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Culture

Ahmed Mohamed Didn’t Build a Clock — and Other Niggling Problems in the Story of Dallas’s Whizkid-of-the-Week

When I wrote about Ahmed Mohamed last week, I chalked up the affair to a few overzealous authority figures — who have peers all over the country. Just ask Josh Welch.

That criticism stands. But as Ahmed enjoys his newfound celebrity — on Monday he was a VIP at a Google science fair, and on Wednesday the family is flying to New York City, where Ahmed will be feted by United Nations dignitaries — the details of the story become, well, curiouser and curiouser.

Over the weekend, a blogger at Artvoice “reverse engineered” Ahmed’s clock from media photographs. His conclusion:

Somewhere in all of this – there has indeed been a hoax. Ahmed Mohamed didn’t invent his own alarm clock. He didn’t even build a clock. . . . He took apart an existing clock, and transplanted the guts into a pencil box, and claimed it was his own creation. (emphasis original)

According to the blogger, Ahmed took apart this 1986 Micronta digital alarm clock, and reassembled it in this Vaultz Locking Pencil Box.

Tech enthusiast Thomas Talbot performed a similar analysis and came to a similar conclusion:

“This is a commercial alarm clock, as you would purchase in any department store and use at your bedside,” says Talbot. “All that he did was remove the plastic case from the alarm clock. This is not an invention. This is not something that someone built or even assembled.”

The technical evidence is bolstered by odd comments and conspicuous coincidences. In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, Ahmed says: “I closed it [the pencil box] with a cable, because I didn’t want to unlock it to make it seem like a threat, so I just used a simple cable, so it won’t look that much suspicious.” That’s, well, an odd consideration.

Appearing on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban offered a strange detail from his telephone conversation with Ahmed:

I talked to the kid. He’s from Dallas, and I’ve talked to the people in the school district. The kid is a super smart kid. Science geek. We talked about science, but while I’m talking to him on the phone, as I ask him a question, “Tell me what happened because I’m curious.” Right? His sister, over his shoulder, you could hear, listening to the question, giving him the answer.

What? Why?

And add to all this that Ahmed’s father, Mohamed Elhassan, is something of a self-appointed Islamic activist. After he debated Koran-burning Florida pastor Terry Jones in 2011, the Washington Post wrote:

Elhassan, a native of the Sudan who is now an American citizen, likes to call himself a sheik. He wears a cleric’s flowing white robes and claims hundreds of followers throughout Egypt, Sudan and in the United States.

But he is unknown as a scholar or holy man in the state he has called home for two decades. Religious leaders in Texas say they have never heard of Elhassan, including the imam at the mosque where he worships.

“This so-called leader, we have never heard of this person,” said Imam Zia ul Haque Sheikh, the head of the Islamic Center of Irving. “I believe the whole thing is made up.”

So perhaps everything unfolded exactly as originally reported: Ahmed “built” a clock, he simply wanted to show it off, a teacher panicked. But even to those who think that administrators and/or law enforcement overreacted (which I do), or that Ahmed was victimized by his skin color (which I don’t), the details above suggest legitimate questions. In a saner political culture, those questions would have preceded the creation and propagation of the narrative.

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