What does “brainwash” mean?

A lawyer for the man accused of shooting two military recruiters in Arkansas — killing one and wounding the other — has said that his client was brainwashed.

Attorney Jim Hensley said that Abdulhakim Muhammad, who was once known as Carlos Bledsoe, was tortured and brainwashed while in Yemen, where he’d gone in 2007 to teach children English and to learn Arabic.

While there, he converted to Islam and is said to have been imprisoned. The suspect has pleaded not guilty.

This raises all kinds of questions, not the first of which is: If he really converted to Islam, how would he have justified shooting two men in Little Rock? The idea of murder is anathema to Islam, as it is to Christianity.

And what does it mean to be brainwashed? A Yemeni official rejects the attorney’s claim, that Muhammad was brainwashed in the short time he was imprisoned, though that length of time is in dispute.

Said Mohammed AlBasha, of the Yemeni Embassy:

“It is understood that the process of radicalization can take a number of years, not a couple of weeks. So, the statement that his lawyer made, that he was brainwashed and tortured for weeks in Yemen, are baseless.”

It’s hard to know what to believe in a case like this, but I am intrigued with the idea of being brainwashed because this question sometimes comes up when I talk about fundamentalist Christianity.  Was I brainwashed? (No, I don’t believe I was.) I think the question gets asked because some of my religious practices were so — exotic? odd? — to non-fundamentalists,  nons have to believe that I and my brothers and sisters are not thinking clearly, that something else moved us to do what we do.

In the same way, it’s hard to imagine justifying the shooting of someone. Surely something else is motivating people who commit violence like this, but using the purported brainwashing of a recent Muslim convert as a defense strikes me as an unfortunate use of dangerous (and patently untrue) stereotypes.

Having said that, here’s one look at brainwashing. Here’s a book on it. The idea of mind control is not entirely cut-and-dried.

Published by datingjesus

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16 Comments

  1. Wasn’t that “something else” that made you and your brothers and sisters do/believe what they did simply the fear of God (and the fear of not going to heaven)?

    I find this topic of brainwashing to be interesting, too. I’ll check out the link. I’m wondering if subtle forms are commonly seen in every day life as other fear based beliefs and opinions, and even prejudices.

    1. Maybe you, too, grew up with television images of people who were “brainwashed,” who were like living zombies and did whatever their brainwashers told them to do. But you raise a good point: Might there be gradations of brainwashing.

      And yes, fear absolutely motivated me — more fear of hell than fear of God. I can’t necessarily blame my teachers for that — that’s just what I picked up on.

      1. I noticed that one of your links points to a psychological view of it. Apparently there is no true “brainwashing” category in psychology if I interpreted that correctly. Those cases are treated as one would treat a phobia. I believe there are gradations of phobias. Maybe the difference is that with true brainwashing, there is a specific, focused attempt to instill a phobia in order to control someone. In your case, the brainwashing came from many sources, but the church was interested in you believing certain things so you would behave a certain way. Parents do that, too. It’s confusing.

        Yes I remember the zombies and brainwashing from 70’s TV…mostly from Scooby-Do cartoons, I think, or monster movies!

        1. That’s what I got from that link, too, that there’s no psychological brainwashing category.

          1. I knew someone that had been rescued from a cult. Even without the brainwashing category, the experience did produce problems in a number of areas beyond phobia like PTSD, depression, anxiety and problems with trust. It’s hard to say how a person will weather imprisonment where brainwashing or torture is done, or being in a cult. I would imagine that there could be severe long term effects. However, jumping from that to premeditated murder is a big jump and I’m not buying it at the moment. I think this guy had other things going on to do this.

  2. So. It seems that Carlos is a pathetic liar as well as a despicable, murdering coward.

    Don’t buy the brainwashing claim for a heartbeat. “A mind changed against its will is of the same opinion still” has always been my experience in life

    Setting aside whatever reason(s), Carlos was predisposed to violence, he made a decision to act on that inclination rather than reject it. The fact (?) that others urged him to do so matters not.

    In the end… we are our choices, and we are our deeds.

    1. Is that the suspect lying, or his attorney? I’m inclined to agree with you on this, Hollywood images of brainwashing aside.

  3. The lawyer speaks, but what does the accused say?
    The classical stereotype of “brainwashing”, the North Korean/Chinese media image, and even Stockholm Syndrome, implies unwilling indoctrination and behavior modification. Behavior modification as a result of willing indoctrination, such as the Charles Manson Family, suicide bombers, or even by religions does not hold up to the definition.
    I agree all the facts on this man have not been mage known.
    But it seems like nothing more than a desperate attempt by the attorney, and probably the family, to soften reaction to his heinous act. In this case, the defense of some sort of diminished capacity might work to mitigate punishment, like escaping the death penalty. But it’s going to be a hard sell, being portrayed in some media reports as another act of domestic terrorism.

      1. It’s ok. DJ welcomes typos. I know since I’ve had plenty and haven’t been kicked out yet!

        1. That’s because DJ can’t speel, herself. So she’s of a forgiving nature.

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