Alarm bell: Texas' 'Clock Boy' may not enjoy time in Qatar

Ahmed Mohamed accepting scholarship for secondary and undergraduate education


The Texas teen who set off a firestorm by bringing a re-assembled clock to his Dallas-area school, then announced through his family plans to leave the country they accuse of anti-Islamic bigotry, may not find his new digs in Qatar so nice, either.

Ahmed Mohamed, who earned the nickname “Clock Boy” as well as a White House invitation from President Obama, is headed to the Gulf nation, where he has been given a scholarship at the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. The 14-year-old’s family announced they will accompany him to the new home, which is a world away from Texas – in more ways than one.

“Qatar has harsh Shariah law - stoning for apostasy, lashing for alcohol, death penalty for homosexuality - and is an absolute monarchy without even a shred of democracy,” Tim Furnish, who holds a doctorate in Islamic Studies and served as an Arabic linguist in the U.S. Army, told “The analogy between Texas and Qatar is the heat. Ahmed should be careful about what he wishes for.”

“The analogy between Texas and Qatar is the heat. Ahmed should be careful about what he wishes for.”

- Tim Furnish, former Arabic linguist in the U.S. Army

The clock, which had been dismantled and stuffed into a pencil box, set off alarms at the school, where a teacher thought it could be a bomb. When the boy was taken from the school in handcuffs, critics said it was a case of Islamaphobia. But in the ensuing days, pictures of the homemade device that circulated on the Internet generated speculation the entire incident was a stunt.

“Good luck bringing a fake bomb to school in that environment,” quipped Furnish. “They’ll probably cut off your hands, instead of inviting you to meet the country's ruler.”

Many  observers defended the school staff and police for being cautious about the device, which was not part of any assignment and appeared to require no engineering prowess. Concerns were also directed toward his father Mohamed Elhassan, who has been depicted as being known in Irving, Texas, as a prominent activist and advocate of Sharia law.

“This form of political correctness will open the door for future attacks,” said Dan O’Shea, terrorism expert and former Navy SEAL. “His teacher took responsible steps to report a potential threat as required by school policy.”

Still, the family’s departure has prompted hand-wringing from people who believe the boy was a victim.

“I can understand them not wanting to subject Ahmed to any more hatred,” said Saba Ahmed, a Pakistani-American Muslim activist. “But it is a sad day for America that we lost an American family to religious intolerance.”

 In his scholarship statement, Mohamed expressed his love for the Qatari capital of Doha as a “modern” city, observing that “Qatar is in the Arab world, but it also feels like Texas. It’s like Texas in Qatar.”

Yet his new country of residence is not free of religion-driven hate.

Qatar has come under significant scrutiny in recent years for its dismal human rights record and for funding terrorism. A report by the Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance last year argued that the Qatari government has been negligent in its refusal to crack down on private financiers of terrorist and radical militant organizations. The geographically tiny, affluent emirate has also been widely accused of siphoning tens of millions of dollars through ambiguous funding “charities” and structures to extreme Salafists and Syrian terrorists, while splaying staunch ally to the U.S.

The Qatar Foundation was founded 10 years ago by Qatar’s former emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani and his second of three wives, Sheikha Mozah, in part to bolster a 1,000-acre Education City complete with satellite campuses attached to Northwestern University, Carnegie Mellon and Texas A&M. But beyond the education realm, the Foundation has been criticized for financing dangerous extremist ideology at its new, lavish 1800 person capacity mosque it also operates inside Educational City.

A June article in the Daily Beast entitled “Qatar’s Foundation for Hypocrisy” blasted the “glamorous and sophisticated” Mozah for cultivating an outward image as a globetrotting, philanthropy-driven progressive force even as her foundation was hosting a series of religious prayers and lectures by the likes of a preacher who termed the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris as the “sequel to the comedy film of 9/11” and said “Jews and their helpers must be destroyed.”

A preacher selected for the mosque’s inaugural prayer service earlier this year, Saleh al-Moghamsy, is a hardline Islamic supremacist who asserted in 2012 that Osama bin Laden had more “sanctity and honor in the eyes of Allah,” simply for being a Muslim, than “Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, apostates, and atheists.”

Washington-based attorney and founder of the Free Muslims Coalition Kamal Nawash insisted that Qatar is indeed an ultra-modern country with a very high per capita income and unlike Saudi Arabia, “it generally does not interfere with people's personal lives.”

“Thus, you can be ultra-liberal or ultra-conservative and no one will interfere with your life,” he explained. “In addition, while the local Qataris are conservative, the majority of the people in Qatar are not natives and generally more liberal than the native Qatari population.”

Hollie McKay has been a staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay