It doesn’t matter if you stand for or against Ahmed


By Michelle Xu, Opinion Editor

Whenever news media manages to properly capture the attention of its more vapid brother, social media, the world spotlight will turn its glare upon another -ism. Internet commentators will momentarily pause their Youtube zingers or Reddit funnies to launch volleys of scathing remarks upon the -ism.  Hashtactivists will ruthlessly turn their steel-tipped 140 characters to any hint of the -ism. Be it racism, sexism, classism, ageism, or lesser-known-isms, the world will react. And since the Ahmed Mohamed controversy is dealing with not one, but two -isms, everyone and their 793 Facebook friends seem to have something to say.

Ahmed is a 14-year-old Muslim tinkerer who wanted to impress his teacher with one of his projectsan electronic clock built out of a pencil case, a metal box and a few more gizmos. Instead of his brilliance garnering praise however, his wrists garnered a pair of handcuffs. School officials at MacArthur High had decided his invention looked too much like a bomb, and arrested, fingerprinted and interrogated him. The police and mayor of Irving, TX, believe that their actions in the moment and Ahmed’s subsequent three-day suspension were just.

[media-credit name=”Pallavi Aakarapu” align=”alignnone” width=”750″]ahmed mohamed cartoon[/media-credit]

Except President Obama disagrees. And Hillary Clinton. And Mark Zuckerberg. And Google. And MIT. And, well, you get the idea. Not only did Ahmed’s plight become yet another example of how stereotyping and Islamophobia are overtaking the U.S., but this situation has also roused the anger of engineers and STEM-supporters around the world. The combination between the rage of social activists and the intellectual capabilities of technies—not to mention the public support of multiple high-profile figures—makes Ahmed’s side extremely popular.

However, Ahmed amassed so much support in the first week that now there’s a counterwave movement against him. Many tech experts are denouncing Ahmed’s clock on the claim that it wasn’t actually an “invention”; he simply took the innards of a bedside alarm clock and stuffed it inside a metal box. Even more controversially, some people believe the entire ordeal was a staged political ploy, citing Ahmed’s father’s history of trying for the Sudanese presidency twice and of being an outspoken defender of Muslim-Americans. So the hoax bomb that wasn’t a hoax bomb was actually a hoax hoax bomb?

The press is tumbling all over itself, and no one seems to know the truth anymore. But ultimately? It doesn’t matter.

Whether the whole incident was orchestrated or not, Ahmed’s caseboth literally and figuratively—illustrates a firm point about neighborhood attitudes toward Muslims and homemade technology. Sure, no one likes to find out that the wool’s been pulled over their eyes. But even considered as a simulation, the results are disappointing. The situation is akin to that urban legend where the TSA fails to detect 95% of undercover Homeland Security agents as bomb threats—American schools can wrongly detect 100% of Muslim-American children engineering projects as bomb threats.

The intersection of Islamophobia and technophobia are revealing to us just how much fear of the unknown has clutched the heart of American communities. This excessive fear has bred intolerance, closed-mindedness and unfair treatment toward American people, be they Muslims or technies or others. The situation is actually particularly ironic because the solution to intolerance and closed-mindedness is diverse education—and yet here, it is exactly the institution of education being intolerant and closed-minded.

Clearly, there exist much more profound problems at hand than just the little details of Ahmed’s story. So, here’s to all ye internet activists and commentators out there: let’s not get distracted. I know you like taking sides and squabbling over petty things, which this issue could easily deteriorate into. And I know American society’s ill-destined love affair with fear isn’t a specific -ism.  But while the venom of your disses to Team Ahmed or against Team Ahmed might last a few weeks, the toxicity of our intolerant communities could last for decades. And wouldn’t you want to tackle something that’ll keep your hashtags trendy and your shade fresh for decades?

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