A fourteen year old boy, a digital clock, and profiling in Texas



I don't know if you've heard about this yet.

A fourteen year old boy in Irving, TX by the name of Ahmed Mohamed built a digital clock out of parts. We're mainly talking about circuitboards and wires, which he stuffed into a box and brought to school to show his engineering teacher and anyone else he thought would find it cool. I gather his engineering teacher did find it cool, but I haven't read about that.

When he showed it to his English teacher, her reaction was very different. She called the principal because she thought it was a bomb. The principal called the police who interviewed Ahmed. They then arrested him for being uncooperative. Their definition of "uncooperative" in this case?

The kid kept insisting it was a clock. 

Yup. He got arrested for telling the truth about what he brought to school.

Now, most bombs involving circuitboards and such have another component:


None in evidence, of course. None present. None claimed. 

I guess the police noticed there were no explosives involved, so what they arrested him for was making a "hoax bomb."

Well, we know that in order to have a bomb, you need explosives. Guess what you need for a hoax bomb? The answer, I think, is awfully obvious, but say it with me:

A hoax.

If you listen to police describe their rationale for arresting him, it basically adds up to the fact that he Didn't perpetrate a hoax. Let's look at this police decision tree:

Kid says it's a bomb--------------------------------\
                                                                            Hoax Bomb
Kid says it isn't a bomb----------------------------/

Ahmed's father was not informed of any of this by the school. He was strictly informed by the police who, when he went to the station, refused to allow him to see his fourteen year old son because Ahmed had been arrested.

I think it would be obvious to most people here that Ahmed was profiled. However, before we jump to such a conclusion, are there any local circumstances that might lead one to suspect profiling?

Glad you asked. (Well, actually, I asked; I'm taking a little license here.)

It seems that the mayor of Ahmed's fair city has recently been involved in a furor over the practices of local Muslim clergy......well, technically, regional Muslim clergy.


Her name is Beth van Duyne. It seems that there's an organization over in Dallas called the Islamic Tribunal that has a website. The Tribunal is a panel of Imams in the Dallas area set up for mediation of disputes between Muslims for a fee, basically paid arbitration. Those handing down decisions are referred to as "judges," basically out of tradition. A lot of religious communities have used clergy to settle disputes, including in the United States, for centuries. The Catholic hierarchy does it, rabbis do it (particularly in Orthodox communities), and I can't imagine these two faiths are alone. And, of course, the standard used to settle these disputes is religious law.

Now, the website involved states explicitly that the Tribunal is "a mediation and non-binding arbitration firm." This is in no way designed to supplant or counter civil law. However, the mediation of course involves Islamic law, which we all know as Sharia. 

Mayor van Duyne proceeded to act publicly and heroically to stand up to the usurpation of civil authority by Sharia law, which of course wasn't happening. She made a point of backing legislation in the Statehouse by Rep. Jeff Leach called American Laws for American Courts, forbidding judges from using foreign laws in their rulings

which is already illegal, of course.

The bill does not mention religion, though Rep. Leach has specifically mentioned the Tribunal when pushing this bill. 

Mayor van Duyne went so far as to go on Glen Beck's internet show to accuse the Imams of attempting to bypass American courts. Beck asked her if the Tribunal was an actual court, and she replied in the affirmative. She later claimed she got that information from the website, the same website that explicitly states that the Tribunal is a mediation and non-binding arbitration firm. 

So we have a Mayor trying to raise a local furor over the imaginary takeover of local law by Muslims, and we wonder why a teacher, a principal, and a police department all jump to conclusions about this fourteen year old Muslim kid. 

I have a daughter a year older than Muhamed. This is a kid.

A kid, I might add, with no history of discipline problems. There was no reason for this teacher not to take the kid at his word. A kid in an engineering class builds something at home and proudly takes it to school. She couldn't have done the normal thing and asked him about it? She couldn't have asked his engineering teacher about it? 

I am not alone in thinking this was idiotic profiling. Ahmed, who doesn't seem to be angry about this (though his father sure is, and his father is no lightweight), has gotten all sorts of attention about this because a lot of key people not only object to profiling, they want to encourage kids to engineer stuff. He's gotten an invitation to the White House. He's been told by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook that if he's ever in the area he should stop in because Zuckerberg would like to meet him. He's been invited to a science fair by Google. He's been offered an internship at Twitter. He's had support tweeted by Hillary Clinton. 

I know from experience that someone is going to say that the reaction of the teacher, the principal, and the police were all reasonable under the circumstances. It always happens. Why? Because there isn't a smoking gun. None of the people who noticed that this kid is a Muslim actually pointed that out during the process leading to his arrest because that's not what people do any more, And there are people who will tell us that the fact that they don't say that in the open any more means bigotry is no longer a significant factor in America. 

4:25 PM Eastern
2 other things you might find interesting:
Ahmed was not only arrested, he was cuffed
As of this writing, he is still suspended from school

And I'll add a question Keiko heard on NPR:
If school officials thought this was a bomb, why didn't they evacuate the school building?

