Daily WTF: The Drive to Discredit Ahmed Mohamed

Dawkins_TweetThanks to the insufferable Richard Dawkins, I now know that there are at least a few people that think Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Texan who was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, faked the entire thing. Specifically, that he just took a commercial clock, pulled it out of its casing, and put it in another case. Dawkins watched this YouTube video by Thomas Talbot, who pointed out several indiscrepancies between what a “maker” clock would look like and what a commercial one would. And, of course, Talbot then tried to hashtag #ClockIsAFraud because how else will people get on the bandwagon?

Here’s why this is bullshit.

  1. Even if all Ahmed did was transfer the innards of a commercial clock to a pencil case that still takes skill and shows a passion for electronics. People who are curious about electronics often take them apart and try to put them back together rather than just making their own. It’s a learning tool and something that every person just starting out would do. As commenter Anthony Sherwood of Adafruit Industries pointed out, “Repackaging electronics that you’ve taken out of their case is how nearly all of us started out… This is how you start out… Nobody has been duped. We know that the kid was being creative by putting the guts of one thing into another thing, and we would like him to grow up in a world where he will be encouraged to make his next project bigger and better, not one in which he is arrested for showing an interest in STEAM topics.” Ahmed is 14 and evidently self-taught. It’s understandable that he pulled apart and reassembled a clock – as a real engineering teacher and supporter of children should know.
  2. Claiming that Ahmed was committing a deliberate fraud begs the question of his motive and portrays him as some sort of mastermind. One Twitter user asked Dawkins what he thought Ahmed’s motives were. Dawkins’ answer was, “I don’t know. Possibly wanted to be arrested? Police played into his hands? Anyway, now invited to White House, crowdfunded etc [sic].” So those that think Ahmed deliberately wanted to create a suspicious device also think that he is some sort of criminal genius who is so in tune with the prejudices and feelings of his school, his town, his police force, and the nation as a whole that he can manipulate all of those by simply throwing a commercial clock into a pencil case. That is incredibly unlikely if not downright impossible. His “happily ever after” of getting invitations, national support, and scholarships is dependent on someone disliking his clock and then calling the principal and then the principal overreacting and calling the police and then the police overreacting and interrogating him and then his sisters setting up a Twitter account and then people actually caring about him enough to make his story viral and then the majority of people being on his side and then… That’s a lot of working variables, and there really would be no way for him – or anyone else – to account for all of them. It’s just not likely.

So Ahmed perpetuating some kind of “fraud” to be noticed is unlikely and both Dawkins and Talbot trying to claim otherwise are just perpetuating the bigoted mindset that led to Ahmed’s arrest. Now, if either of them would like to bring attention to the fact that we should be encouraging all kids to get involved in STEM and STEAM topics, not just the ones with media coverage, that is a perfectly valid point. Kids should be encouraged to pursue math, engineering, and creative pursuits, but don’t push that agenda at the expense of a kid that was just trying to impress his teacher. It’s immature, closeted Islamophobic, and just plain trifling.

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