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Muslim Science-Loving Kid Comes Out On Top, Infuriates White Atheists

The brave and brilliant youngster Ahmed Mohamed has been showered with support since his ludicrous and racist arrest this week, receiving invitations to MIT, Harvard, NASA, Facebook, Twittter, and the White House, to name a few. (It’s important to note that the police who arrested him and the school who saw fit to punish him for a science project have yet to see any ramification for their actions. Internship offers are nice, but justice was not served.)

Even better, the boy made a heartfelt speech encouraging young kids to be themselves and vowing to “try my best not just to help me but to help every other kid in the entire world that has a problem like this.” Skeptics, science advocates, and anyone who values justice should applaud him.

One would think that the big names of mainstream atheism would commend the triumph of a young child’s passion for science and invention over bigotry and racism. Somehow, though, we’ve seen a different response.

From Bill Maher on Real Time:

“What if it had been a bomb? The lack of perspective on this is astounding . . . It’s not the color of his skin. For the last 30 years, it’s been one culture that has been blowing shit up over and over again.”

He’s not talking about American culture, unfortunately.

Richard Dawkins was disappointed that the boy merely built a clock instead of inventing the clock itself (which he’s never claimed; apparently Dawkins is hung up on the “build” versus “make the parts and then build” distinction). What a fraud!

Richard Dawkins tweets," It's fine to disassemble and reassemble a clock, but don't claim it's your invention."

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 10.00.18 AM

The leaders of movement atheism love to say they support young people who take a stand for what they believe at great personal risk. But when it comes to science—which, for many of us, is the antithesis of superstition and the approach to the world that can, given time and the right actors, actually solve its problems—they’re more than willing to throw young activists and pioneers under the bus when they’re not the right skin color or, Spaghetti Monster forbid, they’re Muslim.

This behavior indicates, to me, a greater problem in atheism: a refusal to admit that we, too, can demonstrate fundamentalist leanings when the evidence doesn’t support our personal bigotries. If a school expelled a young white kid for a science project, these same leaders would be up in arms, but when the kid happens to be Muslim, the reaction is justified because of—drum roll please—bias. Where is your critical thinking now?

Keep building, Ahmed. Sorry about atheists. We’re the worst sometimes.

Ahmed Mohammed tweets: "Thank you for your support! I really didn't think people would care about a Muslim boy."

Julia Burke

Julia Burke

Julia Burke is a Chicago-based wine professional and freelance writer with an interest in social justice. She has been known to drink Grenache with PB&J. Follow her on Twitter or on Google+ or check out her website at Stellenbauchery.

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25 Comments

  1. September 20, 2015 at 12:39 pm —

    This is among the many reasons why I oppose the New Atheists. I think the term fundamentalist atheists is apt. Unfortunately, this kind of blindness to their own prejudices is all to common among people who consider themselves critical thinkers. It’s as if the fact that they apply a skeptical filter to most things indemnifies them against self-examination.

  2. September 20, 2015 at 1:13 pm —

    Julia Burke

    Speaking of bigotry, Ahmed Mohamed and non white and science

    Ahmed Mohamed And The American Myth Of The Individual White Inventor
    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/ahmed-mohamed-lewis-latimer-otis-boykin?utm_content=bufferca1aa&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

  3. September 20, 2015 at 1:18 pm —

    This is one of the reasons I’m not particularly fond of some of the people whose quotes you posted. This kid obviously disassembled a clock, maybe two, and reassembled it in a pencil box. I should also point out that despite all the garbage these guys are spewing, Ahmed Mohammed is an AMERICAN. Given that his father, an immigrant, referred to having been in the US for 30 years, I strongly suspect Ahmed has a great American accent because he grew up in the US and that his culture, despite what Bill Maher implies, is American culture. This is also what Americans looks like.

    All those places that are chiming in with support are doing so because we are desperately trying to recruit minorities and women for the STEM community. Here we have a black American Muslim kid who’s already interested, and a big public model was just made of how people like him who are interested in wires and circuit boards get treated. We really need to counteract that, because nearly half of the youngsters in the US are not white and we want to encourage ongoing involvement in STEM fields. People like Dawkins and Maher are being directly harmful to our society with their knee-jerk Islamophobia and desire to protect their privilege.

    • September 20, 2015 at 1:35 pm —

      Smudge,

      I think I have to agree with everything you said. They’re really only making this worse, Bill Maher especially.

