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Movie Review: Wei Ling v Hsien Loong

The following review contains numerous spoilers. Please proceed at your own discretion.

It’s been over a year since the death of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew gripped the nation to its core and devastated the productivity of the city-island. The outpouring of tributes and waterworks left many feeling angry and bemused, including the head of the National Neuroscience Institute, Lee Wei Ling. Convinced that her deceased father would have cringed at the hero worship barely a year after his death, she embarks on a personal vendetta to set the record straight, while his brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and Straits Times editor Ivan Fernandez, launch their own crusades to halt her cause.

A surprise contender for Movie of the Year, the accidental box office hit, available for streaming via Facebook, has left many moviegoers applauding the sheer brilliance of the film. The movie, which has since been nicknamed “Descendants of the Father”, follows the journey of Lee Wei Ling, daughter of the late Lee Kuan Yew, as she embarks on her quest for freedom of speech. Facing insurmountable odds, will she be able to navigate through the dangerous political minefield? Read More

Why Should The Media Care When You Don’t?

I offer my deepest condolences to the families affected by the bombings that happened in Brussels, Iraq and Pakistan over the past week. Even till now, I struggle to comprehend how humans have it within themselves to do such evil, for the three callous and cowardly acts of terror were truly, truly unforgivable.

Following an all-too-familiar chain of events now, social media have been awash with postings criticising the lack of media coverage of the Lahore and Iskandariya episodes among other similar incidents that seemingly flew under the radar during the last few days.

Yes, compared to the devastation in Brussels and Paris, there’s undeniably less coverage, but there’s also considerably less of an audience. Read More

“You’re Too Young To Think About Your Career”

At what age is it ‘acceptable’ to start thinking about your career?

I recently had the chance to really ponder about this question after seeing this really questionable tweet online. He’s a distant friend, and I know he does not have a terrible moral compass or a superiority complex. In fact, we talked fairly often back in the day, but still, I felt the need to stand up for the person he was referring to, even though I have no idea who she is, and at the same time, express my thoughts on this whole “you’re too young to think about your career” mindset.

For context, the person who posted the first comment is currently in Secondary Four, while my friend who posted the second comment has recently graduated from Secondary School. In short, both of them are about 15-16 year-olds.

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Besides the totally rude and uncalled-for comment, what irked me the most was this particular line: “The point is, this should not be a very big concern at this stage”.

That is the problem. It should be a big concern at this stage.

Let me take it one step further, and say that

If you have no idea what you want to do before 18, you’re screwed.

Woah woah woah, at least hear me out first.

You Just Need An Interest

It’s perfectly fine if that “idea” is something you’re not certain of. If you have anything that you’re remotely interested in trying out, you’re okay, but for those who have none, it just has to be something you’re interested in at this very point in time. Everybody has something they are interested in. It isn’t even a point of contention; it’s a fact. Period. And don’t worry if your interest doesn’t sound like something you could make a career out of. When I was in Secondary Two, I liked reading Wikipedia and was interested in how the website worked. So what did I do? I charged people money to help them place their company/individual profiles onto Wikipedia. About two years ago, I was interested in an online fantasy game I was playing, so I contacted an online magazine and got paid to write articles about it on their website.

Most of the people (of my generation) I’ve interacted with have this misconception that you only get one shot at this whole career thing, and you die-die have to get it right the first time round. As a result, they become afraid of trying and adverse to failure. I often hear people expressing their doubts and the most common variant is “oh, what if it doesn’t work out for me? I would have wasted so much time. Wouldn’t it be better if I waited till I figured it out?”

It’s definitely a valid concern and sentiment shared by many, but why not look at it the other way? Why not see it as, “I found a job that doesn’t work for me”. A negative result isn’t always a bad thing. Didn’t our teachers always talk to us about the process of elimination? When attempting multiple choice questions, how do we usually end up with the correct answers? We eliminated the options we know were wrong. Likewise in life, to end up with your “correct choice”, you got to strike off what doesn’t work for you.

I was a marketing intern back in Secondary Three, and about a year or two ago, I decided to try and become one of those IT-Show sales promoters. While both didn’t yield particularly desirable results, I gained a better understanding of my weaknesses, knew what jobs to avoid, and where I should place my focus on in the future.

The point is, you need to be actively exploring the things you’re interested in so as to figure out what doesn’t work for you. Maybe I’m a just a work-obsessed person who gets his energy from working, but in my opinion, you’re only so young and ‘restless’ for this long. It’ll be a tragic waste and pity if you don’t spend this period discovering the unknown and, contextually-speaking, making a fool out of yourself.

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“I believe a purpose is something for which one is responsible; it’s not just divinely assigned.” – Michael J. Fox

It’s Alright To Pursue Multiple Careers

Are they wrong to think that way, though? Certainly not, for society has conditioned us to feel that we only have one true calling, and that we have to constantly wrack our brains to figure out that job we were ‘destined’ to do. To a certain extent, the idea of having only one job, of leading a narrowly-focused life, have been greatly romanticised, and this results in entirely unnecessary pressure. Instead of thinking, “how many ways can I contribute to society with my skills?”, people are now anxiously wondering, “which skill should I pick to contribute to society?”

