22.9.15

Ahmed Mohamed as curiosity


Ahmed Mohamed is being infantilised by big name Santa Clauses.

We know that Ahmed got into trouble for bringing a clock to class.

Mohamed, whose parents are from Sudan, was arrested, handcuffed and questioned by five police officers at MacArthur high school in Irvine on Monday. He was then suspended for three days. He told MSNBC he was not allowed to call his parents and was accused of carrying a hoax bomb. He said: “I felt like I was a criminal, I felt like I was a terrorist. I felt like all the names I was called.”

Soon after the news spread, it became a movement. #IStandWithAhmed was everywhere. Support came from corporate biggies and leaders who send their drones that kill little children.

Ahmed is 14; he loves science, he says. So NASA and MIT join in, the latter even sounding over-the-top about how they'd love to have him as a student. Everyone is thrilled. Clearly, people believe in Santa Claus.

Barack Obama tweeted, “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.”

What does "more kids like you mean"? The White House press secretary said, “This episode is a good illustration of how pernicious stereotypes can prevent even good-hearted people who have dedicated their lives to educating young people from doing the good work that they set out to do."

Even good-hearted people?

This is the problem. Ahmed is treated like a rarity, an exception to the rule. The Muslim who can be trusted to make America great. He is being coddled as a migrant who is not carrying a rucksack and is, therefore, not a threat.

Photographs of his father carrying boxes of pizza for waiting media persons just added to the non-threatening picture being projected. In all this ho-hum, Richard Dawkins, atheist evangelist, spoke about how the clock was not an invention, but just dissembled parts. He also implied that perhaps Ahmed did so to invite arrest.

This is a conspiracy theory, from somebody who hates conspiracy theories about terrorist attacks, for example. Dawkins justifies it as being "passionate about the truth". Good. Why is he not passionate about finding out the truth about why five cops took him away, why the teachers assumed the clock looked like a bomb — how much do they know about bombs?

Yet, at least this one time he does not sound as offensive as he often does. Quite unlike Taslima Nasreen who said, “If I could see Ahmed Mohamed’s home-made clock, I would hv mistaken his things for a bomb. Why ppl think Muslims can bring bombs? Cause they do." (sic)

Cheap shots are Taslima territory. She claims to be a rationalist, but does not seem to realise that innuendo is irrational.

Dawkins has made at least some attempt at asking other queries, about checks at airports where carrying liquids too is not permitted.

As police spokesperson James McLellan said, “It could reasonably be mistaken as a device if left in a bathroom or under a car. The concern was, what was this thing built for? Do we take him into custody?”

These may be valid concerns, but are they uniformly applied? No. Besides, in schools there are science projects where things could be mistaken for 'devices'. The police do come with preconceived notions. Race, colour, country all are factored in when they reach the scene of a crime or conduct investigations, and even on suspicion.

Between Obama and Sarah Palin's responses, an Ahmed Mohamed becomes a curiosity. The reality is not about an incident nor about special treatment. The reality is to treat all people equally — whether it is to laud or to question.

When asked in a video interview with Mehdi Hasan as why this happened to him, Ahmed said unflinchingly, "Because I am Muslim." I find this disturbing too. I do know what it means, I have seen it in many forms, especially while interviewing and writing about the riot-affected. But the certitude of such a statement won't do much to alter things. It only consolidates the stereotype, this time of self-perception.

His new support system ensures that he can leave his school and afford other options. There are many who have no choice. They have to swallow the hate directed at them. Will the 'voices of reason' ensure that no one becomes a victim of prejudice?

Ahmed is already talking about his "Internet family" and his "fans". He believes that because of a hashtag things will change. He says he discovered that people do care. It is sad that such an incident is necessary to experience caring.

Such caring is not much different from making an example of him in a virtual bubble.

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