A Muslim teenager takes a homemade clock to school. His teacher thinks it looks like a bomb and calls the police, and the boy is suspended for three days. It has been subsequently decried as an open-and-shut case of American racism and Islamophobia. But is it? A closer look at the circumstances is warranted.
To begin: was Ahmed Mohamed, the boy in question, really just a wide-eyed kid with a burning love for inventing?
In the days following the ordeal, his family release a picture of the homemade clock. Close inspection of the picture revealed an interesting piece of information, namely, that the “invention” was not an invention at all. According to critics, it was just a commercially manufactured timer that was taken apart to expose the wires and then attached to the inside of a case.
That being said, it does not seem entirely plausible that Ahmed was just being a dumb teenager who thought it would be funny to bring something to school that looked like a bomb to the casual observer.
Kids are dumb. They do these kinds of things all the time whether it is performing the Nazi salute to the American flag or making bomb jokes in an airport.
Is it wrong? Yes. Do they realize the seriousness of it? Of course not. They are teenagers; making good decisions has never been something associated with 14-year-olds.
There are some people who are speculating that this was part of some convoluted plan by his parents to gain publicity. Maybe so, but it also seems entirely possible that he is just a dumb kid. He might be a bright student but he is also clearly not a “boy inventor” or budding genius who was persecuted because of his religion.
Nevertheless, one of the biggest complaints about the issue has been how the police handled it. In regard to this, it seems clear that they were simply wrong. The teacher who called the police was just doing her job. In a country where school shootings and attacks are common occurrences, anybody would have been suspicious of a bunch of wires sticking out of a case. It is not her job to pretend to have deep knowledge of bomb-making techniques or to be sensitive to minorities. Her job in that situation was to keep the students safe, a role she fulfilled by simply calling it in.
When the police got involved, however, the ordeal escalated. Mohamed was handcuffed and held in a room without his parents even after it should have been obvious that there was no threat. Texas Family Code ensures that juveniles have a relative, guardian or attorney present during questioning. His parents, however, were not present.
Furthermore, unlike the English teacher who called in the report, it is the job of the police to know what a bomb looks like. It should have been readily apparent that Mohamed was pulling a bad joke at worst.
In addition, a three-day suspension seems cruel after a police interrogation — a terrifying experience for anyone, let alone a high school student. The police were doing their job, yes, but the way they handled it was wrong.
As Mohammed prepares to meet Obama at the White House, two things should be kept in mind.
First, that the police response was overblown. The second, however, is a reminder to keep some perspective, as it seems dubious that Ahmed was as naive as he was presented.