American Education, American Terror, & the Clock Affair

Thanks for your responses to my last post regarding what is approaching consumption and commodification levels in the Ahmed Mohamed Clock Affair.

As an Education scholar, I would also like to point out the urgent need for better support, funding, and training in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) areas. When educated adults – including teachers & police – can’t tell a bomb from a clock, we’ve got a serious problem. Ahmed’s engineering teacher noted this when he admired the clock, and cautioned the boy not to show it to anyone else. Clearly, he knows the level of scientific illiteracy among his colleagues.

As an academic in the social sciences, may I also urge educational focus in this area as well. More courses in Sociology, Anthropology, and History may be useful in generating wider understanding of social phenomena, and may help us be critical of ludicrous claims of causality.

We know along with the engineering teacher, of the level of hysteria and paranoia that the media and politicians work hard to foster in the American public. In this era of never-ending high-level alerts, we must work to protect the public from public security breakdowns, of course. Surely it is also key to protect the public from unfounded paranoia and hysteria, which may (and do) easily result in serious security breakdowns. The concern of Islamophobes is selective though: a clock built by a 14-year old kid is a lot more worrying than, for instance, an arsenal easily available to James Holmes.

Ahmed Mohamed: from clock-maker to criminal to cause

17CLOCK2-master675Well, by now, President Obama has invited Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year old Sudanese-American boy, to visit the White House. This is of course after the boy was treated like a criminal for bringing a home-made clock to school. It boggles the mind that the teachers this boy learns from everyday could collaborate in the project of demonizing him and having him led off in handcuffs for all his fellow students to see.

There has been an outpouring of support for Ahmed, with the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed, but this does not erase Ahmed’s experience. While some are celebrating this as a teachable moment, the impact on this boy’s young life cannot be imagined.

I am frustrated, also, by how Ahmed has now become a representative of a cause, an activist, and a symbol. At merely 14 years old, Ahmed’s twitter profile picture captured him confused, staring at the camera, his hands bound in cuffs. Now he must respond to his supporters and detractors (oh yes, there are plenty of the latter too). A normal youthful creative kid, at 14 years old, he does not now have the luxury to figure life and self out at his leisure. Now he must become That Kid who was stigmatized, feared, and physically restrained and now has been rounded up into another box, that of Cause and Issue.

In my research with Muslim American college students, I keep finding the same blasted thing: when Muslim youth keep encountering themselves framed with stigma, they learn to perpetually respond to that stigma, whether by internalizing it, apologizing for it, responding to it, explaining it, etc. I grieved for Malala too, when as a teenager, she became framed as a symbol of civilizational conflict, and paid an enormous price for this. I find myself pleading that we allow other people’s children (as Lisa Delpit put it) a normal childhood and a normal journey to becoming.

Update: Everyone wants a piece of Ahmed. Enough.

Old poetry

Photo on 9-15-15 at 10.32 AMSo, we just moved to Chicagoland, and in the process, a number of items long-buried in the basement emerged to daylight. One of these is my zippered vinyl folder, with a big “Tagamet” on its cover – one of the many gifts the doctors in my family received from medical sales representatives. My uncle, Dr. Merajuddin of Gujranwala, gave me this. I used this folder to store a huge array of poems that I’d written from the age of about 10 onward. I think I tapered off writing poetry, generally, in my mid-twenties, and only produced occasionally after that. I became conscious of contemporary poetic technique. That’s what killed my impulse. I realized that my doggerel-style sounded ridiculous, foreign, old-fashioned, too obvious.

Still, this collection brings back poignant, deeply-felt memories. Some of these poems cause me to hang my head and laugh in utter shame, for their anti-feminist, obscurantist sentiment. Svend vows that he will some day share the worst of the worst with an audience. Over my dead body …

Instead, today, I share with you a poem I wrote years and years ago. It is not much by way of emotion or quality, but as I read it to Svend, my voice caught, and the tears started falling quickly and I was unable to continue, for utter loss and grief. As you read it, you will say, what the hell, why would you be so overcome? But I really was, and my guilt, sadness, aloneness came rushing back to me as I went through to the third stanza. For fellow-Pakistanis, you will recognize a familiar dog-phobia, and the fear of stray dogs. For poets at heart, you will recognize the guilt, the change of heart, the sadness that come from realizing one’s error in fearing and hating the other.

Apology to a dog

My cat sat outside, huddled up,
but sheltered,-as the rain did pour;
I glanced ahead, and saw a large, black
mangy dog beside the door.
What if, when I leave, this fierce dog
should tear my cat apart?
I did not think: I shooed him off,
my deed dictated by my heart.
Broad-shouldered, he turned ’round, and like
a tired wolf, got up again,
and trotted loosely, wearily,
out, out, into the pouring rain.
A large, black, wolf-like dog he was,
but tired, soaked, and hurt, and sore,
that from the rain, I realized,
had taken shelter by my door.

As, heavy at the heart, I sit,
my greatest joy would be to see,
from here, a big, black dog returning, –
weary, sullen, wet, to me.