Fulcrum Ruminations

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Ahmed and the Clock

Let’s see if we can explain what’s happening here. We all know the story by now, I’m sure, with opinions divided right along predictable lines. Kid builds (or didn’t, there seems to be some question about this) a clock, brings it to school in a briefcase to show his teachers, most of them say good work, one decides it looks like a bomb, hilarity ensues. Lots of media attention, the President tweets about it, people lose their freakin’ minds. As it happens, the kid is muslim, which lends a delicious spice to the proceedings. Lots of lecturing about how we’re all terrible people because we assumed the muslim kid had a bomb just because he’s muslim. Don’t tar everyone with the same brush, yadda yadda yadda.

Maybe I can explain the backstory here. Bear with me.

So you’re walking down a busy street in the city. Lots of people walking your way, lots of people walking the other way. Everyone is wrapped up in whatever errand they’re on, not paying too much attention to anyone else. Every now and then a guy wearing a purple shirt walks past you. You barely notice. Then a guy wearing a purple shirt punches you in the face, yells “Everyone should wear purple shirts!” and disappears up the street.

Stunned, you wonder what the hell that was about, chalk it up to a lone nut, and resume walking. Nine more guys wearing purple shirts walk past you. You barely notice.

The tenth guy wearing a purple shirt punches you in the face, yells “Everyone should wear purple shirts!” and disappears into the crowd. Concerned with your throbbing jaw, it scarcely registers on you that both guys who’ve punched you were wearing purple shirts. But as you resume your walk, you do begin to notice how many purple shirts you see. Most of them walk right past you.

And then the eleventh guy wearing a purple shirt punches you in the face, yells “Everyone should wear purple shirts!” and runs off.

Now you’re paying attention. As you once more resume your walk, you look at every purple shirt you see, wondering if you’re going to get punched in the face. Twelve or fifteen purple-shirted guys walk past without a hint of trouble. You being to relax and think about strange statistical aberrations.

Then the sixteenth guy wearing a purple shirt punches you in the face, yells “Everyone should wear purple shirts!” and runs off.

Now you’re angry. It seems that anyone wearing a purple shirt might punch you in the face. So you’re vigilant. You watch for purple shirts. When you see one, you give that person a wide berth. You begin to notice that every now and then someone wearing a purple shirt punches a random passer-by in the face, yells that everyone should wear purple shirts and runs off. You start to try to warn people to watch out for guys wearing purple shirts. Most dismiss you as a nut yourself. A few berate you for making assumptions about purple shirts. One or two get very angry and tell you they normally wear purple shirts themselves but today is laundry day and their purple shirt is in the dryer.

You start to doubt your premise yourself. Maybe it is just one of those weird things that happens.

Then a guy wearing a purple shirt punches you in the face.

Now you’re mad. You look even more carefully for purple shirts. When a guy wearing one comes your way, you raise your fists, ready to fight. The guy in the purple shirt looks at you like you’re crazy and goes out of his way to avoid you. You watch him go, just in case, and from behind you a guy wearing a purple shirt punches you in the back of the head. He asks you why you hate purple shirts and runs off.

So as you continue up the street, you keep a careful eye out for guys in purple shirts and you ready yourself to react any time you see one.

People call you crazy. They tell you you’re a horrible person with an unhealthy fixation on purple shirts. They point out that people wearing other colors occasionally punch someone in the face. You try to tell them that that happens a lot less often than someone wearing a purple shirt punching someone in the face but they tell you you’re wrong and refuse to listen to you any more.

Now a kid wearing a purple shirt comes down the street, his hands clenched into fists. What are you supposed to do?

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