An African-American convert to Islam, Samuel J. Lewis, is on trial in Worcester, Massachusetts, charged with 17 counts of making false statements or false records while acquiring weapons in 2002-03. His allegedly false statements included giving a wrong place of residence or saying that he was buying the weapons for himself when that was not the case.
The defense presented several arguments for why the case should not go forward, but Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV brushed these aside in a pretrial ruling. For example, he noted Lewis' ex-wife tracing how he had become increasingly anti-American and his expressing an intent to die in the course of fighting jihad. She also noted that he traveled to Syria or Somalia in early 2003, had expressed an interest in moving to the Middle East, and that he replaced his given first name, Samuel, with Shaheed, which means, among other things, martyr.
In light of this information, Saylor concluded that "there is considerable evidence that the defendant poses a substantial danger of violence and a possible connection to terrorist activities." Then, in a footnote, Saylor adds the following comment:
Comment: (1) Judge Saylor has made a cautious and correct decision here. (2) It is fascinating to watch how the U.S. legal system is evolving a definition of jihad and is determining what evidence is legitimate to consider when assessing Islamist intentions. It may be that prosecutors and judges, between them, develop a working basis before politicians or academics do. (July 25, 2006)
Lewis's conversion to Islam and his choice of an Arabic name are not irrelevant to that analysis. While the government is not permitted to prosecute him because he has converted to Islam, it is not required to ignore that fact when considering his possible connections to terrorist or anti-American activities—particularly in light of the evidence that he has traveled to Middle Eastern countries with terrorist activities and expressed a desire to die in a jihad. Likewise, his deliberate choice of name—which he, not his parents, selected—is a relevant fact that law enforcement may take into account in assessing the evidence against him.