EXPLAINER: Bombs need explosives to explode

On Monday, Texas teachers and police sparked a blaze of outrage and ridicule across the country when 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested on suspicion of bringing a bomb to school — a bomb that, it turns out, was (obviously) just a homemade clock. When that happened, it was always completely predictable that right-wing Islamaphobic bigots were going to look for a reason to insist that the white adults were justified in their cowardly terror of a little Muslim child, so no one should be surprised that they finally seem to have settled on an excuse. But if you thought the initial mistake was idiotic, check out how they’ve decided to defend it (click to enlarge):



To spell this out: #TCOTs are putting pictures of Ahmed’s clock next to various devices that clearly have compartments which could contain explosives, and smugly defying the internet to figure out which one is the bomb.

You don’t have to talk to a bomb technician to appreciate what’s so ridiculous about this, but I talked to a few anyway.

“Well, they [bombs] have to have an explosive somewhere,” said one, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) operator who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of his work. “I’m looking at that pencil box and I don’t see where it’s supposed to be hidden.”

We are, admittedly, moving into some of the more technical nuances of explosives theory here — so to help clarify things I developed a simplified schematic of Wikipedia’s diagram of a time bomb, with annotations indicating the components that were visibly absent from Ahmed’s contraption.



The first two tweets clearly feature devices with compartments that could house explosives — which appear to be necessary if you want your bomb to explode. The suitcase in the third tweet also seems like it has room for explosives (under the egg crate foam lining, for example); but hilariously, I found out that #TCOT is confused and paranoid about this one, too. It’s not a bomb, either! It’s a computer designed to properly time C4 explosions for controlled demotion, but it doesn’t actually contain the C4 or any other explosives. In other words, it’s essentially, once again, a clock.

I don’t get how the right can pretend that this is impossibly technical and hard to understand without brutally insulting their own intelligence. Even if something has a place to hide explosives, it might not be a bomb. But if it doesn’t even have a place to hide explosives, it can’t possibly be a bomb. That’s the essential feature that distinguishes a bomb from literally every other piece of electronic equipment in the universe.

In fact, I can’t even think of any fictional bombs that work without explosives. The closest thing is that running Simpsons gag where things that aren’t explosive blow up anyway; but I guess if Homer’s clock blows up next season, we can expect the American right to nod their heads in somber vindication.

3 thoughts on “EXPLAINER: Bombs need explosives to explode

  • September 19, 2015 at 5:29 PM

    Everyone has a working knowledge on how time bombs work, right? What a ridiculous basis for your rebuttal. I submit that most people who see an individual walking around with a case riddled with wiring is going to feel uneasy regardless of what color the individual’s skin is. To make this gaff into an issue of race is really disgraceful to the educators at that school who took action to make sure everyone felt safe. Reminds me of the 7 year old WHITE boy who was suspended after chewing a pop tart into the shape of a gun. Didn’t get much media coverage because there wasn’t a story for all the bleeding hearts out there.

  • September 19, 2015 at 11:10 AM

    Curious thought: They never evacuated the building, like they should if they thought it was a bomb.
    They never got as far away from the kid, as we expect if he was suspected of having a bomb.
    They put him in a room, with the brief case and waited for the police. If it had been a bomb wouldn’t that give him opportunity to detonate it?
    When the police arrived they never treated the situation like it was a bomb scare; no bomb squad, no evacuations …
    Did any of the adults involved actually believe it could be a bomb?

  • September 19, 2015 at 12:15 AM

    I guess he should have went with his 2nd choice invention.. The item that “no one self respecting driver can do without” road-flare vest..

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