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Muslim teen builds a clock, gets arrested, receives invitation to the White House

The arrest of Texas teenager Ahmed Mohamed, a student who brought a homemade clock to school, has stirred a global social media frenzy. Hari Sreenivasan speaks to Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations about spreading Mohamed’s story and fighting Islamophobia.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Fourteen-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, who was suspended from an Irving, Texas, school after officials mistook his school project for a bomb, spent another day out of school today.

    Mohammed's arrest — he'd brought a homemade clock to school — stirred a global social media frenzy.

    Hari's back with that.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The hashtag #IStandWithAhmed went viral for a third straight day on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. President Obama jumped in yesterday, too, inviting him to visit with a tweet that read: "Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great."

    For his part, the teen said he didn't plan to return to the school and was grateful for overwhelming support.

  • AHMED MOHAMED, Student:

    I brought the clock to impress my teacher. But when I showed it to her, she thought it was a threat to her.

    So — so, it was really sad that she took the wrong impression of it, and I got arrested for it later that day.

    Thank you to all my supporters on Twitter, Facebook, all social media. Thank you all for helping me. I would have never got this far if it wasn't for you guys, and not just you guys, everybody.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Some perspective from a part of the American Muslim community.

    Nihad Awad is the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has been working with Ahmed and his family.

    Mr. Awad, thanks for joining us.

    So, tell me about your contact with the family.

    NIHAD AWAD, Council on American-Islamic Relations: Yes.

    From the beginning, when this happened to the family, the family contacted our office in Dallas. And we recognized that this was another case of unfortunate Islamophobia and targeting of young people just because of their faith tradition, not because of their deeds or their behavior.

    And we managed to tell his story. And his narrative now dominated the story, because the school officials, I think, failed him when they accused him, when they called the police on him. He was arrested. He was detained, interrogated without the presence of his parents. And this was totally unnecessary.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Mr. Awad, why do you think this story is resonating so much, even to non-Muslims around America?

  • NIHAD AWAD:

    Well, I think it's a human story.

    This is a young genius inventor who wanted to impress everyone, and he wanted to do better. He wanted to build things to improve the world. I spoke to him yesterday, and he told me that he wants to create things. And his father told me that he fixes everything around the house.

    So, at this young age, to have a brilliant teenager who is involved and has a passion in science and innovation, we should cherish this. And that's why I believe he was able to tell his story through his invention. He's young. He's cute, adorable, intelligent. And I think that got him a lot of support, definitely with the help of an advocacy organization like ours. We managed to also get his story out.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, are you advocating or counseling him to take legal action? And, if so, what's the basis of that action, against whom?

  • NIHAD AWAD:

    I think the most important thing is to restore his confidence.

    The president has supported him, and he stood for him publicly. And he led by example. Mark Zuckerberg and other leaders in our society, in the industry, in the faith tradition have stood by him. And that was the most important thing, is to restore and reinstate his confidence and his dreams to change the world to be a better world.

    The legal action, I think, is being considered. We just want to make sure that this story and this experience doesn't happen to other people.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Is this indicative or emblematic of actions against Muslims around the United States? Is that one of the reasons that people are paying attention to this, where they can see this in themselves?

  • NIHAD AWAD:

    Unfortunately, I have to say, yes, it is widespread.

    There is a poisoned atmosphere of Islamophobia that has plagued our countries, cities and towns. It has filtered even through the school system. We hear many, many stories like this.

    Luckily, Ahmed is clever. He was able to tell his narrative. But there are many untold stories nationwide. And we, as a nation, have to start a frank conversation.

    And I urge our national leaders, religious leaders, at their homes, in their places of worship, everywhere, we have to fight against xenophobia, any kind of phobia, and just reward diversity, but not punish diversity or punish people just because of their faith traditions.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Finally, what would you like to see in — what would you like to see happen at the school, at the local police department?

  • NIHAD AWAD:

    I would like the school to look really at what happened.

    And they shouldn't justify what they did. What they did was wrong. And they have sent the wrong message to teenagers nationwide, not only in their school. And I would like that to be the last story. But, unfortunately, knowing the history of our society, we learn, but sometimes slowly.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, thanks so much for joining us.

  • NIHAD AWAD:

    Thank you for having me.

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