Ahmed's clock reveals US' bigger time bomb
HONESTLY speaking, I would have easily beaten Usain Bolt's 100m world record had a certain teenager named Ahmed Mohamed come anywhere near me with that "clock" of his.
The point is, I do not have the training to tell the difference between a homemade timing device and a bomb. More importantly, the fact that I would run like hell makes me appreciate why so many others did the same.
You must know the story. For those who do not, here is how it went: Fourteen-year-old Ahmed from Texas went to school a few days ago, proudly carrying the digital clock he had built. All hell broke loose (understandable perhaps, given America's tragic experiences), leading to his arrest and, later, red faces for police officers.
Government spin doctors immediately arranged for him to meet with President Barack Obama, while Facebook and Google executives rolled out the welcome mat for the boy. But by then, another significant piece of evidence of American "hypocrisy" had already been firmly imprinted on the global consciousness.
Imagine a Thai anti-government student protester being put in handcuffs for possessing a circuit board required for a school project. Whether he was released afterwards would not matter.
John Kerry would have his scriptwriters working overtime on a message of condemnation. "This is what happens under dictatorship," he would almost certainly declare. The student would probably be invited to the White House, too, but stern looks among Thailand's political leadership would be enough to light fires here in the Kingdom.
Ahmed is not even anti-government. In the news photos and clips, he looks like a shy nerd. He's not the stereotypical nerd we see in Hollywood movies, though. As you can tell from his name, he's a Muslim. Did that have anything to do with his ordeal? You tell me.
America is paranoid, and understandably so. Terrorist attacks and school shootings by psychopaths give citizens every right to be wary of suspicious-looking items. While a lot of fun has been poked at the "Ahmed clock" incident, the bottom line is "Run first, think later" would be my policy, too.
On the police handcuffing the boy, I am less curious about the rough treatment than I am about the reaction from local human-rights advocates - or rather, the lack of it.
THROWING STONES IN A GLASS HOUSE
The problem with America is that while it has the right to run, others do not. It upholds the right to go all out in "pre-empting" bad things from happening, but it will shove "human rights" or "freedom" down others' throats if they do the same. Ahmed's clock did not mock America's paranoia; it underscored the superpower's elitist self-entitlement, which has become increasingly apparent.
And no one can argue that Ahmed was an exception and not the rule. Innocent Americans have suffered far worse ordeals stemming from racial bias or the need to protect "national security". An American whistleblower who revealed the scope of state surveillance of citizens has had to flee abroad. Unarmed black men and women have been killed by the police for simply walking the streets at the wrong time. If one Walter Scott had been Thai and shot in cold blood in Thailand by a law-enforcement officer, John Kerry would never let us hear the end of it.
Hypocrites tend either to be ignorant of their status or simply uncaring, as long as the double standard serves their interests. Either way, they put their reputation, friendship, integrity, honour and all other valuable attributes in jeopardy.
This is not to say that Ahmed would be any better off elsewhere. In another country, he might have been locked up with the key thrown away, instead of being invited to the highest seat of power. There are places where the authorities would have kept him behind bars just to avoid losing face. To identify those places, however, you can't resort to stereotyping. This is the biggest lesson American politicians can learn from Ahmed and his clock.
Sounding noble is one thing, acting nobly is another. And on many counts, the American authorities have failed to walk the talk. More proof of that arrived last week, ticking harmlessly and contemptuously at the same time.
The kid's invention was meant merely to tell the time, but it has told a heck of a lot more. One key message is that stereotyping leads to prejudice, and prejudice led to Ahmed being wrongfully arrested and handcuffed. Prejudice is also the reason why so many unarmed innocent citizens have been shot on the streets of what is supposed to be the freest land in the world.
Most important of all, the clock - in being mistaken for a bomb - helps reveal to the American authorities why real bombs have been exploding all around them.
THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK