If you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter in the last 24 hours, you’ve almost certainly heard the tale of Ahmed Mohamed. He’s a brilliant 14 year old boy from Irving, TX, who built a clock at home. Proud of his work, he brought it to school to show people. Unfortunately, homemade clocks look an awful lot like every homemade bomb you’ve ever seen in a movie. At this point, there’s still some varying reports as to exactly how things went down but, at the end of the day, he was questioned, suspended for three days, hand cuffed, and put into police custody.
As you can imagine, the incident immediately drew national attention. The mayor of Irving chimed in, defending the actions of the teacher, school, and police with the words, “To the best of my knowledge, they followed protocol.”
The story spread so fast that both Barrack Obama and Hilary Clinton have chimed in on the matter:
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 (@POTUS) September 16, 2015
President Obama’s staff even invited Ahmed to the White House for Astronomy Night.
Now, let’s state the obvious: it’s ridiculous that a student was arrested for building a clock and bringing it to school.
Why Was Ahmed Mohamed Arrested?
Where things get far more complicated is when you start to examine WHY this happened. The reality is that NONE of us were there. We don’t know exactly what happened, or why things escalated to such an absurd level.
What wasn’t surprising was that the media IMMEDIATELY jumped to blaming Islamophobia. In fact, I’ve yet to find an article on the incident which doesn’t point out that he’s Muslim; I currently have four articles open on the situation.
I just double checked, and all four use the word “Muslim” in the first paragraph.
- Irving Mayor Defends School And Cops, Doesn’t Apologize For Arrest Of Muslim Teen Over Clock
- ‘I’m The Person Who Built A Clock And Got In Trouble For It’
- Keith Ellison, First Muslim Congressman, Carries Clock In Solidarity With Ahmed
- #IStandWithAhmed takes Twitter by storm
Some articles explicitly declare their certainty of Islamophobia:
- The Arrest of a 14-Year-Old For Making a Clock Is the End Result of a Decade of Anti-Muslim Fearmongering
This wouldn’t be a problem if there wasn’t extreme bias against anyone who even slightly questions this narrative.
Stephen Amell, star of the TV show Arrow, found himself in hot water when he chimed in on the issue. After reading a series of articles discussing systemic racism and inequality in Texas, he posted a tweet defending Texas and condemning those stereotyping Texas as racist. The backlash was so swift and harsh that within hours he posted a video apologizing for his comments. Let that sink in.
So we’re clear, if this is an example of Islamophobia, it of course should be denounced. On the flip side, unless I’m missing some details, the only evidence that this is Islamophobia is that he’s a Muslim that got in trouble for something stupid (if I am missing something, please post a link in the comments and correct me); there’s something very unsettling about that to me. If this is Islamophobia, that’s a problem. If it isn’t, and the media is making this all about his religion without reason, that’s a problem.
Given recent news stories, there seems to be a different explanation…
Zero-Tolerance | A Culture of Overreaction
I could understand interpreting the incident in light of his religion if the last two years’ headlines weren’t packed with stories of schools overreacting to childish indiscretions.
Last week, a 13 year old boy was arrested and charged with 2nd degree assault. What did he do to earn a 2nd degree assault charge? He kissed a girl on a dare. Was it inappropriate? Of course. Should he be punished? Obviously. Was this typical thoughtless behavior of a 13 year old boy? Yep. Should he be charged with assault? That seems a bit over-the-top.
Then, there’s the constant stream of stories of elementary school boys being suspended for…
- A 10 year old was suspended for making his finger into the shape of a gun last year.
- A 10 year old was suspended for bringing a foam Nerf bullet to school.
- A 9 year old was suspended for threatening to use his magic Hobbit ring to make his classmates disappear.
- A 9 year old was threatened with suspension for playing with a LEGO policeman who was carrying LEGO toy gun during lunch.
- A 7 year old was suspended for chewing his pop tart into the shape of a gun back in 2013.
- A 6 year old was suspended for pointing a finger gun at a classmate and saying, “You’re dead” back in March of this year.
- A 6 year old was nearly suspended from riding the bus and had to write an apology to the bus driver for bringing a “Lego-sized” gun toy on the bus.
- A 5 year old girl was suspended for threatening to shoot a classmate with a Hello Kitty bubble gun.
All of these stories are from the last two and a half years. Honestly, when I started making the above list, I was only aware of three of those stories. But, the articles I looked up kept linking to more and more stories young boys being suspended or threatened with suspension because of schools with zero-tolerance policies. Notice, none of the articles above mention the religion of the children.
These ridiculous polices also caused a 17 year old Eagle scout to be suspended for 20 days for having a pocket knife in a emergency kit in his car back in 2009.
Wikipedia defines “Zero tolerance” policies this way:
A zero-tolerance policy in schools is a policy of punishing any infraction of a rule, regardless of accidental mistakes, ignorance, or extenuating circumstances. In schools, common zero-tolerance policies concern possession or use of illicit drugs or weapons. Students, and sometimes staff, parents, and other visitors, who possess a banned item for any reason are always (if the policy is followed) to be punished.
Whenever you create rules and remove all logic, reason, and circumstance, you get some very strange and thoughtless consequences. Children behave childishly. The human brain doesn’t finish developing until after the teenage years, and the last portion of the brain to develop deals with impulse control and forward thinking. Some bad choices are rebellion, and some bad choices are just immaturity. All bad choices require correction, but that correction looks different depending on whether we’re talking about rebellion or immaturity.
Zero tolerance policies violate some very basic principles of good discipline.
Last Thoughts on Ahmed Mohamed
This story is less than 24 hours old at the time I’m writing this. Perhaps more details will reveal the cause of this overreaction in the coming days. Based on the articles I’ve seen thus far, it appears the narrative the media is running with his that this is all about Islamophobia. If that is the case, deal with it as such. However, if there isn’t any evidence of religious prejudice, I hope the media has the same zeal for criticizing zero tolerance polices or similar rules which lead to thoughtless suspensions.
- Prejudice should be dealt with as prejudice.
- Immaturity should be dealt with as immaturity.
- Rebellion should be dealt with as rebellion.
- Zero tolerance policies ignore the complexities of life.
Whatever the situation, be careful not to force your own preconceived notions onto situations. That can come in the form of making assumptions about people of different religions, or it can come in the form of assuming that anything bad that happens to someone of a religion is because of their religion. Not all stories fit neatly into the molds we already have in our minds.
What do you think? Is this another example of Islamophobia or yet another example of ridiculous enforcement of zero tolerance rules?