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.