The story of Ahmed Mohamed and his clock has exploded over the internet today. In case you’ve been hiding under a proverbial rock, here’s the short version: Ahmed built a clock. He brought the clock to school, to show one of his teachers. Panic ensues, through absolutely no fault of his own.
For the record, here is a picture of the clock:
To me, it looks like a circuit board in a protective case. But I’m a computer engineer with a minor in physics, so I’ve seen lots of circuit boards and protective cases.
The problem isn’t that ignorant people were confused at first glance. The problem is that, even after they were completely convinced that it was a clock, and even after they ascertained that there was no evidence of nefarious intent, they still punished the kid for doing absolutely nothing wrong.
Ken White performs an excellent evisceration of the absurd behavior by authority figures towards 14 year old Ahmed.
In his head, Ahmed lives in an idealized world he learned about in robotics club: a world where individuality and curiosity and initiative are appreciated. Or at least he did. But this week he found out that he actually lives in a different world, a grim real world controlled by school administrators and cops who are deeply suspicious of individuality, if not openly hostile.
Just read the statements by the police:
“We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb,” McLellan said. “He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation. 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?”
To answer the rhetorical question “Do we take him into custody?”, simply follow this heuristic:
Did he break the law?
Yes –> Yes
No –> No
Yet building a clock requires “broader explanation”, because these school administrators, teachers, and police are simpletons. Their minds are uncomplicated with knowledge or creativity. The idea of challenging oneself intellectually for fun is simply beyond them. It reminds me of a quote from The Hacker’s Manifesto:
“My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for.”
However, it goes beyond that. Authorities are perpetually looking for a way to assert their control over us. The inconvenient truth is that we are not usually in any real, imminent danger. With the limited availability of actual threats, authorities look for more and more innocuous actions to punish, reminding us THEY ARE PROTECTING US FROM THREATS AND WE NEED THEM! The fact that he was Muslim (and looks Arab) was simply the excuse they needed — an easy way to prey on prejudice. LOOK! THEY ARE PROTECTING US FROM TERRORISTS!
If there was no prejudice against Muslims, they would suspend 7 year olds for chewing a pop tart into the vague outline of a gun. They would suspend 8 year olds for playing cops & robbers with finger guns. They would suspend 7th graders for twirling pencils. LOOK! THEY ARE PROTECTING US FROM VIOLENCE!
Or, perhaps, they would strip search a 13 year old girl for suspicion of possession of ibuprofen. Maybe they would suspend and prosecute an 11 year old for possessing a Japanese maple leaf. LOOK! THEY ARE PROTECTING US FROM DRUGS!
Of course, this extends to all levels of authority.
The NSA taps our communications. LOOK! THEY ARE PROTECTING US FROM TERRORISTS!
The FBI wants to back-door all our encryption. LOOK! THEY ARE PROTECTING US FROM CHILD MOLESTERS!
Local police wants to stop-and-frisk. LOOK! THEY ARE PROTECTING US FROM CRIMINALS!
The DEA bulk collects phone, license plate, and who knows what else data on American citizens, en masse. LOOK! THEY ARE PROTECTING US FROM DRUGS!
I hope Ahmed receives justice from this. I hope he launches a successful STEM career. I also hope he takes to heart the very important lesson, “Authority is not your friend.”