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Friday, September 18, 2015

#IStandForNothing: A Case Study in Manufactured Outrage

The Bible says nothing is new under heaven, but I cannot help but think something is special about the way 21st century Americans have perfected faux outrage.

From Michael Brown to Kim Davis, to college classrooms and the halls of government, non-issues are regularly transformed into front page news.

Take, for example, the latest case of imagined injustice, Ahmed Mohamed and his clock.

Fourteen year old Mohamed (a brown-skinned Muslim—this will be important in a moment) brought a homemade digital clock to school, intending to show it to his engineering teacher.

However, after a school official became concerned the contraption was perhaps not what the student claimed, someone called the police, who subsequently detained, interrogated, and released Mohamed with no charges filed, his story having checked out.

Maybe at one time this could have been a simple case of “oops” or a sad example of how violence has changed the atmosphere of the American classroom, but this is where Mohamed's race and faith come in, because quickly the story became about police heavy-handedness, Islamophobia, and racism

Activists, politicians, and ordinary citizens took to Twitter with the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed to denounce the obvious racial/ethnic profiling of this young man whose only crime was being brown and having an Arab last name.

Except none of this was true.

Yes, Ahmed is Muslim and, yes, he has dark skin, but that his detainment was race-based is without any basis in fact.

First of all, according to the New York Times, Mohamed was discovered with the device in his English class after the teacher heard it make a beeping noise

The teacher, apparently interested in what the out-of-place beeping in her classroom was, questioned Mohamed who produced his homemade clock.

Now when I think of a digital clock, this is what I think of:

This is Mohamed's clock:

Now you tell me: if you're an English teacher who must decide if a “metal briefcase-style box, [with] a digital display, wires and a circuit board...bigger and bulkier than a typical bedside clock, with cords, screws and electrical components” (according to the NYT description) is actually what the child who brought it says it is and not some kind of explosive, what would you do?

Well, this teacher, faced with uncertainty, aired on the side of caution and the authorities were contacted.

Now some folks claiming racism argue proper protocol was not followed and that if the boy was really a threat, why not evacuate the school?

In other words, because the teacher or police did not go far enough, this is somehow proof they racially profiled of Mohamed.

Besides it's manifest incoherence as proof positive of racism, the town's mayor in her statement posted on Facebook repudiated this claim, as did the school and the police department, saying proper protocol for a hoax bomb scare was followed.

And if you think you can't take their word for it, you now have a better idea of how the English teacher at Mohamed's school felt.

Finally, after the police investigation, Mohamed was released.

As I look at the stream of articles and posts trying to make Mohamed's situation, unfortunate as it is, something it's not, I cannot help but be disgusted.

Some folks are genuinely concerned about possible prejudice, but others are part of the growing class of professional Twitter activists, online lynch mobs, and racialists who decide before-hand what is true without compulsion to calmly consider the facts and weigh the alternatives.

Listen clearly: “this wouldn't have happened if he was white” is a claim, not evidence in support of a claim.

What happened here was the American system of law and justice at work. Mohamed is alive, free, and will be meeting with the President.

If this is racism, that word means nothing any more.

Understand, no one is safer or better off when we cannot even cut our teachers enough slack to appreciate that they refuse to take chances with the lives of their students, especially against the backdrop of mass school killings.

This teacher saw something, so she said something. And if she had kept her mouth shut and it had been a bomb, who would write articles praising her decision to take a teen with a suspicious device at his word? Who would tweet out her name or call her a hero?

I am weary of these self-serving ‪#‎hashtag‬ justice campaigns that cast good judgement to the wind and solve problems that aren't there.

Every day each of us is faced with real tangible ways to make a difference and, if you're a follower of Jesus, an eternal difference for good.

So, for your sake and mine, can we start working on issues that exist, instead of expending energy on ones that don't?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Eric.

    I was one of the people that rallied around Ahmed with the #IstandWithAhmed campaign.

    I don't know for sure whether the school district was treating him differently because of his race/religion, or if they were more afraid for their jobs than they were interested in helping their students. Either way:

    1. I agree that it was completely reasonable to escalate to the school administration and police. That's just being safe and reasonable. There's nothing wrong about the English teacher doing that.

    2. I don't agree that the rest was reasonable. Ahmed never told anyone that this item was a bomb. He always claimed it was a clock. Why did they stand by their decision that it was a hoax bomb? Why was he suspended for 3 days? Why didn't the school and police issue an apology to him, once they realized what had happened?

    As a geek who likes to build things, and has had an ugly home-soldered circuit-board clock on my desk at work for the past year, I'm really bothered that someone would be punished for this. Whether it's racism, arrogance, or ignorant fear by the local police and administration, they mis-handled a situation and punished somebody undeserving of punishment, for doing something that I have personally done myself.

    THAT's why I expressed my support for the kid.