Lawyers for the family of Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old kid who made the clock, have notified the school district and city government in suburban Irving (see below) that the family intends to file civil rights lawsuits if they don’t get $15 million in damages.
Hold your breath for one second. Let’s not talk about that right away. Let’s talk about what Irving officials have done to their city.
I wish the citizens of Irving could file suit for a billion dollars each against Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, Police Chief Larry Boyd and MacArthur High School principal Daniel Cummings for needlessly, gratuitously, wantonly and stupidly turning their city into an international target of wrath, opprobrium and searing disdain at a time of grave world tension and real danger.
Please remember. The mayor started strutting the stage of right-wing Islamophobic lunacy long before this kid showed up at school with a homemade clock to show his teachers. We talked here last March — six months before the clock incident — about Van Duyne doing a celebrity circuit on right-wing talk shows after championing an idiotic City Council resolution against Shariah law.
She used the pretext of religious mediation boards — common in all major religions — to argue that Irving was threatened by a plot to subvert the American rule of law in favor of Islamic tribunals. We also talked about the major embarrassment Van Duyne’s hate-mongering posed for longtime Irving leaders like John Danish.
Danish, a member of the Irving City Council, former chairman of the board of Dallas Area Rapid Transit and a lawyer, pointed out a gleaming new subdivision going up across the street from the Islamic Center of Irving:
“The neighborhood that has taken hold up there has some of the most expensive, beautiful homes you will see being built in any community,” Danish told me. “People from all over the world have come to settle there.
“You now see here all of these different groups and philosophies coming together there. And, man, what a symbol of what America ought to be, when you think about it. Think of the Statue of Liberty and what it represents. I believe that's what Irving is. Irving is a reflection of the American dream.”
That’s one view. That’s what I would call the traditional American melting pot view, the welcoming and constructive view, the view that tries to find the best in people and looks on all new productive, honest citizens as a gift to this country.
But guess what: I thought Danish was a cool story, but he didn’t get anywhere near the air-time Van Duyne did. She was everywhere and flashing it.
That can’t help having an effect after a while. In all things there is a tipping point. People tend to sidle this way and that to line up on what they think will be the winning side. Just my opinion, but I look at the whole Ahmed’s clock saga as an outgrowth of Van Duyne’s demagoguery and the stardom it won her on shows like Glenn Beck's. One way or another, by the time Ahmed brought his clock to school the balance among Irving officials had tilted way over toward bigotry and away from Danish’s tolerant views.
The letters from the family’s attorneys, first published yesterday by Avi Selk at The Dallas Morning News, make compelling, awful reading, no matter what you may think of the threat of litigation. You know, lawsuits are their own deal, sort of dollar-and-cents business matters and may the best man win. I’m not here to take sides in that.
But the narrative laid out in the letters depicts in heart-stabbing detail how Irving officials continued to malign this family and make targets of them long after it was plain that the kid had made a clock, not a bomb, and that local officials had jumped on him because he was not white.
Yes. Because he was not white: No white-bread kid named Preston or Hunter or Sherwood Forest would have been cuffed and arrested for that stupid clock. What happened to Ahmed took place because his name was Ahmed and was a direct outgrowth of the poisonous leadership provided first by Van Duyne.
Leadership counts. What a leader like Danish says is important, because it offers encouragement and a kind of shelter to others in Irving who may share his tolerant feelings but lack his courage. And what a leader like Van Duyne says is important, too, because it stokes the mob.
I am thinking of mobs like the knuckle-dragging, gun-toting fools who massed outside the Irving Islamic Center Saturday. That’s what Van Duyne and the other Irving officials behind her have done for their city — made it an international symbol of bigoted mob violence. Whenever I see a group like that, I think of the speech of Colonel Sherburn in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Facing down a lynch mob with a shotgun in the crook of his arm, the old Southern colonel says:
“The idea of you lynching anybody! It's amusing. The idea of you thinking you had pluck enough to lynch a man! Because you're brave enough to tar and feather poor friendless cast-out women that come along here, did that make you think you had grit enough to lay your hands on a man? Why, a man's safe in the hands of ten thousand of your kind — as long as it's daytime and you're not behind him.”
But that’s the trick, isn’t it? Daylight. And they’re not behind you. I guess that’s why Ahmed’s family moved to Qatar.
Listen. She may be the mayor, but Van Duyne is not Irving — not all of it, not the whole story. Another side of Irving is wonderfully diverse, tolerant and welcoming. That side just needs to get a little more John Danish and a lot more Colonel Sherburn in its backbone.