Was concern over Ahmed Mohamed wholly unjustified? Some critics aren't so sure.

The 'hoax bomb' incident in Texas has incited a myriad of public discussions on the culture of fear, public safety, and prejudice.

LM Otero
Ahmed Mohamed, 14, gestures as he arrives to his family's home in Irving, Texas. Ahmed was arrested Monday at his school after a teacher thought a homemade clock he built was a bomb. He remains suspended and said he will not return to classes at MacArthur High School.

It’s been nearly a week since 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, an incident that sparked an outcry on social media. Since then, hundreds of thousands have rallied behind the Texas teenager. Twitter offered Ahmed an internship. Mark Zuckerberg said he’d like to meet him. President Obama even invited Ahmed to the White House.

Despite the outpour of support, however, some public figures have taken to defending – or at least not outright condemning – the actions of school officials and local Irving County police. On the HBO talk show Real Time With Bill Maher, for instance, the outspoken host weighed in on the decisions that led up to Ahmed’s arrest.

It looked exactly like a bomb, Maher says.

“Look, this kid deserves an apology — no doubt about it,” he continues. “They were wrong. But can we have a little perspective about this? Did the teacher really do a wrong thing?”

Scientist and writer Richard Dawkins also voiced his suspicions about the overwhelming public support for Ahmed’s and his clock. “If the reassembled components did something more than the original clock, that’s creative. If not, it looks like hoax,” he tweeted, linking to a blog post that debunks the legitimacy of Ahmed’s creation as a so-called “invention.”

In addition to doubting Ahmed’s technical steps in assembling the clock, the writer of the blog post poses the question of whether it was brash and excessive for the school and police to have responded the way they did.

“If we stop and think – was it really such a ridiculous reaction from the teacher and the police in the first place?” he writes. “How many school shootings and incidents of violence have we had, where we hear afterwards ‘this could have been prevented, if only we paid more attention to the signs!’”

Dawkins later elucidated his claim, saying Ahmed’s arrest was wrongful but the praise he received was excessive. “I'm not putting down the child. I'm putting down myself & the rest of us for being fooled. And the police for arresting him for nothing,” he tweeted Sunday morning.

Tech reporters Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac of The New York Times remind readers that social media can be counterproductive to discourse, as certain quotes or incidents can be conveyed without context.

“To be clear: What happened to Ahmed was wrong, regardless of context,” Isaac says. “But my greater point is that online mobs are insatiable in their rush to deliver justice, and more often than not, that justice can itself be unjust.”

In Education Week, Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers penned an opinion blog piece on the overarching culture of fear, safety, and prejudice in American education. Rather than affirming or denouncing the disciplinary procedure to which Ahmed was subject, they urge for the recalibration of school safety values so preventative measures such as the bomb hoax policy can still maintain an element of trust among the school, police, and individual children like Ahmed, who says he will not be be returning to his high school. 

Ahmed’s apprehension by the school and eventually the police is a symptom of our “current atmosphere of fear,” they write. “But let us not allow that atmosphere pull us as educators away from the role of in loco parentis. It demands we act as the parent of every child, even Ahmed Mohamed. Hurting one child sends a message to all.”

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