clocks

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In an effort to assuage what is perceived to be the fragile sensibilities of Muslim-Americans, Barack Obama has once again bowed to political correctness by extending his usual partiality toward an individual based solely on skin color and religion.

This time, the person at the center of the controversy is Ahmed Mohamed.  Ahmed is the 14-year-old Sudanese-American aspiring clockmaker who has proven to be bright enough to impress his teachers with his engineering prowess – but apparently not bright enough to know that bringing a homemade digital clock to school with wires snaking out of it, stored inside a suitcase (or briefcase, if you will), isn’t a good idea.

As it turns out, Ahmed is also the son of Sufi Dallas imam Mohamed Elhassan, who once ran for the presidency in Sudan on the platform that, if elected, he would lift sanctions the U.S. imposed on Sudan in the late 1990s because of that nation’s alleged sponsorship of terrorism.  Mr. Elhassan was also embroiled in controversy when he acted as a defense attorney on behalf of the Quran when Florida Pastor Terry Jones threatened to burn the Islamic holy book.

Mohamed Elhassan, who calls himself a sheik, now has a son who in his own right has become an overnight social media sensation by managing to register on Barack Obama’s racial injustice radar.

Despite young Ahmed being treated more respectfully than other children half his age who’ve been punished for doing things far less alarming than bringing a suitcase clock to class, in reaction to the school taking routine precautions concerning Ahmed’s science project, the Mohamed family is accusing the Irving, Texas school district of Islamophobia.

One would think that since immigration has swelled the Muslim population in America to 6.2 million, the Mohameds would understand that because Ahmed is one of millions of Allah-loving students presently occupying desks in America’s classrooms, reprimanding their son doesn’t mean he’s being profiled.

Nonetheless, unlike in the case of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who also had an affinity for wiring up and transporting household items, being a Muslim with a digital clock in a suitcase has served Ahmed well.

For starters, Obama, who still hasn’t contacted Kate Steinle’s parents since their daughter was murdered by an illegal alien and felon in San Francisco, tweeted kudos to the studious teen.  In the tweet, the would-be horologist got an invitation to bring the ticking timepiece to the same White House that goes into lockdown over suspicious-looking coffee cups.

Above clock-making, Ahmed is being celebrated for his interest in science.  As a matter of fact, in his laudatory tweet, President Obama, who also inspires young Iranians to take an interest in nuclear science, commended Mohamed for his technical expertise by implying that kids making clocks that look like suitcase bombs exemplify “what makes America great.”

In addition to Obama’s invite, Ahmed also got a “like” from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg, was offered an internship at Twitter, and, after being pictured wearing a NASA t-shirt, was offered a summer scholarship at Space Camp USA in Alabama.

However, what this love fest has yet to reveal is how an all-American kid like Ahmed’s detention for bringing a suspicious-looking suitcase to school may have successfully paved the way for children with Muslim-sounding names to avoid being questioned if, in the future, they too decide to pack a “cool clock” or a pressure cooker into their backpacks.

Moreover, if liking science is an indicator of inspirational greatness, one can’t help but wonder why the president never commended young Josh Welch of Baltimore, Maryland for his exciting artistic expression.

Instead, Josh, the seven-year-old who maintained that his Pop-Tart “gun” was just an attempt to fashion a breakfast food into a mountain range, was suspended from school for two days because, instead of the Grand Tetons, Josh’s creation resembled something that looked like a Glock 19.

If only Josh had made a clock that looked like a Glock, President Obama might have invited him to the White House, too!

Not likely.

Then there’s six-year-old Rodney Lynch, also from Maryland.  In 2013, around the time of his run-in with the law, Rodney was a big fan of cartoons.  Seems the imaginative Mr. Lynch positioned his thumb and index finger into the shape of an “L.”  Rodney’s design did not say “tick-tock” like Ahmed’s, but after molding his fingers into a gun, the tyke was heard uttering the word “Pow!”  For that, and to ensure the school’s “sense of safety and security,” Rodney was suspended for a day and has yet to receive a tweet from the president.

There’s also the case of the five-year-old Pennsylvania girl who, in a debate at the bus stop, insisted that princess bubble-blowers are superior to Hello Kitty bubble guns.

When the princess bubble-blower girl suggested that the two friends test their claims by shooting each other with soapsuds, the barely-out-of-diapers five-year-old was accused of making a “terrorist threat,” mandated to attend counseling sessions with a therapist, and suspended for 10 days.

In 2009, an 11-year-old student was arrested, thrown in jail, and charged with a third-degree felony for bringing a plastic butter knife to school.  That same year, an eight-year-old Massachusetts boy was mandated to have psychological counseling for drawing a picture of Jesus on the cross while in school.

Not so with Ahmed.  After toting a homemade clock that looked like a suitcase bomb to school, the kid is a national hero, and the Irving Independent School District is under fire for investigating the digital clock in a suitcase as a potential threat.

What ever happened to the Janet Napolitano-coined DHS motto “If you see something, say something?”

At the end of the day, this isn’t about a presidential tweet or whether the authorities discriminated against a Muslim kid with an interest in science.  The crux of the issue here is why schools’ “zero tolerance” safety policy suddenly has two different standards.  Why, in the midst of the War on Terror, should a 14-year-old boy of Middle Eastern descent bringing a ticking circuit board to school in a metal suitcase be exempted from scrutiny?

