Ahmed the Clock Maker
Once upon a time, in fact just last month, there was a clever young man named Ahmed Mohamed, age 14. He loved his Engineering class, and perhaps to impress his teacher, he constructed a working digital clock at home. Encouraged by his parents, he took it to school and showed the teacher. At this point the accounts differ; the teacher liked it but told him not to show it to anyone else, or later it went off in English class and that teacher said it looked like a bomb, and don’t show it to anyone else. When I was in the Army, whenever a surprise inspection was coming the officers looked like they were about to wet themselves. We’d joke, “Everybody into the jumping through your ass position!” And that’s what happened here. The police were called, and Ahmed was arrested, cuffed, and hauled off. The charge was that he’d constructed a “hoax bomb.” With a name like Ahmed Mohamed, it’s obvious the boy is a radicalized fundamentalist extremist jihadist terrorist. Ahmed stated, “I felt like a criminal. I felt like a terrorist.”
Chief of Police Larry Boyd defined the charge as having “the intention to alarm (I doubt any pun was intended) or cause people to be concerned.” He went on to say that Ahmed was “uncooperative, passive aggressive, and posing a threat . . . and was not forthcoming at that time about any other details.” That may have been because there were no other details. Police spokesman James McLellan tried to clarify: “We attempted to question the juvenile about what it was, and he would simply only tell us that it was a clock.” That’s probably because that’s what it was. During questioning, Ahmed asked to have his parents present, which was his right under the Texas Family Code, Sec. 52.025. He says he was told: “No, you can’t call your parents. You’re in the middle of an interrogation.” Later, when asked about this violation, Chief Boyd said he “did not have an answer to [that] specific question.”
It all went viral, of course. But then he was praised by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, and the President invited him to the White House. Smart kids usually have smart parents. His father, Mohamed ElHassan Mohamed, is a Sufi Muslim, a mystical and more liberal sect (of his mother I could find nothing). He’s a Sudanese immigrant, and twice ran for President of Sudan. And in 2011 when pastor Terry Jones tried and later burned a Koran, He was the represented the holy book at the mock trial.
The question that comes to mind is would all this have happened if a freckle-faced white boy named Jimmy Johnson made a clock and took it to school? I think we know the answer. I remember being his age, a freshman in high school. I was born without the mechanical gene, my only triumph in the area was building a single-pole double-throw switch to win my Electricity merit badge in Boy Scouts. But another guy at my school ground his own six inch mirror and made a reflecting telescope, and one of my classmates built a ruby laser, a technology that was still new then. Times were different then; all we had to worry about in those days was Vietnam, race riots, a communist under every bed (now it’s a terrorist), and the threat of imminent thermonuclear annihilation.
Islamophobia is a thriving industry in America, and very profitable. Three days after the clock incident, Donald Trump was in New Hampshire, and this time he was letting others do the talking, rare for him. The very first question came from a middle-aged man: “We have a problem in the country, and it’s called Muslims. We know our current President is one. You know he’s not even a citizen.” The crowd got a little restless, and Trump said, “We need this question.” The man went on about training camps [right here in River City!] where they’re planning to kill us. “That’s my question. When can we get rid of them?” Trump was later criticized for his non-handling of the situation. He later said he isn’t obligated to defend the President every time someone says something bad about him, which is true enough. But recall that during 2011, when Trump was considering a presidential run, it was he who stoked the fires of the Birther movement, demanding Obama’s long term birth certificate, then denying its legitimacy once the document was shown. Think back seven years for a somewhat different reaction, that of Senator John McCain. During the 2008 election the Republican candidate had to deal with a crazy-haired old lady who said she thought Obama was “an Arab.” McCain’s response was a little classier. He kindly took the microphone from her, saying “No, Maam, he’s a decent man, a citizen. I just have profound disagreements with him.”
Another Republican presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson, was interviewed by MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. The dialogue came around to whether a Muslim should ever be President. Todd, who must be delusional if he considers himself a journalist, put a particular slant on it: “Is Islam consistent with the Constitution?” Carson replied, “No, I don’t believe it is.” Naturally, Sharia law was dragged in, with the implication that all Muslims practice it, which they do not. You might as well ask if the type of Christian law upheld by civil courts that demands women who want abortions to be subjected to a trans-vaginal probe is consistent with the Constitution. I will echo Dr. Carson: No, I don’t believe it is.
Islamophobia came into vogue after 9/11, which was understandable. Conservatives whipped it up into a frenzy which continues today. Just listen to any of the right wing hate radio shows — their name is Legion, for they are many. The conservative mind always has to have an “other” to blame for any and all problems. In the late 19th Century it was the Irish, in the early 20th it was the Italians, in other times and other places it’s been the Jews, Gypsies, black people, brown people, and hippies. 9/11 put Islam in the crosshairs, and the opportunity has not been lost. Blaring hate radio, coast to coast, all night and all day, it pushes some of our fringe types to violence, which may be the intent. In 2012 a man shot up a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, killing six and wounding four more. No, Sikhs are not Muslims, but “hey, they’s all wearin’ them turbines, so they must be!”
In September a CNN/ORC poll showed that 29% of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, and for Republicans the number was 43%. September 1st Public Policy Polling had the number of Republicans at 54%. Those numbers are startling enough, but even more troubling is that the numbers have grown in the last several years, not lessened. A Pew Research poll in 2010 had 18% of Americans believing he was Muslim (up from 11% the year before), and 31% of Republicans. I’m a little skeptical of polls, not knowing who they interviewed, or how many. Was there a confirmation bias which might skew the results? But taken in the aggregate, they seem to show a curve you could plot on a graph.
If we’re going to blame an entire religious group for the actions of their extremists, we can begin with Christianity. It antedates by Islam by 700 years, and its extremists groups have committed many times the murder, bloodshed, and atrocities of any other religion. I’m certainly not saying that we needn’t be observant of our surroundings, and be aware of suspicious activity. And it’s better to err on the side of caution, and all that. But there’s a difference between “If you see something, say something” and if you think you see