#IDontStandwithAhmed: A Lesson in Poor Argumentation

By now, I’m sure everyone has heard of Ahmed Mohamed, the boy who built a clock and was arrested because it was mistaken for a bomb. In the wake of this fiasco, a multitude of articles have surfaced outlining various reasons why Ahmed should be supported or why the events of that day were justified and completely logical. The majority of supporters for Ahmed have a common reason as to why they think his arrest was unjust and why the logic behind it was flawed (that being that he was a 14-year-old Muslim boy…who built a clock…and not a bomb). The naysayers, however, outline a variety of different reasons why they think the reasoning that led to his arrest was valid. While these different arguments vary in support and justification, they all share a strong common thread: poor argumentation. A large number of the arguments against the “I Stand with Ahmed” movement make little to no sense logically; some lack valid supporting evidence while others hold too small a perspective to see the bigger picture. So I’d like to take this time and use a couple of prime examples from this side of the split to walk through some fallacies that one might want to avoid when expressing an opinion.

1. Always double check the validity of your perspective

One of the most prominent argument points of Ahmed’s opposition state that “it looked exactly like a bomb!” This might be a valid point if it DID look like a bomb. But, it didn’t. Did it look like something one might see on TV? Sure. The key point here that some people seem to miss is that television does not depict reality. This confusion occurs when TV tropes, such as The Coconut Effect (which describes the situation when we as audience members are so used to seeing something portrayed a certain way in film or television that we expect it to be that way, even if the portrayal is inaccurate) seep into real life and skews one’s perspective of the real world. In actuality, briefcase bombs tend to have a few more than four or five wires. They also tend to have a few other components (the parts that put the “bomb” in “bomb”, for example). Ironically enough, the side-by-side photos many of these articles use to support this claim actually do a better job of pointing out these disparities. Coupling this fact with the results of a simple Google image search for “build your own digital clock,” one can easily see that Ahmed’s clock actually looks a lot more like a…clock. So if the next person you talk to about Ahmed uses this support for their reasoning, ask them when the last time they saw an actual bomb was. If they reference a Mission Impossible film or any television program where the bomb is actually ticking (fun fact: modern bombs don’t tick; that would be a bit conspicuous), let them know that they should broaden their perspective a bit. Always look at a range of perspectives and sources when planning an argument

Bill Maher

Bill Maher. The master of argument himself.

2. Make sure your supporting details actually support your argument

Another interesting argument that is being used to oppose Ahmed’s supporters is not simply the denial that it was about race, but the insistence that wrongful punishments and excessive discipline in these sorts of instances happens to everyone independent of race whatsoever. An article from the New York Post takes this stance, using examples of other instances where white students faced too harsh a punishment for the infractions the schools claim were committed. One of these examples involves a boy using a pistol-shaped Pop-Tart to pretend shoot other students, while another inadequately details the events surrounding a boy being placed in handcuffs for issues stemming from a slightly inappropriate school assignment. The mistake in this line of reasoning stems from these examples and the effect they have on the argument. To put it simply, comparing apples to oranges is never a good way to prove a point. There’s a major difference between a student being arrested for suspicion of a bomb threat and students being either suspended or dismissed from class for infractions involving inclinations toward violence. These examples don’t prove anything about the role of race in Ahmed’s situation because the situations being compared against it are not the same. These examples could be used to support a different idea regarding the use of discipline in schools, but when discussing Ahmed’s case, they aren’t really comparable. A better method of possibly proving this point might be to compare other instances of white kids building bombs and comparing the public and authority’s reactions to those.

While these two main pillars of the movement in opposition to Ahmed’s support may seem like elementary arguing tools, it can be easy to miss them. It’s always a good idea to reflect on one’s own ideas before diving into an argument, which could involve either examining why one might hold a certain opinion, how that opinion compares with others, or even simply fact checking the details that helped formulate that line of reasoning. Making sure the support for an argument actually stays true to the argument throughout an essay is another key element to any good piece of persuasive writing. As can be seen in the examples above, when these tidbits of argumentation are ignored, not only does an argument not make sense, but an author can easily come across as either ignorant of reality or ignorant of the subject matter that they are discussing. In either case, it’s not a good look, so keep these simple elements in mind the next time you want to shut down one of your friends in a heated debate. You’ll definitely come out on top.

JULIA REAM / Contributing Writer

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