It is perfectly okay to embark on multiple ‘careers’. One does not have to restrict themselves and choose only one particular area to focus on. For example, if you’re good at calligraphy, cooking, and marketing, why not do all three? There’s no need to restrict yourself to just one career option.

No wonder people are not inclined to figure out what they are, at the very minimum, interested in, because we have all made the risk for exploration higher than it actually is for absolutely no reason!

Some people are naturally wired to be curious in a broad range of subjects, and there is nothing positive stemming from having them specialise in only one of those areas. Career coach Emilie Wapnick spoke at length about this issue at TEDx Bend, and how restricting yourself will only make you sad and miserable (trust me, I’ve been there).

Dispelling The Myths

“But I have no time to explore! It’s Secondary Four! There’s the O-Levels!” That is simply just an overused excuse to justify your lack of courage.

I’m not trying to generalise, but contrary to popular belief, Secondary Four is the optimal time for exploration. You were probably too young and immature in Secondary One and Two, and busy with love, being rebellious, and struggling with dropping grades in Secondary Three. Secondary Four is the year where most can safely say they have matured to a reasonable extent. You understand things better, your attitude might have improved, and you’re not as fickle as before etc.

Also, by the time your prelims arrive, you have already done the same ‘exact’ thing at least 12 times leading up to that. All your level tests, common tests, CAs, SAs, and EOYs, coupled with the fact that Secondary Four is the least content-heavy year by miles (at least for me), your senior year will present many opportunities for exploration, and it would be so, so foolish if you spent all your time on studying.

Now, one might say, “you can afford to do that only because you were good at your academics”. Err, no? Who said I was good in my academics? I was an ‘at-risk’ student, failed half of my subjects and got 38 for my L1R5 when I ended Secondary Three. It’s not like I had many qualifications to help me either. When I first started out, all I had was my PSLE certificate. Even now, I’m still some time away from attaining my first diploma. Besides, I was always playing soccer and at odds with the discipline committee. I’m sure you could paint a picture of how I was back then.

If there was one thing I constantly disagreed with my former teachers, it was the fact that they were always asking me to study every single subject, and to spend whatever free time I had studying. I think it’s absolutely bonkers. For one, our health should be placed on a higher pedestal. Secondly, learning completely irrelevant subjects (like Additional Mathematics, which one of my Math relief teachers used to tell me “the only time you need A-Math in the future, is if you become an A-Math teacher”) that you’re never going to touch again is not how you should be spending your precious little time. I just feel that it’s sad, yet ironic, that we could have spent this time exploring the things we will actually require in the future.

A lot of my friends have this incorrect notion that I had already known what I wanted to do in life. I would always hear, “it’s easy for you to say such stuff because you have already found your passion. The rest of us have not”. That is just wrong. Graphic design and filmmaking were merely things I was interested in at that given point in time. I have no clue I was going to be doing this for the long haul. As I suggested countless times before, all I did was to locate the very thing I was interested in, explored that area, and unlike some of my other jobs, it turned out to be something that worked for me. If I were to be all apprehensive and wonder if both were the right jobs for me, I wouldn’t have went forth and discovered that hey, those were indeed my passions!

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“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something… because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path.” – Steve Jobs

Take Advantage of Your Youth

I think the phrase “it’s never too late to pursue your dream” is bullshit. Not because you are unwilling, but circumstances will prevent you from doing so. Think about the kind of responsibilities you need to shoulder going into adulthood. Rent, utilities, transport, meals, family, expenses etc. In my five years of freelancing since I was 13, I have deviated from graphic design to writing, sales, photography, videography, marketing, and editing. Do you think I would have the opportunity and privilege to explore this entire ‘spectrum’ if I went down the JC route (contextually-speaking; not that there’s anything wrong with JC) and popped back into society after my National Service? No, because it would be too bloody expensive and I can’t risk it.

People are less forgiving when you’re an adult as well. When I was just starting out as a presentation designer, I had a few clients who chose to ‘forget’ about some of the errors I made purely due to my age, complete lack of experience, and absence of education qualifications. Maybe I’m erring on the cynical side a little too much, but do you think people are going to be that forgiving and rational when you enter the workforce as an adult? Who the f*** cares about your lack of experience, honestly? Boo-hoo-hoo, the sun will set and the stars would still rise even if you’re fired.

And what if you succumb to a lack of time and peer judgement, as stupid as that is? I mean, “you can’t possibly be jobless right?” I’m pretty sure “I’m still finding my passion” isn’t a societally-accepted reason to be staying at home, especially in your 20s. As a result, you might be forced to work a potentially boring dead-end job that you do not enjoy, just to ease the pressure from your parents, relatives and friends. What does this mean? You will have even lesser time and opportunities to explore your interests, and the vicious cycle simply continues.