2 Comments

  1. Hi there Jeannie!

    I’m hoping that “polite, dissenting comments” are acceptable =). We do have a point of agreement, but that’s coming in a bit.

    There are two major issues I’ve got with the way the school handled the whole clock debacle. First off, “it looks like a bomb” is very different from “it looks like a bomb that’s used in action movies”. Real bombs infrequently have a bright red LED countdown clock, because they’re not necessary in real life – they’re necessary to build suspense. In real life, if you intend to blow something up with a time delay fuse, the perpetrator either knows how much time will pass (if the bomber intends to escape) or doesn’t care (if it’s a suicide bombing). Moreover, there was nothing that resembled an explosive in the box – no C4, no block of plastic explosive, no ziploc bag of dynamite, no diet coke and mentos. Even if it were a countdown trigger, what in that box would explode? Finally, the clock required being plugged into an electrical outlet. Forget the “do I cut the red wire or the blue wire?” scene, unplugging the device would have rendered it inoperable. Given that the clock only resembled a bomb in that it had a big red timer as opposed to having an actual-explosive charge, I feel that considering the device to look like a “realistic” bomb is based a whole lot more on what we see in movies than on an understanding of what is actually necessary for a bomb to operate.

    However, I’ll roll with the “see something, say something” logic – after all, I’ll certainly concede that formal training on “what a bomb actually looks like” is probably an unreasonable expectation to have of public school teachers – they’re certainly overworked as it is. The follow-up question is why the school didn’t actually treat it like a bomb. It took them hours to call the cops. They didn’t empty the building. The device drove in a squad car with police officers. I’m not going to cry “racism” here; I genuinely don’t know the parties involved, and I wasn’t there as they were trying to handle the situation appropriately. What I am going to say is that the school’s actions don’t seem to line up with the way that schools are instructed to handle bomb threats – incompetence, malice, confusion, numerous dissenting parties – no matter how you slice it, even if the incident didn’t become a public spectacle, it doesn’t reflect positively on the school.

    I don’t think that President Obama was saying in his tweet that “suitcase clocks brought to public schools are what make America great”. As an IT consultant, ‘getting people to think through a situation’ is a constant uphill struggle. Trying to explain technical things to people that directly involve a task they are trying to do is met with disdain – I basically feel the need to apologize for taking up their time to describe the solution to the problem they’re having. I’m all but certain that 999 out of 1,000 high schoolers haven’t, on their own time, attempted to tinker with an old alarm clock based upon curiosity and a desire to build things. Natural curiosity towards technological things seems to either be squashed, or curbed toward malice (e.g. computer hacking). The fact that Ahmed is pursuing his curiosity and taking initiative to do things with otherwise-rotting technical objects, I would argue, is the kind of thing that *should* be encouraged in school. I’m not completely opposed to the notion that this wasn’t the absolute greatest example of wisdom to ever be documented, but is it really such a travesty that adolescent curiosity be lauded? Again, the circumstances that caused it are certainly their own can of worms, but I have a suspicion that President Obama was talking a bit more about Ahmed’s initiative to build something, rather than to spend it watching reality TV after school.

    The other examples you raise are the tip of the iceberg where we agree, though it’s possible that the roots of our principles in that regard are different – your profile indicates that you’re a grandmother (and thus, a parent), while I admittedly do not have children of my own, thus my perspective will likely be different. Our agreement is that the “zero tolerance policy” situation at the public schools is absurd, unevenly enforced, places unreasonable expectations on teachers, is taken to unhealthy extremes, causes problematic consequences for those who become its victim, and are instituted so that judgment calls never have to be made by the administrators (and thus, get called into question by a lawyer during a lawsuit). I think the system is terrible, and amongst the reasons I neither have children nor want them is because I would feel like I am failing my child by subjecting them to such a system.
    Where I assume that we differ (I may well be mistaken) is that I value my hypothetical-children’s liberty more than their safety. Does that mean I let them play in traffic, or at six years old let them pick their own bedtime and whether they eat candy bars for dinner?? of course not; I certainly believe in rules. What I am saying is that I want my children to understand the power behind “innocent until proven guilty”. It means that if my child is being bullied, and can prove it, that they should not be suspended for being the victim. It means that I would much rather them go to schools without metal detectors and a complement of police officers – it’s a school, not a prison. Does an “innocent until proven guilty” system mean that sometimes guilty parties go free? yes, it does. John Adams notably attested to that. Does it mean that my child will be less-safe in their everyday lives? Probably. However, I do not think that Patrick Henry intended to be an outlier in his “give me liberty or give me death” ideology, though I think in 21st century America, such a mentality seems to be an exception, not a rule. If I do have children one day, I do hope that a mentality that values liberty over safety is somehow instilled within them. Given the way that pop-tart eaters and clock builders and peanut-butter-spreading-device wielders and bubble gun discussors are treated in our society, however, my generation may well be the last to understand the true meaning of liberty.

    Thanks for indulging my thoughts, Jeannie.

    Joey

Polite comments encouraged.