An Inclusive Litany

12/12/01

Louis Freedberg, in a column titled "A product of Bay Area culture" in the San Francisco Chronicle, December 7, 2001, defends John Walker, a United States citizen who took up arms with the Taliban against American-allied forces.
[B]efore rushing off to charge him with treason, let's consider how the 20-year-old Walker found himself in his bizarre predicament....

Until his latest detour, his journey for self-discovery had not been that different from those of many other young people in the Bay Area....

[W]hen he came up with a plan to go to Yemen to study Arabic, [his parents] didn't tell him to get a life (or a job). "He was really into this thing, but he was an 18-year-old then, so we just sort of smiled and accepted where he was going," a family friend said....

The Bay Area is also a place that encourages critical thinking about the U.S. role in the world. That may have played a part in his vulnerability to the Taliban's extreme propaganda.

Walker's misfortune is that his search for identity intersected precisely with the World Trade Center attacks, and the U.S. declaration of war against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

With a slightly different turn of events, Walker might have become the idealistic doctor he once talked about, in order to help the poor in developing countries. Then we would have been celebrating his achievements, instead of wondering what went wrong.

Charging Walker with treason would mean showing him less compassion than Taliban fighters who are being welcomed with open arms by Northern Alliance fighters, or Pakistani fighters who were flown back to their villages with tacit U.S. approval.

Instead of labeling him a traitor, as we did to Aaron Burr, Tokyo Rose and Ezra Pound, President Bush should allow Walker's parents to fly him back to Fairfax, 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.

Glenn Sacks in the Chronicle, December 9:
Those willing to sacrifice for their beliefs deserve respect—even if what they believe in is foolish. As a teenager, American Taliban fighter John Phillip Walker gave up a comfortable life in Marin County and traveled halfway around the world to put his life on the line for his religious convictions. How many of us are that courageous?
More from the Las Vegas Sun, December 12, 2001:
Others [in his hometown] say they are understanding—even proud—of the boy whose path of personal growth eventually led him to Afghanistan. And they reject the notion that ideals of tolerance and open-mindedness caused the boy to roam too far afield.

"I don't think it's a big deal for young people to have weird ideas," said Nahshon Nahumi, who repairs hot tubs in the hills above the home of Walker's mother. "My concern is more for his well-being, to help him recover."

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