Worse still, how are you going to compete with experienced part-timers who might be more skilled in the area you’re applying for, much less the people from other parts of the world? For the guys especially, we are already two years behind our global counterparts by the time we’re discharged from the military. Comparatively, we will be severely lacking in knowledge, skill sets, and workplace experience. If you don’t factor in the time spent for National Service and make up for lost time right now, then you can’t really blame anyone in the future, can you?

At the end of the day, happiness plays a big part in our lives and is undoubtedly a significant factor in determining our emotional states. In my opinion, most of our happiness is heavily influenced by the people around us and does not really “come from within”, even though that should be the case. Sure, we might ultimately find creative satisfaction in what we do, but we have an unhealthy tendency to compare ourselves to others. Unfortunately, this has become easier with the rise of social media. Imagine a scenario where you are stuck at your desk after a long, tiring meeting. You log onto Facebook, start scrolling thru your feed, and you see all your friends boasting about their latest feats, being successful in their respective fields, and enjoying themselves on exotic vacations. Some of ya’ll may not live for this kind of experiences or materialistic satisfaction (good for you), but for most people, you want to be the one that is free from the workplace and going on those exotic cruises and holidays. It doesn’t have to be a goal, but it works tremendously well as a source of motivation.

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“There are two most powerful days in your life. The day you are born, and the day you discover why.” – Boniface Mwangi

Stop Thinking You Have Plenty of Time

It’s a scary and cruelly ironic thing isn’t it? If you fail to explore when you were young, you might actually never find your passion, even though the reason you didn’t explore in the first place, was because you wanted to wait and figure out what you were ‘meant to do’. During this period when you have no urgent obligation to settle down, finish off as many things as time permits you to. Don’t just take it from me. Look at the countless people claiming that hey, there comes a time when it becomes too late. Ask the adults around you. Some of their faces will light up as they describe their passions, before a tinge of sadness creep into their voices and betray the very eyes that were momentarily filled with hope. I’ve seen that look so many times, and it’s just heartbreaking. It’s not that they lack talent – all of them are exceptional at their passions – but there comes a time when it’s just not practical to take that much of a calculated risk anymore.

You might say, hey, look at the people who have succeeded despite not knowing what they want to do before 18. Yes, such examples are aplenty, and I am fully aware of it. But here’s a question for you: Have you also taken a look at the amount of people who did not succeed because they did not know what they wanted to do before 18? For every successful case study, there are hundreds more who have failed. In a way, I think clichés like “it’s never too late to follow your dreams” is nothing more than an over-romanticised idea meant to give people a small glimmer of hope, or in some cases, an excuse to make them feel better about themselves.

Different people interpret “success” differently, but in the current context, success means finding a job that you actually enjoy doing. You might be making millions a year, converting thousands of leads a month, or flying around the world every week for work, but you might still be gravely unfulfilled and unhappy. To attain that invaluable sense of belonging and achievement, you have to first stop kidding yourself, because the only way you’re going to find your purpose in life, is if you take charge of it and actually make an effort to search for it.

I would put the words interest and passion in a similar bracket. If you’re interested in something, all you need is a little time for it to be ‘upgraded’ into a passion. It’s basically just taking it to the next level; we just love to label things, that’s all. As I mentioned earlier, every single living person on this planet has an interest, and it’s really down to whether they let their fears get to them. It doesn’t matter if it works out at the end or not. If it does, excellent. If it doesn’t, that’s equally great as well, for you have found something you know you should avoid in the future. The time, consequences, and not to mention the amount of money you can save at this age when you have minimal financial commitments are too priceless.

Passion is like money. It’s not going to fall from the sky. You have to put in the effort to find it, although it isn’t that hard to get started. Beg, cold call, offer to intern, use your age to your advantage, whatever. Most of the opportunities I got in the earlier stages of my career was purely down to banging people’s doors (metaphorically speaking), casting as wide of a net as possible, and basically saying yes to almost everything that was offered to me. Do you know how I managed to have the opportunity to host my debut solo exhibition back in August 2015? I messaged this hostel chain I stayed in a few months back, coincidentally for a journalism assignment, to see if they were willing to sell my postcard prints, and the very nice folks decided to sponsor their gallery at one of their properties for me. And I didn’t even have to ask. You never know, a simple email might end up giving you one of the greatest highlights of your life.

Does that mean there’s something wrong with people who have part-time jobs (waiters, promoters, assistants etc.)? Errr… no. See, there’s a grave difference between someone who’s working part-time to fund their goals, be it paying for their schools fees, investing in their personal projects, or even supporting their family, and someone who’s working a part-time job with no view of making that job permanent, yet scared shitless to take any plunges because they still haven’t discovered their ‘one true calling’. I admire people who put aside their egos and do the dirty work themselves to support their businesses or side projects. I mean, after all, not everyone will get a “small loan of $1 million dollars”, right?

