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Johnny Jihad: Stupidity is not a defense

By Alan Caruba
web posted February 11, 2002

John Walker Lindh
Walker Lindh

There's an old saw that ignorance of the law is no defense and to that we should also add that stupidity is no defense either. In the case of John Walker Lindh, newly shorn of his Taliban beard and long, unkempt hair, stupidity will likely put him in jail for a very long time.

The first level of stupidity was that of his parents who allowed their child, at the age of 16, to travel to Yemen in order to continue his studies of Islam. In America, we allow people to practice any religion they want, but we are also required to exercise jurisdiction over minor children.

Lindh's parents apparently thought religion was more a matter of fashion than faith. You can put on anything that looks good. His mother is reputedly a Buddhist and his father is Catholic. Having no discernible attachment to their own beliefs, letting an immature child seize upon Islam as some magic instrument was not only acceptable, but excuse enough to let him travel halfway across the globe to pursue his studies. Stupidity is perhaps a kind explanation for such bizarre behavior.

Lindh's choice of Islam may just have initially been the appeal of something exotic and foreign, but Islam offers something that few Western religions do. It offers absolute certainty. The Koran is said to be the word of Allah and immutable. For a child of divorced parents, living in the la-la land of California, such certainty must surely have had a great attraction.

Islam is a conquering faith that does not accept the validity of any other religion. It exists to capture the mind and soul of its adherents and promises death to those who resist. For an idealistic youth, adrift between the religions of his parents, there is a lot of comfort in knowing you possess the one true faith and that it calls you to do battle with those who will not accept it.

Lindh's acceptance by the Muslims in Yemen and, thereafter, in Afghanistan, gave him a new family. That is perhaps one of the most overlooked factors in his development. Here was an American who was embraced by Arabs who saw him as a brother. His emails to his parents revealed he easily shed any loyalty to the country of his birth.

"I really don't know what your big attachment to America is all about," he wrote while traveling the Middle East. "What has America ever done for anybody?" Thus, we add a new level of stupidity to his actions because, anyone who has passed through even elementary school classes should surely have learned something about the freedoms inherent to and protected by our system.

"In the summer of 2001, John Walker Lindh swore allegiance to jihad after being told that Osama bin Laden had sent fifty people to carry out multiple suicide operations against the United States and Israel," said Attorney General John Ashcroft when he announced the ten-count indictment against Lindh. He went on to say, "It is extraordinary for the United States to have to charge one of its own citizens with aiding and conspiring with international terrorist groups whose agenda is to kill Americans. Today marks an important step in securing justice for John Walker Lindh."

Lindh's lawyers have a thankless job, but it is one that our system demands. Anyone accused of a crime in this nation is entitled to a vigorous defense. It is the strength of our system that we require that the accused by held innocent until proven guilty. I predict that his lawyers will ultimately argue Lindh was brainwashed. I predict his ultimate, final defense will be that he joined a cult, that he was the victim of mind control.

This argument has already been advanced by FACTNet.Inc, a group that exposes cults and mind control. "It does not make sense to Americans that John Walker Lindh should be found amongst the Taliban and, seemingly, willing to take up arms against fellow Americans. Unless he is seen in the more probable and logical context that he is a victim of modern mind control and cult techniques."

This argument fails when we consider the revelations that at least two high ranking members of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation turned out to be spies for the former Soviet Union and present-day Russian Republic. They both made a conscious decision to turn against their fellow Americans, though more out of greed than ideology.

Lindh's decisions, it can and should be argued, were voluntary in the sense that his allegiance to the United States was negligible at best and the opportunity to live out his adolescent dreams offered by Al-Qaida and the Taliban were irresistible. People his age pledge allegiance to the flag every day in schools across this land and, if they join our military, they take an oath to protect our Constitution at ages comparable to his choice to join the Taliban.

"In these public trials much good could be done by narrowing in the public's mind our targeting of 20,000 terrorists in mind control cults that can be deprogrammed...," says the FACTNet January newsletter. This reduces the enormity of their past and potential crimes to mere mental aberrations, easily changed with some form of counseling. It trivializes events such as the Holocaust as examples of mind-control through propaganda.

There are cults in this world and they do exercise control over their followers, but those people who give themselves over to these cults make certain clear choices in doing so.

I will leave it to the courts to sort out the facts of his guilt or innocence, but that he is the son of two stupid parents who made stupid choices is obvious. They permitted and funded his journey to foreign lands and foreign peoples, some of whom hold strange and extremely dangerous beliefs.

As for John Walker Lindh, while his youth might explain away his initial attraction to these beliefs, it cannot excuse his failure to put the safety of the lives of his countrymen first among his priorities. Those who are willing to die for al-Qaida, for jihad, must face a justice that places a priority on life and opposes a martyrdom based on killing those who resist their beliefs.

Alan Caruba is the author of "A Pocket Guide to Militant Islam" and writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center.

Other related articles: (open in a new window)

  • I was (almost) John Walker by Glenn Sacks (February 4, 2002)
    Mystified as to why a middle class kid from the United States would join the Taliban? Glenn Sacks has an idea. He nearly was John Walker two decades ago
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