Views: 382

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on September 16, 2015 at 6:00pm


Comment by Lois Wickstrom on September 16, 2015 at 6:18pm

I think we live in a culture that values fear over curiosity.  Makes no sense to me.

Comment by JMac1949 Memories on September 16, 2015 at 6:51pm

FYI: I attended public school in Irving Texas from 1959-61 and I wasn't impressed with most of my teachers or the administration.  Given the results of the Pew Research Science Knowledge Quiz I'm not surprised by the ignorance of the English teacher, principal or the cops.  As for their stupidity... well, less than 6% of Americans who've taken the survey have answered all twelve questions correctly:

Comment by nerd cred on September 16, 2015 at 9:02pm

And then the school board doubled down in a letter to parents:

Dear Parents/Guardians,

In Irving ISD and at MacArthur High School, your child’s safety and well-being is always our top priority and we want to maintain open, honest and timely communication with you. If there was ever an imminent threat to your child, we would take immediate and necessary precautions, and we would inform you immediately.

While we do not have any threats to our school community, we want you to be aware that the Irving Police Department responded to a suspicious-looking item on campus yesterday. We are  pleased to report that after the police department’s assessment, the item discovered at school did not pose a threat to your child’s safety.

Our school is cooperating fully with the ongoing police investigation, and we are handling the situation in accordance with the Irving ISD Student Code of Conduct and applicable laws. Please rest assured that we will always take necessary steps to keep our school as safe as possible.

I recommend using this opportunity to talk with your child about the Student Code of Conduct and specifically not bringing items to school that are prohibited. Also, this is a good time to remind your child how important it is to immediately report any suspicious items and/or suspicious behavior they observe to any school employee so we can address it right away. We will always take necessary precautions to protect our students.

Thank you for your understanding and support of MacArthur High School as we do everything we can for your child's safety.


Comment by nerd cred on September 16, 2015 at 9:08pm

But the kid wins - he appeared on Chris Hayes' show tonight - very quiet and unassuming. He said the first teacher he showed the clock to, the engineering teacher he wanted to impress in the first place, told him not to show it to any other teachers because, "they'll think it's a bomb."

He also had on an astrophysicist from MIT,* where Ahmed said he wants to go. She told Ahmed he's exactly the kind of student they look for and invited him to Cambridge to tour  astrophysics facilities at both MIT and Harvard.

If that dad is as smart as he looks (and as pissed) Ahmed will get his education costs out of this and go wherever he wants. He deserves it.

Comment by JMac1949 Memories on September 16, 2015 at 9:19pm

Maybe, Ahmed will get lucky and Zuckerberg will send him to MIT. ;-)

Comment by koshersalaami on September 17, 2015 at 5:07am
You're right, Keiko. And they didn't call him a raghead or sand n either.

Which is why people will say he wasn't profiled.
Comment by Arthur James on September 17, 2015 at 5:19am


Why did not cop get a

rat to run up tick `o-

lock? I have a favorite

Quality Mantel Clock.

If your close Ya Hear

Tick Tock. I Wind on

Every Third Day. No

Over Wind a Clock.


Paw Paw are ripe.

Paw Paw is a Fruit.

It's a Wild River

( Potomac ) Tree,

The outer skin is

light green with

brown spots.

I called Poor

Boy's Banana.

It's Extra Sweet

This Year, and

kooks? looks

a war grenade.

It's a ugly looking

Poor Boy Banana.

I fear I be visited

by Texan Cows?

They Love the

Tick Tock Clock?


Comment by Arthur James on September 17, 2015 at 7:33am



I go call a local 

Timber Tree 



He no wears a

Gold Rolex or

Skates Boards

in ` wifi ' lot

at ` Library.


WUMO - He worries too.

Bach Music Cheers WUMO

Up. WUMO sad that at the

K-mart & Walmart Frozen

Food Section? Cute Penquins

ask Shoppers? No, please?

No buy Peas? Pensions?

no. Poor Big? aye Birds?

Penguins say? This is a

Sake Frozen - Good Pea 

Section - Ice Cream is

Melting - O, Global

Warning - Eat some

Frozen - Yum Green

Pistachio - Melting

Ice Cream - Asap.


Rat ran up ` o` tack-

tick-clock and clock-

strikes on ` 1/2 hour

`1 ' X- and ` on each

hour chimes ` ring.

It's my Favorite ` clock.

Uncle Tom - Deceased

FBI - Agent Gave as a

Wedding Gift. I Love a

Tick Tock `O-clock if

a rat no eat ` Ice Cream

and climb up ` Pants leg.



visit a

batch of




I share the

Green and

Brown skin

Paw Paw.


off topic?

save huh?

world? I

share the

Paw Paw

Fruit, and

there is a 

Paw Paw




no wise men

or virgins in

West Virginia.


Rumor is that's

Why Baby Jesus

and Moses no

were Born in

that W.V.


Wild and


Good 'ole

Hilly Land

and Hill

Billy Goat




Neck of a





Comment by koshersalaami on September 17, 2015 at 7:41am

The clock in the story does not tick, neither does it tock. It is digital. I, however, wear an old self-winding watch because I prefer a watch that ticks. 


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