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“You can’t just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream, you’ve got to get out there and make it happen for yourself.” – Diana Ross

I think what’s equally as interesting as my friend’s tweet was the replies to it. There is nothing wrong with agreeing with his thoughts, but it is condescending on so many levels to lambaste the girl for expressing her own opinion and thinking about her passion, just because you yourself failed to find yours during Secondary School. It reeks of insecurity, cowardice and truancy of common sense.

And you guys were the fastest to post up #JeSuisCharlie hashtags when the attacks threatened freedom of speech not long ago.

Shame on you.

For all I know, you might not agree with what I’ve written, and that’s alright; we can agree to disagree. But it is not alright to embarrass someone else just for wanting to prepare and get a head start in life. For a young teen to start wondering and making plans for the future, her attitude should be lauded and thoroughly encouraged, not unjustifiably shamed online. After all,

“Darling, she’s only 15 so shut your mouth”.


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Every once in awhile, I’ll be sending out a specially curated email to all my subscribers. Besides containing all of my latest posts and happenings, I’ll also share and feature content from around the web, including humor and jokes, local bands and artists, and personally handpicked articles that discuss a variety of topics among many other things!
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Coney Island, Singapore: 7 Stunning Insta-Worthy Spots

Coney Island? Isn’t that in New York City?

Formally known as Pulau Serangoon, the 50 ha (size of about 70 football fields) island originally shared its nickname with another island called Pulau Satumu (and reportedly several others), where Raffles Lighthouse is located, as our colonial masters couldn’t seem to make up their minds. Hugging the north-east coast of Singapore facing Pulau Ubin, the island was bought over by the Haw Par brothers in the 1930s, who then proceeded to build a beach villa there. World War II came, and it fell into disrepair, but Indian businessman Ghulam Mahmood swooped in and purchased the place with the intention of turning it into a resort. However, plans to imitate Brooklyn’s world-renowned tourist destination failed spectacularly, and the place was, once again, left to rot. Before it was slated for redevelopment in recent times, Coney Island was a popular destination for activities such as boating, water skiing, fishing, and family picnics.

A sucker for (relatively) unknown places, I first went to explore the island back in April during my stay in Little Texas, but it was sadly closed then. When the MSM confirmed of its re-opening about a week ago, I grabbed my friend Haziq and went forth to visit the place once again.

Getting to Coney Island is quite straightforward. Simply take bus 84 from Punggol Temporary Interchange, alight at Punggol Road End bus stop, and walk for about 15 mins towards the island’s West entrance.

I’ve taken the liberty to note down some Insta-worthy places on the island during my time there. In the following list, I’ll also briefly offer suggestions on how to position yourself, where to place your camera, the optimal angles you should capture from, and some important tips to help make your visit a safer (and more enjoyable) one. For my Singapore friends, I sincerely hope it’ll entice you to make the trip down, and for my international viewers, here’s a look at Singapore’s version of Coney Island. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments below.

1. Sidewalk @ Beach Area A

There are a total of five mini-beaches on Coney Island, creatively named A, B, C, D, and E. While they look mostly identical to each other, I thought it was a great idea splitting them up instead of combining the beaches into one, long sandy stretch. It feels more intimate and allows island-goers some privacy while admiring the scenery (if any).

Beach Area A stands out because of the sidewalk that takes you around the border of the island. Somewhat reminiscent of the steps alongside the Singapore River at Clarke Quay, it’s the perfect place for you to lepak with your friends and enjoy the windy breeze. Also an ideal location for you to be alone, the fading and almost desaturated sea provides an excellent backdrop (or front-drop) to let your friends know how ‘deep-in-thought’ you are.

2. Lalang Field @ Shelter 2

While there are numerous lalang fields (like, 20?) of various sizes scattered across Coney Island, the one at Shelter 2 is the vast-est and most appealing in my opinion. There are also a number of trees with crooked trunks located at the ‘start’ of the field that makes for an interesting frame. Great news for those travelling alone as well – you can easily place your smartphone or camera on one of the benches and set the self-timer. Be prepared to run fast and get your shoes dirty though, as it’s highly unlikely you can gingerly run to the above position in under 10 seconds (I should know, having tried it at least a dozen times).

How it looks like from the side.

The lalangs, however, are quite high, as you can see infer from the picture below (I’m 1.7m). Unless you’re planning a medium close-up or close-up shot, I think the one at Punggol Waterway Park is a more viable option (there seems to be a thing between Punggol and lalang fields…).

Photo by: Muhammad Haziq

3. Canopy @ Shelter 2

Photo by: Muhammad Haziq

Located a few metres from the lalang field is a gorgeous wooden canopy that is practical for just about anything – wedding shoots, jump shots, graduation photos etc. I chanced upon two other canopies while exploring the island, but I chose the feature the one at Shelter 2 as it has the most orgasmic lighting and general ambience. The other two are painfully average, with flat lighting and unflattering foliage surrounding them.

4. S-Curve @ Shelter 2

If you continue down further, you should see this S-curve road. This area is great for ‘wandering’ photos, and I would suggest donning a suitable color palette (white tee, brown backpack, and matching pants and shoes) to complement the shot.

