The news crew is here, but the famous boy is still asleep. He had just flown 22 hours, back to this squat stone house where he used to live when he was just a regular 14-year-old. His bright green go-kart is still out back. A year ago, he could have woken up and spent hours tinkering with its engine. He could have spent the day on his trampoline, or just watching funny YouTube videos on his phone.
Instead, he’s waking up to the sound of more reporters in the living room. Because he’s not Ahmed Mohamed, a regular 14-year-old. He’s Clock Boy, a viral sensation, the accidental embodiment of a national debate about Muslims being dangerous — or not. A black youth mistreated by overzealous cops — or an example of vigilance against potential terrorism.
So Ahmed gets out of bed, opens the bedroom door and steps into the hall. He lifts his arm in a half wave.
“There he is!” The cameraman shouts, like he’s seeing an old friend. Ahmed got taller, they all point out. New glasses and a growth spurt have subtly transformed him from boyish to teenage.
“He is still sleepy,” his father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, apologizes.
The reporters are from Fox 4, a local TV channel. Mohamed invited them here, on Ahmed’s first day back in Texas after nine months in Qatar. They moved a month after Ahmed was arrested for possessing a homemade clock that his school deemed suspicious-looking. The move, it seemed, was an attempt to escape the spotlight, or at least the hate mail and death threats that came with it.
And yet, Ahmed’s summer homecoming was heralded to reporters with a news release sent out by the family and its supporters: Clock Boy is back, and ready to be interviewed.
“You just wake up?” Ahmed’s uncle, Aldean, says. “Go prepare yourself.”
Ahmed changes into a T-shirt with the number 23 — for LeBron James — across the chest. They hand him a microphone. He doesn’t need to be told how to put it on. They seat him on a velvet-tufted chair.
“All right, Ahmed, it’s just you and me talking, the rest of the world listening,” the reporter says. “So don’t be nervous.”
His father interrupts.
“Do you want to talk to me? Or just him?”
“Oh. Yeah, we’ll talk to Dad, too. We’ll just do it separate.”
The living room is packed: cousins, aunts, grandmother. Ahmed’s Uncle Aldean, who in the early 1980s was the first Mohamed to move from Sudan — where their family owned a successful cotton farm and attended prestigious schools — to New York, where he sold balloons and hot dogs in front of Rockefeller Center. Ahmed’s father, an imam, who followed his brother to America and ever since has been explaining to anyone who will listen that real Muslims are peaceful. Their family friend Anthony Bond, the founder of the Irving NAACP, who has been calling the Mohameds in Qatar to tell them how, since they left, things are getting worse. Clashes between black communities and the police are in the news every day. Donald Trump, the man who wants to ban Muslim immigrants like the Mohameds from the United States, may become president.
Everyone’s eyes are on Ahmed.
The reporter leans forward.
“How empowered do you feel to help make a difference in the world today, given what you’ve been through?” he asks.
“Wait,” Ahmed says. “Did the interview start?”
Yes. The reporter moves on to another question.
Bond gives Ahmed a reassuring smile. He was the first person the family called when they brought Ahmed home from the police station. They wondered: Would this have happened if his name wasn’t Ahmed Mohamed?
Bond said: Let’s call the media.
He said: This city has transformed from whitewashed to in¬cred¬ibly diverse, and we’re still being mistreated.
He said: With all the discrimination going on in the world, this little boy can make a positive difference.
“Upon coming back, what went through your mind?” the reporter is asking. “Did you have thoughts in your head like, ‘Oh, God, there may be protesters?’ ”
“Why would people protest me?” Ahmed says.
“Well, I’m just asking. So you came in and you’re like, ‘I’m a rock star!’ ”
“I came in — I was just — heading home, because I was tired.”
Ahmed walks in the house later that evening to find his uncle, dad and Bond in front of the TV, searching for his name again.
“We want to watch you on the Dallas Morning News,” his dad says. Ahmed had a “Facebook Live” interview with the newspaper after talking to Fox 4, and they’re trying to find it on YouTube.
“It’s on Facebook,” Ahmed says, raising his voice over the clang of dishes being washed by his aunts in the kitchen. His mom and four of his siblings haven’t yet come from Qatar, so Ahmed, his brother and his father are staying with the cousins who now live in their old house. They push the remote into Ahmed’s hand.
Searching for his name is a daily ritual. The family is its own public relations firm, founded Sept. 14, 2015, as they brought Ahmed home from the police station.
Mohamed was ranting about how only God will judge his son. Ahmed was still hearing the “Ooooooh” sound the other students made as he was led out of class. The police were going to charge him with possession of a hoax bomb.
His parents had a choice: deal with this quietly, or tell someone. Their son had been placed in handcuffs and interrogated, in a town known for its resentment of Muslims. So they called the media, and soon Ahmed was trending on Twitter, and everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to President Obama was sharing messages of support.
Two days after he was arrested, the charges were dropped.
“This is what happens when we (IPD)screw something up,” one Irving Police Department detective wrote in an email later uncovered as part of a public records request from Vice. “That thing didn’t even look like a bomb.”
And so came the next choice: Let this all die down, or seize the platform they’d been given and use it.
So they put Ahmed on “Good Morning America,” MSNBC and “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore.” He told reporters how kids in school called him ISIS Boy. Sympathetic crowdfunders raised $18,000 for his education. He visited the White House, the Google Science Fair and the president of his home country of Sudan (a wanted war criminal, but Mohamed said it would be rude not to accept the invitation).
Source: Washington Post