Ethics Politics

Ahmed Mohamed is owed an apology (COMMENTARY)

Ahmed Mohamed, 14, was detained after police said a suspicious device was found inside his pencil box at MacArthur High School. Photo courtesy of USA Today
Ahmed Mohamed, 14, was detained after police said a suspicious device was found inside his pencil box at MacArthur High School. Photo courtesy of USA Today

Ahmed Mohamed, 14, was detained after police said a suspicious device was found inside his pencil box at MacArthur High School. Photo courtesy of USA Today

(RNS) Ahmed Mohamed is a winsome and kind of nerdy boy from Irving, Texas, who wears rectangular glasses and has the classic look of a 14-year-old hovering on the cusp of adulthood.

His youthful enthusiasm prompted him on Monday (Sept. 14) to bring a successful engineering project, a homemade digital clock, to school to show off to his teachers.

Unfortunately for Ahmed, he attends MacArthur High School in Irving, a city just northwest of Dallas with a population of a little over 225,000, whose municipal government has a history of troubled relations with the local Muslim community.

Ahmed’s English teacher heard the homemade clock’s alarm beep during class. When Ahmed showed it to her, she reportedly said she thought it appeared to be an explosive device. The police were called. They took Ahmed out of class, questioned him and handcuffed him on suspicion of making a “hoax bomb.”

According to a statement by Irving police spokesman James McLellan, Ahmed “kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation.”

It’s hard to understand what broader explanation was required.

READ: Muslim student’s creative clock draws police — and White House invitation

Ultimately, no charges were filed, and in a press conference Wednesday, Ahmed said he would probably transfer to another school.

Under the globally trending hashtag #IStandWithAhmed, the questions have been endlessly repeated: What if he had been a Caucasian named John or Joey instead of a Sudanese-American boy named Ahmed? Did bigotry play a role in Ahmed’s arrest?

Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd was quoted in a Dallas Morning News story as saying, “We live in an age where you can’t take things like that to school. Of course we’ve seen across our country horrific things happen, so we have to err on the side of caution.”

I’ve tried to use logic to understand him, but I cannot. What is the category of “things you can’t take to school”?  Things with wires? Devices made by boys named Mohamed?

I don’t recall any horrific things caused by high school engineering projects — especially projects that a 14-year-old voluntarily and proudly showed his teachers.

The Irving Independent School District and Irving’s mayor, Beth Van Duyne, have insisted that public safety policies led to Ahmed’s detention.

“I hope this incident does not serve as a deterrent against our police and school personnel from maintaining the safety and security of our schools,” she wrote on Facebook.

So it’s OK to call the cops every time a geeky brown boy carries anything with wires and a circuit board in his backpack?

Van Duyne has not exactly been a friend to the local Muslim community.

In March, she began a personal campaign against an “Islamic tribunal” — actually a religious mediation center — claiming that it was a nefarious institution attempting to replace American law with Sharia.

She became a hero among those who see Islam as a threat and Muslims as a fifth column.

READUS advocates for Syrian refugee resettlement find unexpected allies

Irving, Texas, may not to be the best place to live if you’re Muslim.

Ahmed Mohamed, 14, shows the device that raised suspicions at MacArthur High School. Photo courtesy of USA Today

Ahmed Mohamed, 14, shows the device that raised suspicions at MacArthur High School. Photo courtesy of USA Today

For someone like Ahmed Mohamed, it can be downright dangerous.

The image of him in handcuffs, in a NASA T-shirt, is symbolic of the ridiculous level to which Islamophobia has risen in this country.

High school should be a place to flourish, to explore your talents and interests, to begin understanding the world beyond graduation and to start planning for it. It should not be a place where you must hide the fruits of your ingenuity.

Aren’t the typical concerns of adolescence sufficiently stressful?

The Irving Independent School District and Mayor Van Duyne owe Ahmed an apology.

