Less than 24 hours after Ahmed Mohamed met President Obama, his family decided it’s time to leave America for good.
The 14-year-old Texas boy who was arrested for bringing to school a homemade clock that authorities said resembled a bomb will soon be living in Qatar.
“After careful consideration of all the generous offers received, we would like to announce that we have accepted a kind offer from Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF) for Ahmed to join the prestigious QF Young Innovators Program, which reflects the organization’s on-going dedication to empowering young people and fostering a culture of innovation and creativity,” the family said in a news release Tuesday.
Anthony Bond, a close family friend and the founder of the Irving, Texas, chapter of the NAACP said the family made the decision to leave the U.S. within the past 24 hours. They have spent those hours in Washington, where Ahmed has been on a mini-press tour in anticipation of his visit to the White House.
President Obama personally invited the teen after his arrest last month, reaching out to him via Twitter. The president was one of many who spoke out about the implications of a 14-year-old Muslim boy accused of building a bomb, put in handcuffs and pulled out a school. Once it was discovered that the “bomb” was only a digital clock the young innovator built himself, the Irving Police said they would not be charging Ahmed with any crime.
But the spark had already been lit; Ahmed’s story went viral, with the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed bringing out legions of supporters including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Tweets, think pieces and daytime TV segments were dedicated to dissecting how Ahmed’s situation typified racism and Islamaphobia in America.
After withdrawing from school in Texas, the boy’s family embraced the opportunities that came from his brush with the law. He visited the Google Science Fair, met with Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir, posed with the queen of Jordan at a United Nations Summit, appeared on the “Doctor Oz” show and last night, made it to the White House.
He was among 300 visitors to “Astronomy Night,” a celebration of science and learning. Bill Nye the Science Guy was there, along with a number of standout students who have been recognized for scientific achievements throughout the country. Though some of those students received shoutouts during President Obama’s comments, there was no mention of Ahmed in the audience. That didn’t stop reporters from shouting to him from behind the rope lines: “Ahmed! How are you feeling?”
Perhaps that’s the question that has been left out of the viral hubbub: What has this been like for Ahmed? To go from a run-of-the-mill 14-year-old to an international symbol for stereotyping in America?
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Ahmed’s 19-year-old sister Eyman said he’s under a pressure they never imagined. It can be a good pressure: “It’s like now he’s motivated to work harder than every before,” she said. “Because people are going to be waiting to see what happened to that 14 year old kid.”
And a bad one: “It’s been really hard. Everything happens for a reason, but there’s so much stuff being said that isn’t true. . . ”
Eyman was referring to a number of conspiracy theories that appeared on the Internet about his arrest. Most attest that the incident was a pre-planned plot to get attention. Some of that skepticism stems from claims against Ahmed’s father, Mohamed Elhassan, who has run for president of Sudan and was present during a high-profile Koran burning in Florida. Bond, the family friend, said the conspiracies are why Ahmed doesn’t want to go to school in America.
“Everybody’s vilifying him, and he’s not a villain. He’s a 14 year old boy,” Bond said. “The whole world was concerned about this, and it’s impossible that anyone could have expected this international reaction.”
Bond said the family is planning to move next week so Ahmed can begin school at the Qatar Foundation, where he will receive a full scholarship. His parents and two sisters will relocate too. The news release announcing the move may be the last we hear from the family for a while.
It included one statement from Ahmed:
“I loved the city of Doha because it’s so modern. I saw so many amazing schools there, many of them campuses of famous American universities. The teachers were great. I think I will learn a lot and have fun too.”
Ahmed’s sister Eyman said the Middle East won’t feel too different from the U.S., except that the family will be surrounded by Muslims like themselves.
“Qatar is in the Arab world, but it also feels like Texas. It’s like Texas in Qatar.”