5. Broadwalk

The Broadwalk offers more of a reservoir-sque (MacRitchie, Lower Pierce etc.) setting, with different types of trees girdling around a 100m-long wooden platform. It’ll make for an interesting profile picture against such a dense backdrop, or you can choose to be like me and look up for an immersive wide shot.

6. Sanctuary @ Beach Area E

At the end of the Broadwalk, you should come across this zen-looking area. Get one of your friends to snap you standing at the guy’s location, then throw on a high-contrast black-and-white filter afterwards to make it look real deep. Pair it with a pretentious quote for added effect.

Limbo feels anyone?

The Broadwalk also leads us to our next destination…

7. Bike Trail @ Beach Area E

The trees in this area are extremely tall and relatively dense, which makes for an excellent portrait shot. It also lends you some perspective on how small and insignificant we are when compared to the world around us. Make sure to go for a low-angle shot to fully capture the vibe of the location. It’s not a sight you get to see everyday.

Bonus: Silent Hill Road @ OTW to Broadwalk

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This particular stretch of road the haziest part of the entire island, which was why I coined it “Silent Hill Road”. Contrary to what you might expect, the effects of the haze isn’t quite visible when you’re on Coney Island itself. Sure, the backgrounds in your pictures might end up a little fuzzy, but the island looks (almost) perfectly fine when viewing through your naked eyes. However, this open area is so hazy that my camera has trouble auto-focusing. I’ve edited the featured photo extensively, but you can see from the lack of clarity and details that the haze is really problematic. What I like about this path, though, is how it’s usually deserted (save for the odd cycling gang), and the towering trees provide a nice symmetry for one to exercise their creative juices.

Bonus #2: Funky Droopy Tree @ 600m from Restroom

Photo by: Muhammad Haziq

If anyone knows the name of this plant, please let me know. Till then, this is called the Funky Droopy Tree, and it can be located about 600m away from the washrooms. It’s quite easy to locate this conspicuous specimen – on your right if you’re walking to the toilets; on the left if you’re returning from it. There are also a couple more photo opportunities if you trek further in around the area.


There are way more Insta-worthy spots than what’s listed above, but I’d rather let ya’ll explore and find them out on your own. The entire place is unbelievably photogenic, and, quite frankly, doesn’t resemble Singapore in the slightest bit. Left nearly untouched for the longest time possible, Coney Island’s rustic setting allows for images that don’t look like they were taken in Singapore. Look up, bend down and cover your sides – a photo opportunity will inevitably present itself. I’ve given you a list of locations, along with pictures of how your shot could possibly turn out. Hopefully, this will save you guys some time, and help you mightily with sprucing up your social media feeds. 

On a sidenote, I find it ironic how our government had been spending billions of dollars building shiny new tourist attractions, when all they had to do was look in their own backyard. Coney Island is the real McCoy and an absolute gem, with sights you won’t get to enjoy on mainland Singapore. It was a great experience trudging through one of Singapore’s best kept secrets, and I can’t wait to discover more when I revisit in the near future.

Things to take note:

  • There is only one toilet (a self-sustained one, how cool is that?) on the entire island, and you have to walk over 2.5km under the sweltering heat to get there. The water’s non-potable as well, so you’re basically screwed if you don’t stock up on enough water before passing the gates.
  • There is an abundance of insects, including mosquitoes, sand flies (oh god), and leeches. Please ensure you marinate yourself with insect repellent before entering. Don’t complain, because 70% of ya’ll voted for it we’re technically invading their homes.
  • You might encounter animals such as lizards, wild boars, and even a Brahman bull which, against common logic, somehow ended up on this island. Please follow the warnings on the signboards and do not approach them. Exercise not only your body, but common sense as well.
  • Health-conscious too eh?

    Health-conscious too eh?

  • The monkeys turn fairly violent if they see you with a plastic bag or backpack. They ‘hunt’ in groups of 4 or 5, so again, do not approach them.

If you enjoyed this article, why not find out more about the most unique chalet in Singapore that’s just located minutes away from Coney Island?

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Every once in awhile, I’ll be sending out a specially curated email to all my subscribers. Besides containing all of my latest posts and happenings, I’ll also share and feature content from around the web, including humor and jokes, local bands and artists, and personally handpicked articles that discuss a variety of topics among many other things!
It’s free, so let me know your email address below!

I Do Not Stand With Ahmed

Photo by: Associated Press / LM Otero

When news broke out that 14-year-old Ahmed Mohammed got arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, social media lit up in #Kony2012-sque proportions. Support for him has come thick and fast – as evidenced by the numerous #IStandWithAhmed hashtags – with messages of support streaming in from highly distinguished individuals and organisations; Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, Twitter, Microsoft and MIT to name a few. I’m not going to lie, I was one of those rooting for him, albeit silently. It does sound stupid after all, getting booked for a science project he’s passionate about. Besides, it’s never nice seeing a young kid in cuffs. However, after digging a little deeper and glossing over the case a few more times, I can safely say my attitude towards the incident has completely changed, and here’s why.