They need to look into a TV camera and tell the world that their safety policies aren’t focused on students of color and non-Christian teenagers. Shame on them for insisting that those policies are more important than anything — including the self-esteem and creativity of all their students.

(Ruth Nasrullah is a freelance journalist based in Houston. She blogs regularly for the Houston Chronicle and writes for Follow her @ruthnasrullah.)


About the author

Ruth Nasrullah


Click here to post a comment

  • No the school and his classmates are owed an apology from him for violating the school’s honor code. It is posted on-line. One assumes both he and his parents have a copy.

  • I can’t fathom how making a homemade digital clock for a school engineering project warranted any of the humiliating treatment this young man was given.

    They should definitely apologize to him; but he may feel compelled to move elsewhere. I just hope this never happens to him again!

  • If my above post is removed by the censors of RNS, that will be an unethical and dishonest action.

    There is a reason why Muslims are terrifying to anything and everyone and it isn’t because they make Rolex time pieces.

  • This kid was cuffed and dragged off because of the schools Zero Tolerance policy, not because of religion or skin color, and you’ve completely ignored this fact
    In America we’ve dragged children off to the police for nibbling their pop-tart into the shape of a gun, we’ve put pre teens on sex offender lists for a simple kiss, We’ve suspended kindergarten children for pretending to shoot a gun with their fingers, and you’re saying that someone who brings what looks like a bomb to school for no reason and all and refuses to answer any questions on why he did it must be given a pass on zero tolerance policies based solely on his skin color and religion?

    If anyone is owed an apology it’s your readers for your slip-shod hack journalism

  • The real irony is that the mayor and other right-wing Christians want to institute their own form of Sharia law in this country. Neither Christians nor Muslims have a very good record of tolerance. The history of both religions is of incessant warfare against others. At least in the West, the Enlightenment finally put something of a damper on religious fanaticism.

  • So racial profiling is OK?

    Laws don’t suddenly stop applying to people because they are Muslim, brown skinned or their name sounds weird to your ears.

    You are doing more to further islamicism than terrorists. They make untrue claims that the US is at war with Islam and all Muslims. You validate those lies.

    Plus in Texas, gun crazy christian white people are the greatest threat to public safety. 🙂

  • You are quoting Breitbart. They make constantly make crap up to fall into conservative official stories. You owe us an apology for talk ng such a hack piece at face value.

  • …..Rrrright. And every day, how many thousands of white, non-Muslim kids bring science projects to school without being handcuffed?

    Sorry, it’s obvious – especially given the town’s past anti-Islamic bigotry, and even without it – that is was religiously motivated.

    And for the record, I’m and Atheist who is often outspoken when fanatical Muslims attack free speech, or otherwise hurt others. Muslims, like Christians, are human – some are harmful, some are helpful. Both religions do have harmful ideas in their scripture and congregations, which are taken up by some people and not by others. That’s why, for instance, in the US most of the support for the proper teaching of evolution, etc, comes from Christians.

  • Why should you be so negative about what goes in dictatorships with officially endorsed religion? Their ideals are the exact same as yours.

    As with islamicists, you advocate that civil liberties should be swept aside in the name of your faith. The only difference is custom. Islamicists hate separation of church and state, gay rights, women’s rights, atheists, minority faiths and abortion. So do you.

    The only way islamicists can be as big a danger to our way of life as Christian theocrats, is if they had enough people and money to field politicians on a national level. Terrorists can only kill people. You guys are destroying an entire country.

    We are America, we do not take our cues from dictatorial craphole nations. We are better than that. What goes on in those nations has no bearing as to how freedom loving Americans act. If you actually loved this country and what it stands for, you would know that.

