Friday, January 20, 2006

The Tragedy of John Walker Lindh

The parents of John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban, are asking President Bush to grant clemency to their son.

I really don’t know if clemency is warranted. But I’ve always thought this story was terribly tragic—a tragedy that could have only been played out in a world too small for its own good.

Lindh’s parents are the very model of open parenting, letting their child find his own way, supporting his choices even when they must have found his conversion to Islam hard to understand. I can’t fault parents who choose to support their son’s unusual but seemingly harmless new convictions. I’m sure the Lindh’s thought Islam to be no more or less harmful than any other major religion. They could never have imagined their son’s conversion would lead down such a dark and horrible path.

There’s a bitter irony here. The liberal, open-minded parents whose tolerance allowed their son to join one of the most close-minded, intolerant regimes in the world. Had they said no, you can’t go study in Yemen and Pakistan and had they not so warmly embraced John’s new religion, he probably never would have discovered such a destructive form of Islam. He’d be free man now and perhaps well past his youthful infatuation with Islam.

John Walker Lindh was just a kid trying to find himself. Yet that journey was not the free-spirited, rules-breaking adventure many of us take. Instead, his was a walk into the heart of the world’s most hate-filled ideology. And he did not escape unscathed. In fact, it’s likely he was at least mildly tortured by his own countrymen. And now he languishes in prison.

What a price to pay.

I can’t muster a great deal of sympathy with someone who found appeal in the brutality of the Taliban. But neither can I ignore the very real tragedy of this uniquely modern story. Eventually, I think, John Walker Lindh deserves our mercy.

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