Just about race?

Islamophobia is the word that this incident has been associated with the most. Cries of discrimination and unjust prejudice have been at an all-time high, with many claiming if Ahmed was a white boy, he wouldn’t be arrested for bringing in a homemade clock.

Talk about ignorance, it’s as if no Muslims are white.

Make no mistake, studies have shown that minority youths are at greater risk of mistreatment by schools. Black and Latino kids are disciplined more harshly and more frequently than white kids who commit the same offences. However, it seems all too convenient of a narrative to blame his arrest on his religion and his religion alone; officials identify a kid who is lugging around a suspicious-looking package, checks if he has an Islamic-sounding name, cries and deem him a terrorist, before the cops swoop in and gets him arrested.

“Ahmed’s last name was the reason why he got into trouble” is the popular sentiment on social networks right now, but the inconvenient truth is this. Kids – black, brown, white, Asian, Latino, Hispanic, Indian – are getting punished for similar non-threatening offences routinely. Here is a list of some recent examples:

Where was the outrage throughout all this? For those suggesting that Ahmed’s last name was the sole cause for his arrest, can I also suggest that his last name was the only reason for such a public outcry, and that itself reeks of immense hypocrisy?

If there’s anything to blame here, it’s the zero-tolerance policies of schools, which have landed hundreds of unsuspecting kids in trouble. School violence is admittedly a huge problem facing the country, but the overzealous handling of innocent behaviors stemming from unjustified paranoia is not the way to go about solving things. Petty mistreatment should not outlaw, or at the very least, get in the way of one’s fundamental right to speak, write, and act upon their thoughts and ideas.

Some are arguing that officials never thought Ahmed had a bomb in the first place –  the school wasn’t evacuated, there was no bomb squad on the scene, and the alleged ‘bomb’ was placed in the teacher’s office – and that they simply wanted to humiliate him due to his religion. He was not accused of building a bomb, but rather, a hoax bomb. While that might very well be true, it simply supports the argument that the school’s zero-tolerance policies are at fault here. It’s too easy to blame it on Islamophobia, it really is, but as the examples above show, the fact that you’re not a Muslim doesn’t spare you from ridiculous treatment. People can’t accept the fact that a Muslim wasn’t discriminated against, because that’s the role they have created for Ahmed based on his ethnicity. He’s a Muslim, and therefore, he must have been discriminated. When they realise he’s not playing that role, they have a hard time digesting an alternative rationale.

As Kyle Smith of The New York Post puts it,

It’s absurd to suggest that you have to be Muslim, or brown-skinned, or live in Texas, to be subjected to overenthusiastic use of school discipline and police force.

As such, the perception that white people are above the law and immune to punishment is a dangerous thought, and needless to say, completely false and biased. The zero-tolerance policies of schools are affecting everyone, and let’s not lose sight of the consequences and repercussions such policies will continue to bring if they are not addressed soon. While unlikely in my books, racism could have very well been a factor in his arrest, but we are making a huge mistake if we conclude that that is all there is to it; pure, raw racism at work.

Photo by: Irving Police via AP

Photo by: Irving Police via Associated Press

Just about a ‘homemade’ clock?

It is ironic that people are commending Ahmed for his talent and lauding him as a genius, when corroborated evidence have suggested that his clock was not as genuine as people made it out to be. Many people are using the term “homemade clock” in their tweets of support like it’s some sort of mitigating factor to further sensationalise their stance.

Thomas Brett Talbot, a research scientist at the Institute for Creative Technologies, University of Southern California, said in a YouTube video that his contraption was essentially “a commercial alarm clock as you would purchase in any department store and use at your bedside”.

He also stated that:

I see no evidence that this is any creation whatsoever or that there was any modification or even assembly of anything, to have made things out of a kit for example. This is simply taking a clock out of its case.

Anthony DiPasquale, a webmaster for Artvoice.com who holds an engineering degree, is more blunt, saying that “Ahmed Mohamed didn’t invent his own alarm clock… he didn’t even build a clock” and backed up his claim in a now-viral blog post with great technical details.

For those who have neither the time nor the patience, Anthony basically compared Ahmed’s clock to 1980s vintage electronics, gives us some contextual information, and damningly, even showed us where we could purchase the clock on eBay! According to him, Ahmed’s clock was supposedly built by Micronta, a subsidiary of Radio Shack, “as indicated by the “M” logo on the clock’s circuit board”. The pencil box (widely misreported to be a suitcase) Ahmed used for his project is also alleged to have been purchased off Amazon. In his own words, “the dimensions (of the items bought) all line up perfectly”.

 

Kevin Davis, who holds a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, agrees, saying “he decomposed an already existing commercially available countdown clock as evidenced by the commercially manufactured Printed Circuit Board (in line with what Anthony suggested)”. He also added that: 

If the kid were to “home make” or “invent” a clock, he would have used a breadboard, wherein one inserts integrated circuits, wires, and capacitors, resistors, etc., to form the logic of such a device.