  • Possession of Prohibited Items (from the school’s Code of Conduct)
    Students shall not possess or use:
     Fireworks of any kind, smoke or stink bombs, or any other pyrotechnic device;
     A razor, box cutter, chain, or any other object used in a way that threatens or inflicts bodily injury to another person;
     A ―look-alike‖ weapon;
     An air gun or BB gun;
     Ammunition;
     A stun gun;
     A pocketknife or any other small knife, or any knife not defined as an illegal weapon;
     Mace or pepper spray;
     Pornographic material;
     Tobacco products; cigarettes; e-cigarettes; and any component, part, or accessory for an e-cigarette device;
     Mechanical, electronic or imitation devices designed to simulate cigarettes regardless of substance content;
     A laser pointer for other than an approved use; or
     Any articles not generally considered to be weapons, including school supplies, when the principal or designee determines that a danger exists. (For weapons and firearms see DAEP…

  • Nah. You’re just terrified of anyone who doesn’t conform to your religious views. So you make stuff up about them, and then use the stories you’ve just told yourself to justify the ill treatment you would like a theocratic government to extend to them.

    It’s called paranoia. Delusions of grandeur. Persecution complex. It isn’t pretty.

    But not to worry!!!! Just because you are a paranoid, religious bigot doesn’t mean they aren’t really out to get you, They may even have your IP address, and will target you.

    You had probably better move to Russia, where you’lL be safe.

  • When we arrest 14 year old boys for making clocks…the terrorists win. We are so paranoid in our society; we live in fear and as long as that is true, terrorists, white active shooters, and others do not have to do anything else.

    Maybe we need to sit back and relax, just a tad.

  • I teach religious studies at a community college — a LOT of World Religions. The job requires a sensiivity and willingness to listen to every tradition. But this one is different. We are not privy to a meaningful picture of the clock, we are not privy to the conversations Ahmed had with his teachers or the police, and yet many seem willing to jump up on a soapbox in defense or condemnation of him. Building a clock from Radio Shack components hardly qualifies a person for MIT — and while his clock MAY have been more complex, how would any of us know that?

  • “I have never harmed anyone that opposes my views or my God and I never would.”

    But lies, slander, and reviling come under a different heading. Talking against the full inclusion of gay people in our society doesn’t count. Opposing religious freedom for anyone who doesn’t think like you do is just business as usual.

  • That is far from true. Here we have American government officials acting exactly how one expect people under Fundamentalist Sharia Law to act.

    I don’t see why you are so scared of fundamentalist religious types and their agendas. They are the exact same as yourself. Like Islamicists, you hate, the separation of church and state, women’s rights, abortion, gay rights and non-believers. The differences are purely superficial.

  • “Be Brave”

    Please note, RNS Rules of Usage 1:

    C. You may not provide to or post on or through the Website any graphics, text, photographs, images, video, audio or other material that constitutes junk mail, spam, advertising, and/or commercial offers. You may not repeat the same posting multiple times in a day or week.

    D. You agree not to use any obscene, indecent, or offensive language or to provide to or post on or through the Website any graphics, text, photographs, images, video, audio or other material that is defamatory, abusive, bullying, harassing, racist, hateful, or violent. You agree to refrain from ethnic slurs, religious intolerance, homophobia, and personal attacks when using the Website.

    If you continue to violate RNS rules of usage, you will be banned.

    – RNS comment moderator

  • Tom, you’re right – the article is short on straight reporting. There was discussion of how much detail to include in the piece because it’s commentary and at the time I wrote it many people already knew the story, so I didn’t want to rehash it.

    There is a link within the article to a news story about Ahmed (after the sentence “It’s hard to understand what broader explanation was required”). Here is pretty comprehensive coverage that includes a photo of his clock:

  • What?

    I have done none of the things you’ve accused me of.

    My position was reality based and I made no false statements at all.

    Interesting though how you do not threaten anyone else publicly that denigrates and insult Christians unabated.

    Muslims ARE feared for incredibly real reasons. I didn’t make up the Jihad. Mohammad did.

    Ban my voice to your hearts content. It seems the goal is to drive the Christian voice out of any and every place it exists.

    I’ve done nothing unethical or misleading.

