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Friday, May 24, 2019

Mark Steyn on the American Taliban

From 18 years ago, but still fresh and insightful today.

A fortnight ago, two Americans met in the northern Afghan desert, at the Qala-I-Jangi prison. One was a CIA special-ops man, Mike Spann. The other was a prisoner he was interrogating, a Taleban soldier called "Abdul Hamid", the nom de guerre of John Walker, formerly of northern California. Mr Spann will be buried tomorrow by his wife and three young children in Arlington National Cemetery. He was kicked, beaten and apparently bitten to death in an uprising of captured Taleban, who then booby-trapped his body with grenades. Mr Walker, by contrast, is one of 86 people to survive the four-day prison battle, and the question now is what to do with him.

If nothing else, he's usefully nailed one of the self-serving myths peddled after the awesome intelligence failure of September 11th: awf'lly sorry we failed to see it coming, said the high-ranking suits, but it's impossible to do any covert deep-cover stuff out in Afghanistan; these fellows are all cousins and brothers-in-law - a guy from Jersey would stick out like a lap-dancer in a burqa.

As we now know, instead of being full of fearsome Pashtun warriors whose ferocious lineage rings down the centuries, the Omar/Osama ranks were like a novelty Gap ad, "Losers of Many Nations" – misfit Saudis and Pakis, Limeys and LaLaLanders. Anyone can walk in off the street and be assistant supervisor of the third-floor latrine in Tora Bora by nightfall. The only distinguishing feature about John Walker is that he's such an obvious compendium of clapped-out clich├ęs from America's Left Coast the wonder is the mullahs didn't automatically take him for a CIA plant.

But no, Mr Walker is for real - born John Lindh in 1981, and from that bastion of well-heeled pothead progressivism, California's affluent Marin County. Just north of San Francisco, Marin is the kind of place where Taleban are rare and Republicans are rarer, and your average hippie-turned-lawyer can stay true to his Sixties values while living on property that stays true to its late Nineties values (average house price: just shy of a million bucks). This is the aging of the dawn of Aquarius: a lotta latte, a little dope, environmentalism, multiculturalism, and everyone likes feeling religious, or at least "spiritual" - old New York Times headline: "Religion Makes A Comeback (Belief To Follow)". Following the traditional Marin pattern, his parents divorced, his father moved in with another man, his mother converted to Buddhism, and the children were taught Native American spirituality. John was sent to an "alternative" high school. (In the Bay Area, all the high schools are "alternative". The problem for parents is trying to find any alternative to the alternative.) The set texts included The Autobiography Of Malcom X, and John liked it so much that like the late Mr X he too decided to embrace Islam and change his name, to Sulayman. His parents, putting their foot down for what seems to be the first and last time, demanded the right to continue calling him John. They had, after all, gone to the trouble of naming him after one of the colossi of the age, John Lennon. To this, he consented. In return, they let him study at the Mill Valley Islamic Center.

In 1998, after an awkward trip to their ancestral Ireland in which John trudged dutifully round the auld sod wearing his turban and white robes, Frank Lindh agreed to let his 17-year old son spend a year in Yemen, on the next stage of his "spiritual odyssey". He was just another middle-class kid who'd gone off to find himself, but, like most of the others, he always knew how to find daddy when he needed to. Last year, John e-mailed home to say al-Qa'eda's attack on the USS Cole was justified – oh, and by the way he was off to enrol in a Pakistani madrassah. So Dad wired him a couple thousand bucks, which goes a long way in Bannu. Aside from a glowing school report from his imam, that was the last Mr Lindh heard from Junior until he turned up brandishing an AK47 while battling US armed forces and declaring his approval of the events of September 11th.

John Walker's CV bears eloquent testament to his parents' scrupulous observance of the Bay Area's First Commandment: Thou shalt be non-judgmental. Yeah, man, Yemen. Cool. Whatever's your bag. As one headline put it: "A Product Of Bay Area Culture." Exactly, I thought. But, this being The San Francisco Chronicle, they were applying the label with pride. Rhapsodising about the area's "religious tolerance" and the way children are taught "to accept other cultures" and value "critical thinking about the US role in the world", senior writer Louis Freedberg concluded that Walker's only misfortune was that "his search for identity intersected precisely with the World Trade Center attacks". If not for this unfortunate "intersection" Walker might have become an "idealistic doctor". The President, he said, should allow the boy home "and let him get his life back on track. We'd want nothing less for our own children, who could easily have found themselves in a similar mess."