    • October 21, 2015 at 5:25 pm —

      I totally agree: STEM subjects should be more popular with people from all backgrounds. Sure, there may be plenty of other black Muslim kids in the US who happen to be both technically smarter and less privileged than Ahmed, but let’s face it, we live in a world where celebrities rule. The perfect news story doesn’t fall in your lap every day. To the extent that atheists like RD quibble about the inconvenient facts of this case they are missing the point and only helping to divert audiences from the core message, which is far more important in the long run.

  4. September 20, 2015 at 2:08 pm —

    Maher is officially a fucking idiot and Dawkins needs to practice his shutting-the-fuck-up-fu.

    Sadly, identifying as a skeptic doesn’t magically eliminate all the bias, motivated reasoning and general bullshit that comes with being human. There’s no group of people that are immune to this crap. The moment you convince yourself you’re immune, that’s when you’re truly lost.

  5. September 20, 2015 at 2:12 pm —

    You know since we’re talking about Richard Dawkins, I was just reminded about this video.

  6. September 20, 2015 at 2:30 pm —

    Wow, is exploring the *mere possibility* that this kid is a clever activist so outrageous? This clock *did* look like a movie style bomb and KIDS are known to be provocative.

    There are videos online of people filming situations where they experience hassles for doing things they *should* be allowed to do. I actually think it’s a good form of activism or drawing attention to problems. This turned out to be a lot like that. ***Even though I *think* he didn’t plan it*** he couldn’t have planned it better as a way to expose the dumb police or who ever hassled him.

    Dawking and Maher *are* Islamophobic, in that they *understand* that Islam *is* full of bad ideas. They are *NOT* Islamophobic in that they hate Muslims. They’re pretty clear about that. That’s also ****not the only reasons*** to *merely explore* the possibility that this kids is again, maybe a clever activist.

    These people do a lot to bring this world to be as forward thinking as we all think we are, high and mighty, for knowing how likely one thing or another is, yet the inconsiderate attempts to slam them just go on and on forever.

    You know, Dawkins is so vocal because he understands that bad ideas get the best of us and instead of being cynical he attempts to teach. We could all learn from that attitude of not giving up on each other or being so ready to burn people at the stake.
    Like · Reply · 2 mins

    Also, Islam is not a race, in case that’s not clear, seems like it’s not..

  7. September 20, 2015 at 2:42 pm —

    Oh holy hell. I saw the article I now see Dawkins has linked to and thought it was absurdly silly. I would hate to have him at a middle school science fair telling all the kids how dumb they are for thinking what they’re doing is science.

  8. September 20, 2015 at 2:46 pm —

    “Although his English seems good”? Why do I get the feeling that Dawkins wouldn’t have used that qualifier if he were talking about a white kid?

    • September 20, 2015 at 4:07 pm —

      And anyway, who the hell WASN’T hyperbolic as a 14-year-old, particularly when talking about something you were excited about?

  9. September 20, 2015 at 3:49 pm —

    You DO KNOW that both Dawkins and Maher are complete assholes and professional trolls, right?

    (That being said, I still enjoy watching Maher now and then, but I’m under no delusions about his character. The best comics all offend us)

    • October 23, 2015 at 4:41 am —

      RD’s (initial) comments are, as usual, factually accurate but lacking in empathy, which would be normal for someone with Asperger’s.
      So, is he really ‘on the spectrum’ and, if so, what difference should it make, if any?

  10. September 20, 2015 at 4:53 pm —

    Wait a minute. Two prominent white atheist blowhards mouth off about this kid and therefore all white atheists are infuriated? Gimme a break! I don’t know any atheists who DON’T support this kid.

  11. September 20, 2015 at 5:28 pm —

    I feel the need to remind the “not all” folks that RD and BM are still very much associated with mainstream atheism and maybe our concern should be giving them fewer platforms instead of rushing to defend atheists whenever they talk. http://skepchick.org/2014/11/the-silencing-of-richard-dawkins/

