by | Dec 23, 2001 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Parents should love their children, no matter what, so I understand when the mother and father of John Walker say “he must have been brainwashed” to be fighting with the Taliban, that he is basically a “sweet, shy boy.”

The problem is that a lot of sweet, shy boys were killed Sept. 11. And a lot of sweet, shy boys now are fighting half a world away because Osama bin Laden, the zealot whom John Walker followed, decided to attack this country.

There are a lot of sweet, shy boys not coming home for Christmas. And John Walker, in his small, contributory way, is responsible.

So he deserves his parents’ sympathy, but not ours. And in light of new attempts last week by Walker’s lawyer, James Brosnahan, to paint his client in a more empathetic light — making sure photos of John as a cheerful American youth get to the media, for example — let’s keep a few things in mind here.

The first is, although Walker was willing to hold a gun to an American’s head, nobody, when this all started, held a gun to his.

Trained with Al Qaeda fighters

He left a cushy life in the San Francisco suburbs to “find himself” in the Muslim culture. By that point, he had already had a dubious life on the Internet, posing at times as a black man critical of white culture.

In high school, he asked for his name to be listed as Suleyman Al-Lindh. He did this with his parents’ knowledge. His father, in fact, encouraged his devotion to Islam.

Walker left home at 18, went to Yemen to study Arabic, then traveled to northwest Pakistan, where he studied Islam and embraced Taliban supporters. He traveled to Afghanistan to train with Al Qaeda fighters. He was funded by and fought for bin Laden.

In other words, this is not some kid who got off a bus in Kabul, got clubbed over the head and woke up in a training camp, groggy and drugged. He made choices every step of the way. And finally, his choice was jihad. Holy war.

The enemy was us.

Where exactly does the sympathy start?

Martyrdom could have been arranged

Walker, who was captured after the Mazar-e-Sharif prison uprising, told a CNN reporter that jihad was “exactly what I thought it would be.” When asked if he was fighting for the right cause, he said “definitely.”

He made no attempt to apologize, no plea for his parents to forgive him, no claims of being confused.

On the contrary, he was a 20-year-old man who spoke English with an Arabic accent — something I have a hard time accepting, since he lived here until he was 18 — and he said he was “100 percent sure” he had been on his way to Islamic martyrdom.

That could have been arranged.

The American forces could have looked the other way, let the Northern Alliance administer its own unique justice. What is that? One Northern Alliance soldier answered the question by pulling his finger across his throat.

But because Walker is American — no matter how much he might despise it — he has received medical treatment, been flown out of the country and will get some sort of trial. Whether for treason or a lesser charge, it is more than his jihad brothers will get.

It is more moments alive than the Sept. 11 victims have.

It is more time on Earth than Mike Spann, the CIA agent killed in the prison uprising, gets to enjoy.

And it might be more than Walker deserves. You leave this country, take up arms and fight against us, you are, in my book, as much an enemy as any foreigner could be.

No matter how understandably your mom and dad defend you.

“To think that John has no idea his family is sending him love,” his parents said after learning a letter they gave the Red Cross a few weeks ago had yet to reach him. “It’s very painful.”

Yeah. There’s a lot of that going around.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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