In fairness to the youth of northern California, that last part is an unjust slur. The marvel is that, after labouring under the twin burdens of the education system's multicultural orthodoxies and the preening moral superiority of their boomer parents, no more Bay Area teens have signed on with Mullah Omar. Nonetheless, there is a difference between "tolerance" of other cultures and the moral void inhabited by the Lindhs. We can, in any case, guess the limits of Marin County's much-vaunted "tolerance". Imagine that the Marinated Muslim had instead announced that he was going to do what the late Mike Spann did at his age: enlist in the Marines. Would Marilyn Walker have seen that as a valid part of her son's "self-discovery"? Or would she have got out her joss sticks and wailed, "Oh, my God, where did we go wrong?"

Mom says she's "proud" of John, but is taking the line he must have been "brainwashed". From the look of him, his brain's the only thing that's been washed. John Walker resembles one of those hairy, smelly, cadaverous, vaguely deranged guys who stumble up to you late at night at remote Greyhound stations and demand money for medication. But right now that's shrewd image-positioning. President Bush seems to have bought the "misguided" line, describing Walker as a "poor fellow" who thought he was fighting for a "great cause". "I can't see him as being unpatriotic," says a neighbour. "This is where his journey led him." And, anyway, as everyone says, he's just a "boy".

John Walker is a 20-year old man – though one can sympathise if protracted exposure to the Bay Area's "critical thinking" (if only) has left him in a state of arrested development. For four decades, supposedly "non-judgmental" flower-children like Marilyn Walker have reflexively characterised CIA men like Mike Spann as the dark agents of right-wing militarism. We are entitled to judge Marilyn's son, the comrade of Spann's killers, as the dark agent of left-wing Marinism. Raised by peaceniks and Marinated in "tolerance", he took up an AK47 in defence of misogynists and gay-bashers: not an internal contradiction, but the logical reductio of the new left's moral nullity. Cocooned in one of the most prosperous enclaves on the planet, he was taught everything – from Buddhism to Indian spirituality to Malcolm X – everything except what it means to be an American citizen.

When a 13-year old girl wants an abortion, the Marin County crowd insists that "a woman's right to choose" is sacred. Twenty-year old men make choices, too. John Walker chose to go to war against his own country. Americans should respect his "right to choose" and let him live with the consequences.

I'm not in favour of trying him for treason: Alan Dershowitz and the other high-rent lawyers are already salivating over the possibility of a two-year circus with attendant book deals and TV movies. But there is another way, suggested the other day by The Toronto Sun's Peter Worthington. In 1944, lacking the benefits of an immersion in Bay Area "critical thinking", the teenage Worthington volunteered for the Royal Canadian Navy. Unlike Walker's apologists, he at least treats him as an adult exercising free will. As Mr Worthington notes, on page four of John Walker's US passport, it states that any American who enlists in a foreign army can be stripped of his citizenship. Mr Walker wants to be Abdul Hamid; Mr Bush should honour his wishes. Let us leave him to the Northern Alliance and let his fancypants 'Frisco lawyers petition to appear before the Kabul bar, if there is one. It would, surely, be grossly discriminatory to subject Mr Hamid to non-Islamic justice.

~The above is excerpted from The Face of the Tiger (personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore) - and don't forget, if you're a Mark Steyn Club member, to enter the promo code at checkout to enjoy special member pricing on that and over forty other Steyn Store products.

Programming note: Mark will be back later today with Tucker Carlson, live coast to coast across America at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific. If you prefer him in a non-visual format, on Friday he'll be launching a brand new Tale for Our Time as part of our second-birthday observances of The Mark Steyn Club, so we hope you'll join him for that. The crucial element of our Club is the members - and we're very appreciative of all those who signed up in that first month two Mays ago who have been so eager to re-subscribe for a third season. We thank you all, and hope to be able to thank some of you personally on our Second Annual Steyn Club Cruise this September. For more information on the Steyn Club, see here - and, if you've enjoyed your first two years, you can always sign up a chum for Gift Membership. We're a convivial bunch in the Club, we like to think.

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