On September 14, 2015, Ahmed Mohamed brought a digital clock he had made to his Irving, Texas, high school. His teachers thought it was a bomb — or at least a bomb threat. Since then, he’s become famous (or infamous, depending on who’s talking), moved to a new continent, and no longer feels safe in his home country.
The 14-year-old was suspended, handcuffed, and arrested, sparking a debate about the role Islamophobia played in the whole incident and drawing responses from Mark Zuckerberg, Google, the United Nations, and President Barack Obama. Mohamed’s family unsuccessfully sued the school district for $15 million before moving to Qatar.
That was a year ago, and as documented in a fairly devastating profile by Jessica Contrera in The Washington Post, things have changed for Mohamed. His family returned to Irving this summer to sue the city again.
Living in Qatar — which offered him and his siblings a full ride to the Qatar Foundation — isn’t perfect. Sure, he’s away from the controversy and getting a good education, but Mohamed says the Middle Eastern country lacks opportunities to build things the way he used to be able to in America. Mohamed misses his friends and was bored of desert’s monotonous landscape. He explained to the Post how, in Qatar, “not many kids play outside.”
“I never really do anything,” he added. I just watch stuff online, and I get bored. Sometimes I just go outside and stare at the sun and then go back inside.”
Being back in the U.S. has its downsides, too. Mohamed has been hounded by the press. His father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, seems like he’s always pushing for more publicity to raise awareness of his son’s plight — and his plans to run for President of Sudan for a third time in 2020.
The now 15-year-old Ahmed Mohamed has an active Twitter account, and his tweets are usually very positive (occasionally there are some solid some tech memes, but the responses invariably include bigoted comments and accusations that he’s a terrorist bombmaker.
Mohamed and his family are leaving the United States again after the summer’s up, though he’s said he might return to attend MIT. For now, though, the same atmosphere that his family is alleging led to his initial arrest is also making it too dangerous for a high-profile Muslim teen to live in the country where he grew up.
“I really love the States,” Mohamed said in a press conference earlier this summer. “It’s my home. But I couldn’t stay … I get death threats. It’s a really sad reality of it.”
“For the safety of my family, I have to go back to Qatar, because right now it’s not very safe for my family or for anyone who’s a minority,” he said.
Back in 2015, three months after Mohamed was arrested for bringing his clock to school, Donald Trump’s campaign announced that the then-longshot presidential candidate was “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Studies by the FBI and other organizations have concluded that Islamophobia is worse now than it was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
Things certainly have changed since Ahmed Mohamed brought his clock to school.Photos via Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images / Ben Torres