  12. September 21, 2015 at 1:46 am —

    This is a ridiculous, hyperbolic strawman. The title alone is a gross (as in disgusting) overgeneralization. A grand total of two white man comment on him. Neither of them decry that the Muslim boy came “out on top)”. And only Maher’s statement is bigoted. Dawkins posted two tweets: One criticizing the merit of the science project – not the boy himself! – as Dawkins saw it. In his second tweet he surmises, obviously in response to some other comment, that Ahmed may not have understood the meaning of ‘invention’ AND says that “he should NOT have been arrested”. (It really would have been nice to see the tweet(s) Richard was responding to, as well as the context of the Bill Maher quote – as in, what did he say before and after this. By itself it indicates bigotry, but it’s hard to be sure when taken out of context). You are interpreting Dawkins comments in the least generous way you possibly could. And furthermore, none of the comments you’ve posted give any indication whatsoever that Maher or Dawkins was “Infuriated”. You interpret their comments as malicious, given your use of “infuriated”, and I’ve no idea how one could make such an interpretation based solely on what they actually wrote. Perhaps you have some preexistent animosity towards the two (a grand total of TWO!) “white atheists” you have strawmanned here (over what I cannot guess). I can think of one other motivation: the gross misinterpretation of the words actually stated. Which is quite possible.

    When you say “white atheists”, do you realize that it reads as “all white atheists” or in the very least, “many to most white atheists” you make the same mistake as many bigots (or people who talk like they’re bigots) do. Let me give a couple of examples: “Black people are lazy” and “Muslims are terrorists”. Many many people have actually made such statements and by not being specific, these comments read as “ALL black people are lazy” and “All Muslims are terrorists”, when, to complete the analogy with your post here only “Two black people were lazy” and only “Two Muslims were terrorists”. Surely you see why precise language is important here. The title of your post implicates more than a mere two “white atheists” who were labelled, without evidence as “infuriated”.

    Neither of them are racist. (And yes, I saw the link to that old, ignorant article claiming to “Debunk the claim that “Islam is not a race”. Very poorly argued. Next he’ll claim that Buddhism is a race, but black is not). Bigotry against Muslims is bigotry against Muslims. It is not racism. It’s Islamophobia (criticizing Islam and it’s tenets is not Islamophobia; negatively generalizing the behavior of Muslims, on the other hand, is Islamophobia; I add this only because there is a tendency among the ignorant and ideologues to believe, or at least to state, that simply criticizing Islam is Islamophobia as if criticizing Judaism is antisemitism). One last comment on that obfuscating article which allegedly “refutes” “Islam is not a race”: One does not get to change the definition of words or to win an argument. Racism is a very specific subset of bigotry.

    • September 21, 2015 at 8:37 am —

      I’d find the “not all white atheists” argument more compelling if

      a) White atheists didn’t routinely buy tickets to these men’s events to the point that they can’t be blackballed on account of their many problematic statements because they’re too popular

      b) Every “not all white atheists agree with Dawkins and Maher” comment I’ve received has been about three paragraphs away from “Dawkins and Maher really aren’t that bad”

      • September 21, 2015 at 12:50 pm —

        Also I’m assuming you did not literally mean every white atheist must feel this way.

        • September 21, 2015 at 9:51 pm —

          That too. Everyone who’s reading “all” is betraying their defensiveness.

  13. September 25, 2015 at 4:57 am —

    I am surprised to see this broad generalized attack on atheists on a skeptic’s forum. The headline is misleading, at best.

  14. October 5, 2015 at 4:51 pm —

    I think you’re missing the point here. Both Maher and Dawkins clearly stated they thought Ahmed’s arrest was wrongful. Everything else is details. And why would we need to choose between absolutely positive and absolutely negative views? That’d be just stupid. All things have details and most things in this world don’t fall under one category. You can say his arrest was wrongful and his treatment racist, and still criticize some aspects of it. Like him disassembling an old clock, putting it into a new case and presenting it as his own work.

    I understand how the people really attacking Ahmed are. They’re right-wingers who see everything in black and white, and to them the kid is a fraud, a probe sent by terrorists and a conspiracist. They’re absolutely insane. But the rational way to counter that isn’t to go to the other extreme, but to be rational and evaluate each factor in the case by it’s true standards.

  15. October 21, 2015 at 1:57 pm —

    Well, the kid and his family ar moving to Qatar, because that is indeed a bastion of democracy and freedom, and they say it’s better because he’ll integrate better in Qatar. Comments on this?

    • October 21, 2015 at 2:55 pm —

      Blakut,

      I heard, if his family’s choice to move to Qatar, had anything to do with how the police and his teacher treated Ahmed, its actually pretty sad. I do wish they would stay here in the United States, if not for fear of how they might be treated over there, than at least to deny bigots a victory here.

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