In the #IStandWithAhmed story, conflicting principles confound the principal

There’s a lot more going on in Irving, Texas than a clever boy with a home-made clock and brown skin. Look close, and the story of #IStandWithAhmed — and the letter the principal sent to parents — reveals how America is cracking apart.

[tweetthis]America is built on contradictions. They’re at the heart of #IStandWithAhmed.[/tweetthis]

IstandwithahmedHere are a couple:

  • America’s strength comes from our diversity, since nearly all of us come from immigrant stock. We revel in our differences. And yet, we feel something about America is exceptional and admirable. We draw a circle that includes “we” and want to protect those in the circle from those outside.
  • We want tolerance, innovation and freedom. And we also feel fear and crave security. All our freedoms have exceptions. We want to carry guns and we want our children to be safe from guns. We want privacy in our Internet experiences, but we want our spies to catch the bad guys using the Internet.

A Muslim youth named Ahmed Mohamed brings circuit boards and wires to school. Although he protests it’s just a clock, the authorities arrest and question him. The mayor has a history of lobbying for laws rooted in the fear of Muslims, and defends the police. It’s easy to call the authorities stupid and racist — it’s just a clock, people, and he’s just a boy who happens to be named Ahmed. But along with the stupidity and racism, paranoid zero tolerance policies in our schools helped us to reach this absurd spot.

The racist elements of this story spring directly from the American sense of self: does “we” include a boy with African parents, or is he part of what “we” need protection from? The absurd oversensitivity springs directly from the conflict about security: do we accept innovation, or do we fear anything with digital display that looks like a prop from “24” ?

As usual, the language people use reveals their fear and conflict. Dan Cummings, principal of Ahmed’s school, reveals what it’s like at the center of this conflict. If you read closely, you can see his conflicted feelings in the letter he sent to parents. As usual, I’ve put meaningless platitudes in bold italic, and my own translation in brackets following each paragraph, and my own version at the end.

Dear Parents/Guardians,

In Irving ISD and at MacArthur High School, your child’s safety and well-being is always our top priority and we want to maintain open, honest and timely communication with you. If there was ever an imminent threat to your child, we would take immediate and necessary precautions,and we would inform you immediately. [Of course you’re in favor of safety, we know, there’s no need to repeat it. Every parent reading this just skips this meaningless opening paragraph.]

While we do not have [bold in original text] any threats to our school community, we want you to be aware that the Irving Police Department responded to a suspicious-looking item on campus yesterday. We are pleased to report that after the police department’s assessment, the item discovered at school did not pose a threat to your child’s safety. [Yes, a student brought a clock to school and we overreacted. You probably read that on the news.]

Our school is cooperating fully with the ongoing police investigation, and we are handling the situation in accordance with the Irving ISD Student Code of Conduct and applicable laws. Please rest assured that we will always take necessary steps to keep our school as safe as possible. I recommend using this opportunity to talk with your child about the Student Code of Conduct and specifically not bringing items to school that are prohibited. [OK, this is baffling. I understand why the principal felt the need to sandwich the news that there was no risk between two paragraphs of platitudes about safety. But which items are prohibited? I’m sure “clock” is not in the Code of Conduct.]

Also, this is a good time to remind your child how important it is to immediately report any suspicious items and/or suspicious behavior they observe to any school employee so we can address it right away. We will always take necessary precautions to protect our students. Thank you for your understanding and support of MacArthur High School as we do everything we can for your child’s safety. [Since the principal can’t tell what’s a threat and what’s not, he asks teenagers to judge for him. Let’s delegate the paranoia and racism to high school students, that’s sure to work!]

Sincerely,

Dan Cummings

 Imagine if Principal Cummings could tell the truth. In my fantasy, his letter reads like this:

Dear Parents/Guardians:

A boy bought a clock to school yesterday. A few of us thought it looked like a bomb, so just to be on the safe side, we arrested him and checked it out. But it was just a clock he built himself.

Because being a school principal in today’s world requires me to be totally paranoid, I’ll keep checking for demons under every  desk. And I’ve deputized your children to help me. We may have more false alarms, but that’s the cost of freedom here in Irving.

I need to run a school in a town with a community of Muslims and a few Muslim-haters, too. Please stop thanking me and the police chief for our vigilance. I know this looks bad. In the future, I’ll try to hassle students of all races and religions equally.

Have a conversation with your kids about making friends with people who are different from themselves. That’s the best way to make sure we all know what’s going on, and can tell a boy with a clock from one with an assault rifle.