Photo by: Kevin Davis (https://www.facebook.com/Elquaporojo)

Photo by: Kevin Davis (https://www.facebook.com/Elquaporojo)

One of my friends, Pan Ziyue, a through and through IT whiz, offered the following explanation:

The choice to use a complete PCB (printed circuit board) that wasn’t even CAD-routed and the use of ribbon cables (something that only happens in production models, not prototypes) legitimately made me wonder about the authenticity of this “clock”.

 

He also mentioned the following quote, which I feel really captures the ‘essence’ of this entire fiasco.

The social media s***storm is so strong that one will start to doubt one’s own perceptions of this thing until someone bold enough starts shedding light on the truth.

In short, it was simply not an invention, contrary to what he had claimed in an interview with The Dallas Morning News.

I am often hesitant to discredit the deeds of others. As a content creator myself, it’s not a nice feeling when someone refuses to acknowledge your works. After all, it’s almost always easier to criticise someone than to actually do something yourself. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt when he referred to his clock as an ‘invention’; I am pretty sure he misconstrued the definition and appropriate application of the word. Removing parts from an existing clock and reassembling it elsewhere do take some skill, or maybe not much, as shown in the video below where YouTuber “G O’LastName” created an identical version in 20 seconds. Perhaps Richard Dawkins, a famed biologist, puts it best when he questioned if we were indeed all “fooled”.

Regardless, his undeniable appetite for science and exploration should rightfully be praised and encouraged – he did after all, fixed a computer and built a go-kart, according to The New York Times. He has definite potential, but it’s a pity his clock, in all objectivity, wasn’t what he and the masses made it out to be.

Just about discrimination?

How many times have you heard the phrase “if only we had paid more attention to the signs” after cases of school violence? People are saying that it was stupid how the teachers and police had reacted, but was the way they conducted themselves truly ridiculous? Utterly unprofessional? Morally disgraceful?

I’m not sure how many, but I’m certain majority of the people who are on this questionable bandwagon are blissfully unaware that Ahmed’s clock genuinely bore semblance to a suitcase bomb. Television host Bill Maher has cited a “lack of perspective” in the way most are viewing the case, and followed up by stating “it looked exactly like a f***ing bomb”. Jim Hanson, vice president of think-tank Center for Security Policy, argued on his organisation’s podcast that the clock “looks exactly like a number of IED triggers that were produced by the Iranians and used to kill U.S. troops in the war in Iraq.” 

A former soldier seem to agree, claiming that “having messed with improvised explosives while serving in Iraq… you never know what they’re going to look like. A quick examination of the clock would reveal that it was harmless, but you can’t say that there is nothing bomb-like about it”.

Even Ahmed himself thinks his clock looked “suspicious”.

If something looks suspicious, can you really blame anyone for being concerned? If you yourself think your creation looks dodgy, do you have the right to get angry at others who are expressing doubts about it? Why should we bother with million-dollar PSA campaigns on staying alert and vigilant if they are not going to matter ultimately?

Teachers are taught to err on the side of caution and keep a look out for any suspicious signs. Given their relatively lack of knowledge on explosives, along with Hollywood’s one-dimensional portrayal of ticking time bombs, surely a big red digital display with a bunch of loose wires and circuit boards in a metal case that couldn’t be anymore stereotypical is/are enough to trigger some alarm bells, especially after it had made beeping noises?

How do you strike a balance between security vigilance and anti-Muslim discrimination? Given the context and seriousness of school violence, why is safety suddenly disregarded when religion comes into play? It’s easy to point fingers and label our civil servants and law enforcement as racists and bigots, but given the stakes and situation, what would you have done?

Take a chance?

I truly believe the outcome would eventually be the same, regardless of one’s religion, skin color, or physical characteristics. A dubious-looking contraption that warrants a closer degree of scrutiny if paraded in an airport, shopping mall or regular pavements, coupled with the persistent implementation of zero-tolerance policies, this undoubtedly, and unfortunately, had all the ingredients for a lose-lose situation.

Just about standing up for what is right?

Many media outlets seem content to perpetuate the narrative that the whole incident started solely because of Ahmed’s religion, and this hence laid the foundation for what was to be a barrage of #IStandWithAhmed tweets that convey the same message. While this is an exemplary showcase of the Internet’s power to draw attention to relevant issues and facilitate discussion, it also underlines the superficial reactions from the self-righteous masses.

Almost everyone is high on moral superiority on the World Wide Web. Stories like Cecil The Lion and Justine Sacco reminds us of what the Internet shame machine aims to accomplish; villanise others in exchange for a self-esteem boost. People don’t just love things that they can bash on. They, too, love stories that present an opportunity for them to increase their self-worth, like with Ahmed. One can simply tweet out #IStandWithAhmed and ‘prove’ to the world that he or she is against things such as racial profiling, Islamophobia, and religious discrimination. Besides contributing to the ongoing debate of slacktivism, our actions denote, for too many of us, the need for social validation.

