Of course Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Texan who outsmarted his very stupid English teacher, his complicitly stupid police department and the hopeless town mayor, was arrested, led away in handcuffs and suspended three days not because he built an ingenious clock out of a pencil box, but because he is Muslim. With a double-barreled name like Ahmed Mohamed, that give-away darkie skin that automatically kicks in a presumption of guilt, and the unfortunate fact that his father is a Sudanese as opposed to a Mayflower-type immigrant, there was no choice but to humiliate, arrest and suspend.
We are talking about Texas after all, which, “among other tendencies to be noted,” John Steinbeck once wrote, “is a military nation.” But the Texan exception in the 1960s is more of a rule in post-9/11 Fortress America.
The mayor of Irving, where all this took place, has been on an anti-Muslim crusade all year, so she unsurprisingly said she did not “fault the school or the police for looking into what they saw as a potential threat.” But that’s not what the school and police did. Looking into the threat would have meant at most confiscating Ahmed’s little pencil box for a while, calling in Irving’s equivalent of the St. Johns County bomb squad if you’re inclined to waste time and money, and making that determination in a matter of hours, all the while presuming the boy to be what he has always been: a geeky 14 year old well known in school for his inventiveness.
If anyone in school had ever cared to look into his Muslim background, they might have learned that he is a Sufi Muslim, which is—to put it crudely—Islam’s version of Franciscans: they wouldn’t hurt a fly. Sufis have been at the forefront of Islam’s most progressive movements, denouncing violence and sounding like flower children of the 60s. Ahmed’s father’s only fanaticism is for human rights. He’s twice run for Sudan’s presidency. And he has had his run-in with Florida’s brand of fanatics: when Terry Jones, the pastor of the late Dove World Outreach center in Gainesville, decided to put the Koran on trial and burn it publicly five years ago, it was Ahmed’s father, Sheikh Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, who volunteered to defend the book in Jones’s laird.
Naturally Jones is now running for president, though his bigotry looks unremarkable next to that of The Donald and many of the other crazies on the GOP jalopy, while Sheikh Mohamed is trying to figure out the latest absurdity of the American paradox.
But this is what happens when zero tolerance is wedded to the kind anti-Islamic hysteria that’s nowhere near abating in this country. Thursday night in New Hampshire, well after the Irving Police Department had been shaming itself and the nation with Ahmed’s arrest, a commonplace bigot stood up during a town hall meeting with Trump. After noting that President Obama is not an American but a Muslim, reminding us all how the two are mutually exclusive, he went on to claim that “we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question: when can we get rid of ’em?”
When can we get rid of ’em.
Islamophobia meets zero-tolerance mania.
That a question like that can still be asked in a political setting for a supposedly serious candidate, live on CNN by the way, is indicative enough of the extent of anti-Muslim hysteria in the country. But the problem wasn’t the question. You can’t control imbecility at large. The problem was Trump’s enabling answer.
He didn’t challenge the guy on Obama’s nationality of course, since Trump birthed the whole Obama-is-from-Neptune’s-Islamic-rings mythology. He didn’t even muster a John McCain-type blip of fake lucidity on the routine slur. You may remember one of McCain’s weird moments when he responded to a woman claiming Obama was “an Arab” at a town hall meeting in 2012. Speaking the word “Arab” made the woman stop dead, as if she’d just mentioned that Obama was from a race of subhuman child rapists who worship Satan’s assistant crack whore while chewing on hind hooves and signed first editions of “Das Kapital.”
McCain told her no, Obama is “a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with.” He was actually praised for that revolting response, as if his corrective hadn’t made the woman’s point–that being accused of being a Arab is an affront. That it bears correcting.
Trump outdid McCain. Just days ago at the second nationally televised GOP bacchanal he was part of the chorus of presidential hopefuls swooning over pledges to deport 11 million “illegals” (the kind of mass expulsions only three men have pulled off in history: Hitler, Stalin and Mao). So he’d been warmed up to apply the same kind of thinking to Muslims. “We’re gonna be looking at a lot of different things,” he told his fellow-bigot. “And you know that a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”
That’s our America of E pluribus unum, though that unum might need amending to rabidus. It flows better anyway.
In Irving, Texas, school and cops looked at that and took Ahmed down. After learning their mistake there was no apology. Instead, the police chief said there’d be no charges, and both school and police shielded their stupidity and prejudice behind the big fat claim of school safety, the default excuse for all imaginable abuses of power, while still suggesting in a letter to parents that Ahmed somehow violated the school code of conduct.
So even after Ahmed was cleared, he was still guilty. Naturally, the president of the United States ridiculed the whole thing and invited Ahmed and his “cool clock” to the White House. Just as you’d expect: one Muslim covering for another.