Sincere but stressed, your principal, Dan.

15 responses to “In the #IStandWithAhmed story, conflicting principles confound the principal

  1. Well said. One of the many lessons from the aftermath of 9/11 is that over reaching safety precautions breed hysteria. Unfortunately, Muslims have become the witches of Salem.

  2. You (and Ken) are hitting the nail on the head here. This is beyond race or religion. It’s the atmosphere that laws and policies have created in the US, post-9/11. And this culture will go down in history as being the fault of everyone in government, not just R’s or D’s. The military-industrial-surveillance complex has done nothing but continue to strengthen their grasp on America since WWII.

    But it’s even more than that. This is also the fault of the relative wealth in the US, both in government and in private citizenry, and the lack of moral responsibility to deal with it a altruistic way. We have the LUXURY of getting up in arms about such a thing, from school administrators, to police, to FBI, to mayors, to citizens, but the LETHARGY to not do anything about it ourselves. The response at all levels should have been, “Hey, I’ve got real work to do,” not to panic and bring another level of authority into it. Everyone has the affluence to be able to put everything else aside, and make security theater of this. People who have to work hard to scratch out a living in 3rd world countries wouldn’t have time for this crap, but we have the luxury of treating something which has a infinitesimal probability of being real as though it were.

  3. “Your child’s safety and well-being is always our top priority.” That must’ve come as a surprise to all the parents who thought the school’s purpose was to provide their kids with an education.

  4. I admit I have gotten a bit jaded as I have aged but I noted a strong correlation over the years between what people say about themselves and the truth. So when someone says something like, “I always pay my bills.” That means you better get cash up front!

    Now I can add, “Without Bullshit” to that list of oxymoronic self identifying warnings.

  5. It didn’t really look like just a clock to me. As somebody who has been familiar with roadside bombs, suicide bomb devices and IEDs…this contraption would concern me too initially. This is why his first teacher, who understood it was just a clock (albeit weird looking w/all those wires exposed) told him to keep it hidden. IT LOOKED DANGEROUS. Now, sad to say, he is a muslim and they are known for suicide bombers, and things that blow up and kill people, I would have to weigh that in the picture. Surely a kid would know what that thing looked like and he’d have to know that being a muslim…well, you know. I almost think this was intentionally done to provoke exactly this response. CAIR (unindicted co-conspiritors of terror funding) jumped in a little too fast. I smell something fishy here.
    I would never have called the cops or had him arrested but I would want to know why he would bring such a thing into school. I mean kids can’t even draw guns and get expelled for making gun gestures so why should be treat this kid any different? He brought in what looked very much like it could be a bomb or the beginning of a bomb.

    1. “this contraption would concern me too initially.”
      and
      ” I mean kids can’t even draw guns and get expelled for making gun gestures so why should be treat this kid any different?”

      So according to Josh you are just a big meanie racist. Yep!

      This whole thing was contrived from the start. Yet Old “Without Bullshit” fell for it hook line and sinker and then went on a holier than thou bullshit laden politically correct binge about how messed up everyone else is.

      Yeah, this is who I look to better present myself to the world. LOL

      Watch out! this blog is mere steps away from a lecture on “lose weight now ask Josh how! “

      1. Rob, my analysis was of the principal’s letter, not Ahmed or the justification of the police action against him. Take a close look and you’ll see a more balanced treatment than you’ll read in any liberal or conservative source on this topic.

        I am appalled that we now react without thinking to everything we read, and that there is a left and right version and you are supposed to pick one. I refuse to do so. I am for clarity above all.

        1. “and you’ll see a more balanced treatment ”

          I would strenuously disagree.

          “and that there is a left and right version and you are supposed to pick one.”

          Ding, ding, DING ! That is exactly what you did! You picked the left one! You devoted 1/2 of your original text to *unsupported* charges of racism. You just jumped on the old band wagon with nary an original thought repeating what are effectively rumors.

          “I am appalled that we now react without thinking”

          LOL- it is hilarious that you are appalled by that behavior considering it is precisely what you have done here and exactly what I am calling *you* on.

          I suppose like a fish is unaware of water you don’t even recognize your own bias. Worse, you just parroted other people’s prejudiced suppositions (the left sided ones) without doing any checking of your own before you posted them. If you had actually read the links you provided you would realize they work against your charges not for them.