Something I don’t quite get is this. For those bringing their clocks to their schools or work places in support of Ahmed, why bring one that looks harmless immediately on the surface? Why not bring a clock that resembles his? One that’s made up of a red digital display nestled in a metal case consisting of wires and funky circuit boards. Wouldn’t that make a more effective stand?

Of course, not every person who uses the hashtag are after a quick feel-good fix. However, too many people are now advocating for the sake of advocating, to cultivate the impression that they are cool, current, and updated. We are thinking with our hearts instead of our brains far too often – any fickle of logic is discarded. We are so eager to portray this ideal version of ourselves and conform to the public, that we are omitting factual, yet crucial, elements of a story from our thought process (if any) that challenges our preconceived notions.

And then, there’s the issue of going against public opinion. Many are afraid to speak up and share their real thoughts in light of the massive public outcry. Terrified of saying the wrong word. Terrified of the reverberations for being the odd one out. Terrified of being chased after by an uncontrollable mob, headed by a group of people who refuses to accept perspectives that pose a threat to their own conjured version of events. Once a sizeable amount of people get behind a movement, society deems you a bigot by default if you disagree with it.

The thirst for heroism is unquenchable by the looks of things, but it’s naive to think that the controversy will never subside. Another story will pop up soon, and the social justice warriors are off for their next mission. It’s usually easier to agree than to gather the courage and offer an opposite viewpoint, especially when the public is out sanctimoniously baying for dissenting blood. But amidst Ahmed’s stunning social media-led victory, one can’t help but wonder if emotions will always triumph over logic when similar situations inevitably arise in the future.

Just what is it about, exactly?

Observers are pointing out that Ahmed’s father, Elhassan Mohamed, is an anti-Islamophobic who had stood for President in his native Sudan twice, and had a colorful history of staging public stunts. While I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest anyone had played the victim card, or to insinuate that this was all part of an elaborate hoax, Ahmed’s case unquestionably highlights an alarming problem that is gripping our modern world with every incident that cries for online vindication.

Knee-jerk judgments and truly hysterical reactions derived from click-bait headlines and mini-soundbites were omnipresent from the get-go. Our collective response seems to indicate that just because we have chimed in, because we have made a statement, because “I’m on the good side”, we automatically assume we are the experts. We profess our interest in the story, yet actual facts and subsequent developments are deemed unnecessary for consumption. We all chip in declaring our support for objectivity, yet harp continuously when a minute bit of perceived justice presents itself. We seemingly have this obligation to assign a victim and a bogeyman, and when it became apparent that there weren’t any, we created one – or in Ahmed’s case, a few. We are desperate to appear in the loop to tell the world that we advocate for justice and equality, even though justice and equality aren’t the main takeaways for most of such cases. Someone has to go down, someone has to take the blame. God forbids anyone to not be at fault. Nothing beside discrimination is the driver of this incident; anything else interferes with ‘advocacy’. While the rallying cries ring louder and people huddle around hashtags with deafening conviction, ‘likes’, retweets and other obscure forms of social currencies have concurrently become the measure of right and wrong.

It does not matter if case studies ruled Islamophobia out as the chief culprit who triggered this whole chain of events. It does not matter that the overnight Silicon Valley darling will still get arrested if his last name wasn’t Mohamed. It does not matter that teachers with limited understanding chose to play it safe to ensure the safety of their students weren’t compromised. Just like in the elections, facts don’t matter. In this very instance, the only thing that matters, is which narrative appeals the most emotionally to people. By depicting Ahmed as a hero, they will feel like one as well.

Ahmed has received a torrent of support from observers across the globe, along with plenty of swag, financial ‘aid’, and job offers. In this day and age, fame is no longer a choice. Should he not collapse from the attention or let fame get to his 14-year-old mind, his future is basically secured. As a human being, I honestly feel glad and ecstatic for him.

At the same time, it is rather sad to note that plenty of ‘candidates’ are way more deserving of the merits and rewards showered upon Ahmed; teens who have been looked down on, teens who have worked hard to pay their dues, and teens who have actually invented something. Life is unfair, and the attention the young man is getting is a little unwarranted in my opinion, although it is in no part the fault of his. He was just a timely pawn caught and exploited in the middle of a huge media brouhaha. I’m not going to stand with Ahmed, because he is not the victim of racial profiling. I’m not going to stand with Ahmed, because his ‘invention’ deserves to be scrutinised. I’m not going to stand with Ahmed, because he was not discriminated against. Most importantly, I’m not going to stand with Ahmed, just because everyone is telling me too. The unnerving way individuals and organisations have reacted to this shitstorm speaks volumes about us, encapsulating our innate desire to do the ‘right’ thing and pander towards the common conception without bothering to comprehend the bigger picture.

Maybe now would be an appropriate time to say,

Thanks Obama.

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