  • Christians were pivotal in forming the USA and the lunacy that multi denominations are out for a theocracy defies honesty. So many Christians signed the declaration of Independence and formed a more perfect state.

    If you can’t deal with reality that is not the fault of a Christian.

    In historical fact, Muslims DID establish a theocracy over the United States of America and President Jefferson waged a secular war against that. The Marine Corp still sings that “hymn” to this day.

  • “Christians were pivotal in forming the USA”

    So therefore, you think they should have privileges above all other people. Such as rights to discriminate in the name of their faith and to ignore any laws they think God excuses them from following.

    We have politicians, their supporters and even clergy talking about how America should be governed with a “Biblical worldview” which includes deliberate entanglement of religion and state and specifically sectarian agendas. Sharia law by another name. The fact that you feel the need to argue about abridging 1st Amendment rights to people on the basis of their religious faith puts you on par with Islamicists.

    Btw the Barbary kingdoms were no more a theocracy than every other absolute monarchy at the time.

  • “or other material that is defamatory, abusive, bullying, harassing”

    “My position was reality based and I made no false statements at all.”

    Remember your levitical solution to homosexuality? I sure do.
    Very little that you post is not illustrative of at least one of those words.

    that being said, I certainly don’t want you banned. as I have said many times, I think it’s good to shine a spotlight, as bright as possible, on religious and/or antigay bigotry. You do so much of our job for us.

  • Why did they not evacuate the school? If a school district gets a call about a bomb they evacuate. Wanna know how to radicalize someone? Ostracize them. Treat them like they are second class citizens not worthy of the same justice as the ruling people. Our treatment of Muslims everywhere is the cause of our problems with them. But hey when we treat others as second class citizens it makes up feel better about paying them less, or nothing at all, or murdering them.

  • Well, that is one of the oddest readings of history I have ever read. A Muslim theocracy, established by pirates over the United States, some 6000 miles away from anything.

    Sure. why not.

  • Treating as second class citizens? Yes indeed and very koranic-driven and very dangerous as seen in their terrorists’ manual, the koran.

    A few examples:

    Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”

    Quran (9:5) – “So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.”

    Ahhh, the “out of context” excuse. Your imams and terrorists don’t follow your excuses but follow the literal word of your Koran.

    Never forget !!!!!!!!!!

  • I don’t see why you are so scared of fundamentalist religious types and their agendas. They are the exact same as yourself.

    See, you DO see why!

  • Hey, Bernardo! The Civil Rights Act and the 1st Amendment don’t cease to apply to people because they are Muslim.

    You don’t like their religion, tough crap. As long as people are not doing harm to one another in the name of their faith, they are allowed to worship and practice it as they see fit.

    Thank you for demonstrating to people that religious beliefs have no bearing on their character. Although we are both atheists, I find you to be no different from the religious fanatics here in your disdain for facts, rational arguments or the liberties of others.

    We need people like you around to puncture complacency concerning atheism. That atheism is not as synonymous with rational thought as it should be. 🙂

  • Once again for the likes of those who easily forget the horror and terror dictated by the koran:

    What instigated the attack on the Twin Towers, Flight 93, the the Pentagon,and the Boston Marathon massacre and Ft. Hood massacres–

    What drives today’s 24/7 mosque/imam-planned acts of terror and horror?

    The koran, Mohammed’s book of death for all infidels and Muslim domination of the world by any means.

    Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the Gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed.

    Then we can talk about the safety and location of mosques and what is taught therein.

    Until then, no Muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere…………………………….

  • Be Brave,

    Commenters here don’t have actual accounts that we log into, so they can’t really ban you short of banning your IP address, which is probably more trouble than it’s worth.

    “RNS comment moderator” is probably not an RNS employee but another commenter (likely a progressive Christian) who wants you to shut up.

    As a committed atheist, I appreciate commenters like you because you damage the Christian “brand” and send people down the path toward abandoning religion. I want to see you keep posting this kind of thing.