          Putting all of that aside, you spent more time decrying imagined racism than you did deconstructing the letter which is what this blog is supposedly about. So, any tips for staying on topic in your writing? Oh, how about a methodology on how to guard against inserting ones personal bias into reports?

          1. At the risk of getting down in the mud with you, here’s how I break it down:

            A Muslim youth named Ahmed Mohamed brings circuit boards and wires to school. < - Fact. He is Muslim, and he did bring in circuit boards and wires.

            Although he protests it’s just a clock, the authorities arrest and question him. <-- Fact.

            The mayor has a history of lobbying for laws rooted in the fear of Muslims, and defends the police. <-- Fact. The mayor supported legislation to keep judges from citing Sharia law, which is a position rooted in fear of Muslims. She defended the police on her Facebook page.

            It’s easy to call the authorities stupid and racist — it’s just a clock, people, and he’s just a boy who happens to be named Ahmed. <- Fact. It is just a clock, he is named Ahmed, and I only point out how easy it is to call people racist to set up the next sentence.

            But along with the stupidity and racism, paranoid zero tolerance policies in our schools helped us to reach this absurd spot. <- Here I show it's the zero tolerance policies, not the racism, that got us here. Is that a leftist comment?

            The racist elements of this story spring directly from the American sense of self: does “we” include a boy with African parents, or is he part of what “we” need protection from? <-- This is my point -- that how you view this depends on how you define "we". That's not favoring either side.

            The absurd oversensitivity springs directly from the conflict about security: do we accept innovation, or do we fear anything with digital display that looks like a prop from “24” ? <-- Again, I ask a question, not take a position.

            I have strived to be as balanced as possible in this post, and all of my posts. What you read into it depends on your own preconceptions.

  6. “Fact. The mayor supported legislation to keep judges from citing Sharia law, which is a position rooted in fear of Muslims.”

    ROFL! I rest my case! The only prejudice here is yours.

    Not allowing communities to set up their own religious courts and administer their own justice is not some kind of an automatic indicator of prejudice. It means you believe in the first amendment and not in vigilante justice. Christians, Jews, Hindu’s and Buddhists can’t do it either.

    I mean seriously dude, how brainwashed are you? Someone should listen to *anyone* who advocates religion based laws in this country? I was raised Christian and I don’t want “thou shall not suffer a witch to live” to be enforced law either. I guess I am prejudiced against white Christians now right? I mean that is how your “logic” works!

    What is wrong with you man? Do you hear yourself?

    1. U.S. judges can’t cite religious laws — it violates the establishment clause of The First Amendment.

      The only person I’ve ever heard of who felt it was necessary to put that into writing — that the First Amendment was somehow insufficient to the task — is the mayor of Irving, Texas.

      Dallas Morning News: “it has led Van Duyne to back a bill by state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, that would forbid judges from using foreign law in their rulings.”

      The bill also attempts to stop religions from holding their own arbitration and rulings, a ruling that would, for example, prevent the Catholic Church from expelling pedophile priests.

      Only one of us appears to be shouting here or making personally insulting statements about the other person int his conversation, and it’s not me.

      I will delete further comments that address me personally, rather than the argument at hand. If you feel I’m biased, that’s up to you . . . go read somebody else’s blog. On this blog, we do not insult each other.

  7. “On this blog, we do not insult each other.”

    Ah. You throw the incredibly hateful and derisive term “racist” around ever so lightly then make *that* statement. I see. You effectively called me a racist because I believe in separation of church and state.

    “U.S. judges can’t cite religious laws — it violates the establishment clause of The First Amendment.”

    So they are racists too? Hey, now… this is exactly what you called racism. Are you beginning to understand how you jumped on the “racism” bandwagon and insulted a whole lot of people far too soon with far too little evidence?

  8. My original post didn’t call the authorities racist. I said it would be easy to call them racist, but it was zero tolerance policies that got us here.

    I pointed out that the perception of the racist elements of this story depends on where you draw the line on “we” and “they”, attempting to get people to realize that their own perceptions color what they call racism.

    I didn’t call you racist, Rob. You’re pretty ready to take offense, though.

    If you look for reasons to be offended, you’ll surely find them. If you look for ways to have thoughtful dialogue, you’ll find that, too. It all depends on what you’re looking for.

    I try to assume positive intent. I’m not out to get anybody, and I hope you’re not, either.

    It’s been fun chatting with you. I’m glad to see I’m reaching people with varied points of view.

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