I rarely talk about controversial topics. Okay, let’s make that ‘never’.
Politics baffle me, religion is a private matter between me and my god, social issues are something I need to understand in their complete framework before I can take a clear stand and online debate is something I don’t believe in. There’s a reason I steer clear of News hour debates on prime time, unless they are moderated by a panelist who can keep his voice under a certain pitch, which, in Indian TV, is non-existent.
In essence, controversial debate is not for me. Healthy debate, though, I both enjoy and indulge in. These generally happen offline, in coffee shops with close friends or at a family gathering with people I’ve known for years. Online, I have a select few whom I either message privately or in a closed group to share my opinions with.
When it comes to creativity, though, I feel compelled to speak up. In public. By now, everyone has heard, tweeted or shared Ahmed’s story on every social media channel available. Memes have been generated on the subject, political and technological bigwigs have thrown their lot in with the 14-year-old wrongly accused of building a bomb and education giant, MIT, has called the boy over to their hallowed institute.
There are two things I want to call into focus here: One is the question of racism and the other is the threat to creativity.
First, let’s talk about racism. Because, whichever way the politicians and the school try to spin it, it’s pretty obvious that there is a strong element of the boy’s name being part of the entire fiasco. Would they have called in the police if a John Smith had brought in the clock? Would they have panicked and interrogated him if he’d been the principal’s son? What is rather frightening is the careless, almost casual linking of the two concepts here: a thing that has wires coming out of it and the name of the maker.
Yes, I understand that America has been the victim of 9/11. Plus, there are enough terrorism movies and those that celebrate jingoism to make you believe the worst of Arabs and Muslims everywhere. But you also have a page like Humans of New York where the everyday person is celebrated- irrespective of skin colour. Underneath it all, when you cut the skin open and watch, the same red blood oozes out onto the ground.
Did the boy really need to be interrogated? Did he deserve to be humiliated in public?Having done all of that and discovering they were in the wrong, should the school authorities have not apologised once it was discovered that they were wrong?
There now, lies the nub of the problem. People hate being wrong; and when it’s the case of them vs the people of colour, it’s even worse! Yes, I said it. There is a strong case for racist discrimination here and Ahmed Mohamed would be well within his rights to bring a case on those grounds against the school.
Second and the more pertinent point, in my opinion, is the fact that this deals directly with a gag on creativity. As a blogger, I feel compelled to say a great many things. Censorship and political correctness though, keep me from doing so, at least in public.
As an aspiring writer today, I am afraid. I understand censorship and the need to place curbs on inflammatory pieces or those that could lead to unrest, anarchy or upheaval. But a part of me fears that, by arresting a 14-year-old who chose to build a clock out of homemade items, somewhere, we are planting the seeds of distrust and suspicion. We are effectively stifling the next generation by gagging their creativity and calling them out when they do something path-breaking. What we should be doing instead is celebrate that experimental streak, stoke that creative fire, laud that need to step out of the circle of mundane algebra and the dry periodic table.
We must all stand with Ahmed. By doing so, we stand with our kids and we stand with creativity and tolerance for a better life.
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If you have a few more minutes to spare, please read this incredibly moving and honest piece by Asha Rajan on racism and how it has impacted her own life.
*Super kicked by the Editor’s pick this week for this post. Thank you, Yeah Write!