WSJ? Why does it have to be so good? I'll quote the best part up top here.
"When he was only 17 they deemed him mature enough to don turban and robes and take a voyage to Yemen. Now that he's 20 and has arrived at the Taliban terminus of his personal journey, suddenly he's too young to know his own mind."
" target="_blank">Johnnie Walker on the Rocks</a>
In Marin County, Calif., treason is just another alternative lifestyle.
BY CLAUDIA ROSETT
Thursday, December 6, 2001 12:01 a.m. EST
Were the story of John Walker Lindh not so horribly real, it could play as a parody of our times. Mr. Walker, a 20-year-old American, goes to war in Afghanistan. Except he fights not for America, but against us, on the side of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. By the time he's captured, AK-47 in hand, Mr. Walker is filthy, wounded and famished, but to a persistent reporter from Newsweek he manages to gasp out his support for the Islamic terrorist attacks that, out of a clear blue sky, killed more than 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11.
Which sounds bad. But hey, dude, John--aÂ*kÂ*a "Sulayman," aÂ*kÂ*a "Abdul Hamid"--is from Marin County, Calif., a place where it is, like, totally uncool to make value judgments.
From Marin, the young Mr. Walker's parents spot him on the TV news and hustle to share with the world the alternative reality that shaped this self-described jihadi in the first place. Their son John is a spiritual, questing guy, we are told, a pacifist at heart, young and maybe susceptible to brainwashing. John's mother, Marilyn Walker, tells the press that her son is just a "sweet, shy kid," "totally not streetwise," a peaceful, scholarly type who wanted to help poor people. His father, Frank Lindh, announces that John "is a really good boy" even if he does deserve "a little kick in the butt for not telling me what he was up to."
A Marin musician, Neil Lavin, tells the Associated Press that Mr. Walker was in Afghanistan on a spiritual quest, quite possibly a rewarding one: "I imagine he lost himself there. Or found himself." A family friend, Bill Jones, tells the San Francisco Chronicle that fighting for bin Laden was just "a youthful indiscretion."
Even outside Marin, a lot of folks just don't seem to get it. In one account after another, there is the same perplexed tone: How could it happen that John Walker Lindh, the second of three children reared by broad-minded parents in the emotionally supportive 1990s, in a 3,000-sqare-foot home in one of the wealthiest enclaves on the California coast, ended up questing away with an assault weapon on the enemy side in Afghanistan? Newsweek quotes Mr. Lindh, his father, as saying, "I can't connect the dots between where John was and where John is." The magazine concludes: "Neither, it seems, can the rest of the world."
Oh really? The dots we've seen so far--especially in Newsweek and on CNN--invite some definite connecting.
What jumps out is a sorry sketch of the real world colliding with American culture at its most neurotically all-validating no-fault New Age nadir of nattering nonsense. No where in the nation could this particular picture have more naturally taken shape than in that Mecca of moral muddling, Marin County--a place salted with rich aging radicals of the 1960s, long on dollars but still short on sense. Recite the publicly known details of John Walker's life, and you have a narrative in which every authority figure in sight was so busy validating John and his alternative ways that no one stepped in soon enough to save him, or stop him.
And what he ended up doing, as reported so far, does not sound good. To venture a word that on the evidence seems to have gone missing from the Marin vocabulary (except when invoked to mean "good"), it sounds bad. American authorities now face the job of deciding whether Mr. Walker deserves to be tried for treason, which can carry a death penalty.
By his own account, Mr. Walker went to Afghanistan six months ago and trained for combat at a camp for supporters of Osama bin Laden. He fought with Taliban-linked Pakistanis against India, in Kashmir--a place riven for the past 10 years by terrorist violence and kidnappings. He then returned to Afghanistan to fight on the side of the Taliban against Americans and the Northern Alliance. Mr. Walker was captured among the al Qaeda and Taliban fighters who began the ferocious prison riot that killed a CIA agent, David Spann--a man who gave his life for the country John Walker betrayed.
But hey, give old Abdul Hamid a chance. Named originally for John Lennon, John Walker was raised in an atmosphere so swamped with tolerance it's small wonder he began to drown. His parents are now going through what they describe as an amicable divorce. His father is a Catholic. His mother dabbles in Buddhism, which according to Newsweek she credits for exposing John to a philosophy "very inclusive of all people" and imbued with a "sense of social justice."
John spent only a few months at a regular high school before transferring to the "alternative" Tamiscal High School, a place for artistic types specializing in independent study that, according to the school's Web site "works differently in many ways." Students are left to pilot their own journeys of self-discovery, while checking in with teachers once a week. At age 16, John read "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," and in it found himself yet another alternative--he converted to Islam.
In keeping with Islamic laws, Mr. Walker grew a beard and began praying regularly at a local mosque. He took to wearing Islamic robes and a turban, while his parents gushed over what they are still lauding as his "alternative course." He graduated early from the flexible Tamiscal High, and at 17, with his parents' blessing, he went to Yemen to study Arabic. He came back to California, briefly, but in February 2000 he returned to Yemen. Newsweek reports: "It was during John's second trip to Yemen, says his father, that he became aware that John had friends who had been to Chechnya to fight with Muslim rebels against the Russian army. One friend had been killed in the fighting."
Last October, John and his father had what Mr. Lindh described to CNN's Larry King as "a little father/son debate, much like my dad and I used to have over the Vietnam war" (was the young Mr. Lindh consorting with combat-ready Viet Cong?). Mr. Lindh was upset that the American sailors killed in the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden were the same age as John. John e-mailed him back that the terrorist bombing was justified.
Mr. Lindh concluded, reports Newsweek, that "My days of molding him were over." But the days of funding him went right on. When John moved to Pakistan, enrolled in a madrassa near the Afghan border and asked his dad for money, Mr. Lindh wired $1,200. John told his parents he was heading "somewhere cooler" for a while and disappeared into Afghanistan. Cool, huh?
And here we all are, in the midst of a real war with American lives on the line. And there are Mr. Lindh and Ms. Walker, who say they were horrified by Sept. 11, pleading for mercy for their son who joined the enemy. And they still don't get it. Mr. Lindh, who tells the world, "I'm proud of John," insists "there's no indication he's done anything wrong." In the world they inhabit, could John ever do anything wrong? When he was only 17 they deemed him mature enough to don turban and robes and take a voyage to Yemen. Now that he's 20 and has arrived at the Taliban terminus of his personal journey, suddenly he's too young to know his own mind.
But through it all, says his father, "he found this other spiritual path, and I have always supported that."
It's painful to watch. It's tragic. But that doesn't make it all right. Somewhere between the kid in Marin with a book and the man in Afghanistan with a gun, there's a line that has been crossed. Connect the dots and you'll see it.Ms. Rosett is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board. Her column appears Thursdays on OpinionJournal.com and in The Wall Street Journal Europe as "Letter From America."