Ahmed Mohamed is a human Rorschach test. Look at that face and tell me what you see: Muslim-American? African-American? I myself see something very familiar: Nerd-American.
Mohamed, a 14-year-old high-school freshman in Texas and the son of an immigrant family from Sudan, is a cause célèbre just at the moment because he was handcuffed, frog-marched out of a classroom, and arrested for the crime of showing off his technological chops by building an electronic clock and bringing it to school to show his engineering teacher. (Let us now praise MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, for the fact that 14-year-olds there have engineering teachers.) Apparently, an English teacher — it had to be an English teacher — thought the device looked like a bomb.
It didn’t. But it looked a hell of a lot more like a bomb than that half-eaten Pop-Tart in the possession of that seven-year-old in Maryland looked like a gun, yet the child was suspended; it was surely more reasonable to think that those circuit boards constituted a bomb than to think that the bang-bang! hand gesture of a ten-year-old in Milford, Mass., constituted a serious threat to shoot somebody; taking a high-school kid into custody after a teacher reports a possible bomb threat is surely no more irrational than arresting an eighth-grader over an NRA T-shirt.
Mohamed’s father says that his son was mistreated because the incident happened a few days after the annual commemoration of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, and because his name is Mohamed. The story immediately became ubiquitous not because of what actually happened — boneheaded as that was — but because it can be used to further a story that the media already want to tell: that the United States is morally corrupt and irredeemably racist; that Muslims are under siege; that “white privilege” blinds the majority of Americans to the corruption at the heart of everything red, white, and blue. Muslim kid meets paranoia in Texas is A-1 copy; NRA-wearing kid meets paranoia in West Virginia, not so much.
You cannot very well go actively cultivating an atmosphere of paranoia and then pronounce yourself surprised by all the paranoia in the air.
President Barack Obama, never one to miss an opportunity for cheap moral preening, invited Mohamed to the White House. That’s an interesting gesture: Anybody want to hazard a guess as to what would happen if a young man showed up at the White House visitors’ center with a backpack in which was a homemade device full of circuit boards joined to a timing device? I do not frequent the White House, but I often am in the House and Senate office buildings in Washington, and my best guess is that if I’d tried to bring Mohamed’s clock into one of those places, there would have been guns drawn.
“Oh, but those are high-security environments!” you might be tempted to protest. Mohamed was arrested by high-school campus police in Suburbia, Texas. Why are there police stationed at suburban high schools? Because public schools are now a high-security environment, or at least many of them are intended to be. That is true not only of big cities, where the architecture of public schools is, not coincidentally, penal; public schools far and wide across the fruited plain get the metal-detectors-and-men-with-guns treatment.
Maybe you think that is appropriate. Maybe it is. Maybe every nonconforming tube of outlaw Pepsodent seized by TSA agents is in reality a blow against al-Qaeda, and maybe bright-orange plastic squirt-guns really are a menace to police officers rolling through the malls of America in armored vehicles. But you cannot very well go actively cultivating an atmosphere of paranoia and then pronounce yourself surprised by all the paranoia in the air.
#share#This is an age of overreaction.
It is, unhappily, also an age of race-hustling and grievance-mongering. Thank goodness that felonious Pop-Tart in Maryland was one of the strawberry-flavored ones with rainbow sprinkles and not brown sugar/cinnamon or marshmallow hot chocolate or another of the flavors of color, or we’d be having a national discussion about white-frosting privilege.
#related#Of course it is the very same self-satisfied lifestyle liberals who want to send your toddler to Gitmo for playing with a cap gun who are so theatrically appalled at what happened to Mohamed. The structures of paranoia that have been so assiduously fortified around our schools are there for a purpose, and that purpose is political: to immerse young people in a culture in which NRA literature is samizdat but how-to-fellate-your-friends literature is mandatory, where whitewashed Islamic studies are part of the standard curriculum and Christian prayer groups are verboten. The paranoia is intentional, it is cultivated with exquisite care — but it isn’t supposed to inflict collateral damage on bespectacled young men named Ahmed Mohamed. Thus, the presidential intervention, etc.
RELATED: Islamophobia Is a Myth
Ahmed Mohamed was mistreated by imbeciles, and he’ll be famous for it, for 15 Warholian minutes, and then again for a 30-second spot when he graduates in a few years and goes off to MIT or wherever. The fact is that he is not worse off because his name is Mohamed, but better off: Nobody would be paying attention otherwise, and he might very well be in jail. Being mistreated by imbeciles is the sine qua non of American public education today, but that fact is of political use only periodically, as in this case.