Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Richard Dawkins and a Boy’s Clock

Richard Dawkins got slammed for accusing Ahmed Mohamed of “fraud” in presenting the clock as his invention (see Huffington post, The Verge, Time). This isn’t the first time Dawkins came under fire for some controversial twitter remarks on Muslims. Some Dawkins-haters might chalk up his comment to irrational Islamophobia. Behold the tweets of Dawkins:

The thing is…Richard Dawkins is probably kind of right here. If we’ve been duped into swallowing the claim that the kid made the clock and the media failed to do its due diligence in this matter, that’s pretty newsworthy. There’s this Art Voice article by an electronics expert, and also this YouTube video:

Having some experience with electronics myself, my first reaction to seeing the picture of the clock that Ahmed allegedly built is that it’s an electronics kit, kind of like this one. The circuit board is already made but the electronics enthusiast still has to put the pieces together and solder the components. The YouTuber, I think, creates a misleading impression by showing another electronics clock that someone might construct that looks nothing like a circuit board.

Still, all things considered, the Ahmed Mohamed probably didn’t build the clock. Why have a such a hoax? My first impression is that the boy wanted to impress other people with displays of intelligence, and to do that fibbed about building a clock to appear smart. But there are other theories and a few other facts that make this whole affair at least a wee bit suspicious.

Ahmed Mohammed’s father El-Hassan claims his son was tortured after making the clock, saying, “My kid was hurt and was tortured and arrested and mistreated in front of his friends inside of the school.” How plausible is that he was tortured? Not very.

El-Hassan has also been something of an activist on behalf of Islam; you can see him in a televised debate here. Quoting from the New York Daily News:

One of the earliest instances of the standout citizen making national news was in 2011, when he sensationally stood up to an anti-Islamic pastor and defended the Koran as its defense attorney. That mock trial at a Florida church ended with the book's burning, to ElHassan's claimed shock.

In an interview with the Washington Post at the time, the devoted Muslim said he'd take on Rev. Terry Jones' challenge because the holy book teaches that Muslims should engage in peaceful dialogue with Christians.

And now, coincidentally, El-Hassan is in the news again with his son being arrested for building a clock—which we now know to be a fraud—in a case that happens to further his activist agenda. It’s not a smoking gun that this was a set up by El-Hassan (have his son claim to build the clock, a clock that probably would have one pulled over by airport security if one tried to bring it aboard an airplane, and have the clock’s alarm go off in school to provoke an arrest), but it is suspicious. Given El-Hassan’s activist background and that his son didn’t build the clock, we should at least be asking questions here.

All things considered then, it’s perfectly legitimate under the circumstances to note that the teenager didn’t build the clock. Dawkins was right, and his detractors were wrong.