It ain't easy being Taliban-American — Earlier this evening I saw John Walker's dad, Frank Lindh, on CNN. He was barely composed. He said John was a good kid. He pleaded for Americans to be merciful. I wonder if we will be. He's not the only Taliban-American. Apparently there are now three. (By the way… John grew up partly in, yes, Montgomery County, MD.)
My conjecture is that Frank will get much of the sympathy he wants for his son. One of the repellent parts of war is the way it seems to compel us to define an “other” — a them to our us — considered part of the same species only by courtesy. Seeing an American kid among the Other screws with the categories that dictate our sympathies. Is he us or them? Do I hate him or feel sorry for him. Additionally, it shows that there is a psychological path from us to them, that there is a continuity, not a categorical divide. If we want to consider ourselves human, we may have to consider them human too. What then?
Though I do think John will get a fair amount of sympathy, it would be perverse to give it to him while witholding it from other Taliban fighters. For John is more culpable by leaps and bounds for his association with the Taliban than the natives, for he made a series of explicit, conscious decisions within the context of a plurality of open alternatives unavailable to most Afghans.
Those kids “educated” in Taliban madrassah, rocking back and forth chanting the Koran — they should elicit our sympathy. Sympathy for lives permanently stunted by mandatory fanatical mysticism. They don't have many options, aren't aware of most of the options they do have, and have been educated to despise any option that might really make them better off.
But John Philip Walker Lindh, aka Abdul Hamid, a kid from Maryland and California, knew what he was doing when he read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and converted to Islam. He knew what he was doing when he moved to Yemen to study Arabic. He knew what he was doing when he joined a Pakistani madrassah. And he knew what he was doing when he joined the Taliban to become a jihadi. That's not a lifestyle choice we can approve of. And if he fucked himself up because it, that's not something we should feel sorry for.