Monday, September 21, 2015

The Curious Case of the Bomb That Wasn't

Ahmed Mohamed is the 14-year old Muslim boy that caused quite the commotion in Irvine, Texas, last week, when he brought an electronic device into his class room in a very sturdy pencil box. CNN has the standard narrative on what happened:
On Monday, the teen, who is Muslim, brought to school a clock that he was proud to have made on his own and was arrested for what police initially -- and falsely -- said was a hoax bomb.

But by mid-week, his face and name were splashed across traditional and social media, and he'd received thousands of tweets and Facebook posts of encouragement. President Barack Obama invited him to the White House and praised his love of science. Leaders at Reddit and Twitter offered him internships. Google executives said they were reserving Ahmed a spot at their weekend science fair and MIT asked him to visit the campus.

Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg invited him to visit the company's headquarters, posting, "Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest. The future belongs to people like Ahmed."

The hashtags #IStandWithAhmed and #EngineersForAhmed garnered hundreds of thousands of posts and tweets.
Ahmed is now crying racism and Islamophobia, and saying he has been forced to attend another school. It is important to note that the reason for Ahmed's detention was his plugging the device in, causing it to make noise, which led to the police being called; and the police detaining and questioning Ahmed as to whether it was a hoax bomb--there is no allegation that it was an actual bomb. Ahmed's explanation was that he invented the clock and had brought it to school to impress an engineering teacher. Thus, Ahmed's allegations rest on the truth of two facts: that it was a clock he had invented (or built, according to some stories), the raison d'etre for bringing it show a teacher; and that it was not a hoax bomb.

I will admit that my initial reaction was that this was another example of the stupid "zero-tolerance" policies of many schools. Then more details leaked out, including a picture of the device:

And then there was his strange behavior when questioned by the police. From an article by Robert Spencer:
The principal, the school resource officer, and police questioned him, according to WFAA:
[O]fficers said Ahmed was being “passive aggressive” in his answers to their questions, and didn’t have a “reasonable answer” as to what he was doing with the case. Investigators said the student told them that it was just a clock that he was messing around with.
Irving police officer James McLellan remarked:
We attempted to question the juvenile about what it was and he would simply only say it was a clock. He didn’t offer any explanation as to what it was for, why he created this device, why he brought it to school.
Why this reticence? Why didn’t Ahmed tell McLellan what he so readily told the international media: that he loved building things and had brought the clock to school to show to an engineering teacher?
Well, perhaps the kid was simply scared and intimidated by the police--after all, that is the very atmosphere police are trained to create when questioning a suspect.

But other parts of his story began to fall apart as well. First of all, he didn't invent the clock; he didn't even build it from a kit or set of schematics. Rather, he simply took the guts out of clock manufactured in the 1980's by Micronta, a Radio Shack subsidary (catalog number 63 765 in 1986). So, Ahmed clearly lied about it being a device he invented.

Well, perhaps he was simply trying to fool his engineering teacher into thinking he was smarter or more clever, perhaps to finagle a higher grade or a letter of recommendation. This in itself was dishonest, and unfair to the kids that actually do come up with creative projects on their own.

But then some background on Ahmed and his family began to appear. The Diplomad discusses this:
His "cool" clock is a disassembled 1970s/1980s alarm clock (please go here and here for an excellent take-down of the "invention"). Simply put, he or his dad (we'll get back to him) took the guts out of an old alarm clock, scattered them inside a case, and off to school Little Ahmed goes with an unassigned, unsolicited project. The teachers, quite rightly, got worried and called the cops--as they are required--and reported what they thought to be a hoax bomb. They did not say a bomb; they said a hoax bomb. The police report that Little Ahmed was very "passive aggressive" and evasive in his answers--as though, perhaps, he'd been coached, hmmm?

Now the plot thickens and sickens even more. Little Ahmed's Big Daddy is no less than--drumroll!--Mohammed El Hassan Mohammed, a Sudanese immigrant who has gone back and forth to Sudan and been mixed up in Sudanese politics for some time. A well-known Muslim activist, he has been in the news before for his stunts. Oh, yes, did I mention that he also owns a computer repair shop? Hmmm? All mere coincidence? You decide.
And, from The Intercept:
But Center for Security Policy vice president Jim Hanson argued on his organization’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.” He said the clock “was half a bomb.”

Frank Gaffney, the center’s founder and president, agreed with Hanson, while suggesting that there is reason to be suspicious of “what we’re told was a clock” because “the story is not being fully explored and explained.”
In other words, perhaps Ahmed was engaging in a practice run. Perhaps, as the Diplomad observes, this incident was revenge because Irvine, Texas, recently rejected a Sharia court.  Whatever the reason, the Diplomad is correct that "[t]he next time we will have a real bomb that nobody reports for fear of getting stamped as a racist, or, even worse, an ISLAMAPHOBE!!!"

Update (9/30/2015): The Blaze reports:
Before he was put in handcuffs for bringing a “homemade” clock to school and became an overnight celebrity, Ahmed Mohamed “racked up weeks of suspensions” and clashed with authority while in middle school, the Dallas Morning News reported.

While attending Sam Houston Middle School in Irving, Texas, Mohamed “mastered electronics and English, once built a remote control to prank the classroom projector and bragged of reciting his First Amendment rights in the principal’s office,” according to the report.
Another indication that Ahmed the Clock Boy intended school officials to believe his clock was a bomb.

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