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 Arthur James on September 17, 2015 at 7:55am


I have my Fathers

hand wind wrist watch.

`1 - in 50- people 

no wear a wristwatch.


Never wind up a Manuel

Wind-Up Clock and Send

as Gift to Hungry Nazi-

like ` Hungry - News?

Sad... ` Paw Paws are

Very ` Sweet Perusable?

Quickly ` Fruit Perishes.


I stop so I not too tempted

to get a Raging Bitch Brew.-

it a Belgian Style India Pale

Ale - it a FlyingDog Beer.

I swear I no sip but a few.

Neighbors gulp like fish.


Comment by Jerry DeNuccio on September 17, 2015 at 8:36am

Well presented argument, as usual: you distill the main points and explain them convincingly.  So much ignorance, so much fear--and bind the two together and they override common sense.  By the way, the last I heard, Ahmed has received no apology from either the police or the school.

Comment by koshersalaami on September 17, 2015 at 8:42am

Oh no. Absolutely not. They are running around claiming they acted for the public safety because, after all, the science projects that 14 year old kids bring to school blow up and kill people all the time, especially when those kids are Muslim, and more especially when those kids show up to school wearing NASA T-shirts. Those science geek kids are terribly good at disguising themselves as science geeks. 

Comment by Kenny1948 on September 17, 2015 at 9:23am

Kosh this is why I fear what is happening here in America.  We have the same sort of thing happen here in Florida, but most of the time it doesn't make the news.  Wonder if this father had not made a fuss, if it would have gotten any attention.  When I accuse Trump and others of being "nazis" it is for this reason.  I'm just afraid of what the future holds for this country.  Good post!

Comment by koshersalaami on September 17, 2015 at 10:09am

Great question, Keiko

As a Jewish guy I get touchy when people throw the Nazi term around. To me that's Atrocity Inflation. There are a lot of bad things short of Nazis. When you get to Nazis, you're talking about mass extermination due to aspects of identity that people don't necessarily control, like ethnicity, sexual orientation, disabilities. You see that seldom, like genocides in Africa and the attempt in Bosnia. Maybe in Hungary at the moment because there's an extent that they're actually trying to model themselves on Nazis, though I don't know how far they'd go. Institutional bigotry happens all over the place. That's not Naziism. 

Comment by koshersalaami on September 17, 2015 at 10:11am

I'll say further that overall trends in America are toward a reduction in bigotry, not an increase. It's not a smooth decline and it's a Hell of a lot slower than it should be, but that is our overall direction. Keeping us in that direction takes work and there are a whole lot of scary exceptions. Also, we are never exactly out of the woods in terms of the danger of regressing badly. 

Comment by Kenny1948 on September 17, 2015 at 10:17am

Kosh, can I ask where you live?  I think that might have a lot to do with how we differ in our thinking.  Guess what the second most popular Halloween costume was around here last year?  I am probably the only Democrat this entire neighborhood.

Comment by koshersalaami on September 17, 2015 at 10:44am

I have lived in different places. I grew up in NY and spent most of my life around DC, where I still spend a great deal of time because of work. I spent a while in Indiana and at the moment I'm in North Carolina. The last time I gigged rock'n'roll, last Friday night, one of the guys in the audience had Confederate flags on his biker jacket. 

Our differences in perspective are not regional. They have to do with taxonomy of oppression. I lived somewhere where a congregant sent a polite e-mail to a county commissioner and got a reply in writing that we lived in a Christian country and if we didn't like it we could go back to Israel. By the way, the congregation in question had been in town for over a century and a half, so it was rather odd to be treated like we didn't belong. I'm quite sensitive to bigotry; in fact, I probably post about it in various forms as much as anyone here, and I'll just about guarantee that I post about more forms of it than anyone here, and in more detail. 

That being said, there's a difference between bigotry and an intent to exterminate. There is a continuum and Nazis are on the extreme end of it. 

Comment by alsoknownas on September 17, 2015 at 11:06am

Doc Vega has a post today on the front cover, depicting the President of the USA wearing a Swastika lapel pin.

So...Kenny, do you think reaction to that sort of conflation is determined by one's location?

Comment by JMac1949 Today on September 17, 2015 at 11:18am

Like his hero "The Donald" Doc Vega is wannabe provocateur, when in fact he just another bigoted  idiot who happens to be from Texas.  I keep hoping that if we all ignore him, he'll just fade away to the echo chamber of right wing nut job chat sites. ;-(


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