  • That’s what you claimed the last time I brought it up. I pulled your quote out of your comment history. You somehow failed to state categorically that it wasn’t you that said it.

    But sure. Whatever you say,

  • Separation of Church and State as a doctrine of both religion and politics predates Jefferson by a century. Jefferson was quoting Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island.

    Williams was Christian, but not your kind of Christian. As with any progressive sect, you generally deny that they are truly of the faith.

    As long as people are willing to uphold that separation, one never has to worry about the foibles of fundamentalists of any stripe: Christian, Muslim … Fundamentalists do not respect that doctrine, no matter what religion they are.

    But we have a good deal of people wielding political power in this nation who attack such things. They are more damaging to our nation than any muslim terrorist can be, You have made it clear you have no problem with the nation being ruled by a Christian denomination.

    “Islam knows know such free thinking.”

    Except in the US where they have been flourishing without having to fight ideas like national religion and racial…

  • Where are you getting this junk from?

    “The shores of Tripoli”. Where American forces overthrew one Muslim monarch to install another Muslim monarch who was friendlier to US and European Mediterranean shipping.

    Claiming the Barbary pirates were some progenitors of Al Queda is laughably silly. Islamicism as anything global didn’t get its start in any real fashion before the 1979 Iranian revolution.

  • Bernardo, you will never have an argument that can be taken seriously beginning with “X religion is evil”.

    All you are demonstrating is how lazy and irrational you are.

    What motivated 9/11? Osama Bin Laden’s need to be taken seriously by the professional terrorist community which laughed him off as a spoiled rich kid playing around.

    If islam demanded violence against all infidels, why are US muslim communities so much quieter than their European counterparts? Because despite all the Homeland security nonsense, they are still doing better here than anywhere else. Free to worship, free to live like human beings. There is nothing rational about your hatemongering.

    You act as if you have zero exposure to actual Muslims.

    Do you ask Christians and Jews to clean up Exodus passages about genocide? Of course not.

    Of course asking a bigot to read rational arguments is a waste of time.

  • Christian terrorists tend to leave bombs and walk away from them, or shoot places up. Yes there is usually a much greater skillset and resource base from them.

    Suicide bombing is usually the mark of groups which lack resources and professional training. Its terror on the cheap. Its where the Kamikaze came from its why the Ethnic Hindu/Marxist Tamil Tigers invented the suicide bomb belt. They use it in the Middle East because the pool of professional terrorists dried up after the end of the cold war.

    “It was common sense from common occurrence.”

    Yes because we have seen so many orchestrated campaigns of terror in the US. Oh wait, no we haven’t.

  • Larry,

    You apparently missed the following comments:

    origin: NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob·a·bly
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

    The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation. “

  • So, now your argument is “Well, at least we’re not as bad as the muslims.”

    There is a nice Wikipedia article on violence, including murder and bombings, by religious anti-abortion forces. That took me all of five seconds to find,

    The preaching of Violence by so-called Christians against gay people, as well as the attempts to justify anti-gay violence against people, is a common experience in this country. Pope benedict, admittedly not an American, said that no one should be surprised if violence against gay people is the result of our calls for ending legalized discrimination.

    You can google “religious calls of execution for homosexuality” and come up with over a million hits. Gary north, Joel Mcdurmond, Matthew McLaughlin.

    And of course, lest we forget, YOU YOURSELF had proposed a levitical solution to YOUR problem with homosexuality.

    The only reason this hasn’t occurred is that we are civilized. Unfortunately, for many muslims, their countries are not.

  • BTW, I’m always happy to oblige you, BB.

    and here’s what YOU said:

    “This is awesome. If the anti-Christians try their vitriol game in this article towards the JONAH group, they’ll be called anti-Semites.


    Time to sit back and enjoy the show.

    Now, I wonder why this group didn’t advise the method prescribed in the Torah to end homosexuality?”

    That, my good buddy, is your levitical solution. The only thing stopping the likes of oyu from implementing it is the fear that it might have consequences for you.

  • BB, you are being scammed.

    Moderators will just send you an email when they want to give you a warning. Cathy Lynn Grossman did that to me at least twice.

    I reported it as abuse

  • Way to miss the point Bernardo. Those passages still exist. We still have people using the Bible to excuse genocide.

    So if Islam inspires so much evil, why aren’t Deerborn Michigan, Downtown Brooklyn and the “Tehrangeles” section of LA dangerous, high violent crime neighborhoods?

    Do you think all the residents are just biding their time?

    Give me a break.

  • Larry,

    Dearborn,MI residents see what happens to allah-followers like the Boston Marathon bombers and/or are infiltrated by FBI undercover agents? Be that as it may, you like the rest of us, do a double take every time an obvious Muslim gets on your plane, train or bus. Why is that??

  • I think more correctly, it is due to a combination of the “no tolerance” policy and racism and Islamophobia. No tolerance policies are not “liberal” policies; they are authoritarian policies enacted by fascistic vice-principals and the like,

  • Wait a minute. The War of the U.S. versus the Barbary Pirates wa over fre trade, not religion. Show your math or your assertions are revealed as garbage.

  • Since 9-11, three time more Americans have been killed by right-wing “Christian” terrorists than Islamic terrorists on U.S. soil.

  • ” I hold the exact same position about Christian truth on marriage and sexuality and morality as did Jude, Peter, James, John and Jesus our Lord.”

    Since none is stated in the Bible, evidence for this weak assertion is nonexistent.

  • I wondered about that.

    I don’t work for RNS. I’m an occasional contributor. I’m not sure why that happened.

  • Sure. That’s exactly what you meant. totally harmless. You’re very tolerant of the people whom you consider to be vicious enemies of faith, freedom, morality, and your God.

    Why would anyone, after reading your comments for the past year or so, think of you as anything other than a cross between Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy?

    One of the things that always amazes me about antigay bigots is their refusal to actually own what they preach. It just adds dishonesty to all of the rest of your sterling qualities.q

  • “The reason I don’t waste time saying I love the sinner but hate the sin is because that is now a hate crime.”

    Really? In what jurisdiction? When have you EVER indicated you actually love anyone?

    You just can’t help yourself, can you? Your over identification with Jesus? funny how you don’t hold his exact same position about hypocrisy and judging others For you, mendacity is your are always so willing to change the subject.

  • So half of the cab drivers in NYC, the guy selling falafel by my office, and the overworked ladies in hijabs ringing up my stuff at the local Walmart are secretly biding their time before they can cut my throat. And here I am thinking they are just here to make a decent living and live peaceably.

    Lets face it Bernardo, I doubt you have even brushed up against an actual Muslim, let alone have any idea what they think or believe. I am certainly not going to compromise the principles of our nation and way of life out of fear for them.

    “you like the rest of us, do a double take every time an obvious Muslim gets on your plane, train or bus. Why is that??”

    I don’t.

    I live in a neighborhood with a significant Arab, Pakistani and Bosnian population. These are the people who come here to flee Sharia dictatorships and terrorism.

  • First, the “homemade digital clock” was not homemade. Ahmed (i KILL you) went to Radio Shack and bought a digital clock, disassembled it, connected a countdown timer to it, and put it in a small briefcase. Had the timer been connected to explosives instead of the alarm, he could have blown up the classroom.
    Second, it was not a “engineering project”. No such assignment had been given.
    Third, not only should they NOT apologize to him, Ahmed should be charged with making terroristic threats.
    Fourth, I pray to God he is “compelled” to move elsewhere and not be allowed in any school other than a Moslem school. Maybe then he will not be tempted to actually connect explosives next time. You bleeding heart “liberals” are BLIND to the truth. We’ve already had Moslems behead co-workers in OK, shoot and kill on our military bases in TX, shoot and kill military recruiters in TN, AND YOU STILL DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE THREAT WE FACE.