American Taliban draws outrage, mercy

Thursday, December 13, 2001

SAN ANSELMO, Calif. -- In this wealthy bastion of hot-tub liberalism, where aging hippies encourage their children to embark on spiritual journeys, there is a mixture of outrage and mercy for the young neighbor whose odyssey led him to the Taliban.

Many here, as elsewhere, see 20-year-old John Walker as a traitor deserving of the death penalty.

"He gave us up, he gave up on his country," said Don Jackson, a butcher at the gourmet Wild Oats Market who thinks Walker should be exiled. "I think the young man's pretty much doomed. There's no way his parents could save him from this."

Others 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."

Walker surrendered near the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where he was caught in a prison uprising in late November. He is being held at a U.S. military camp, and has apparently been providing useful information to American authorities. No final decision had been made on his fate.

Wearing robes

An intelligent but introverted teen-ager who wore full-length robes in high school and asked his family to call him "Suleyman," Walker had an intense interest in Islam that was encouraged by his Buddhist mother and Irish Catholic father.

They paid for his trip to Yemen to study the Quran, worried privately when he spoke of searching for a "pure Islamic state," then lost track of him altogether after he left a religious school in Pakistan to become a "foreign Taliban," fighting against the northern alliance in Afghanistan.

His parents, Marilyn Walker, who has worked as a nurse, and Frank Lindh, a corporate lawyer, separated several years ago. Through the office of their attorney, James Brosnahan, they declined comment for this story.

But emotions are high among the many people following Walker's story. In one unscientific Internet poll on the San Francisco Chronicle's Web site, 60 percent of the 2,038 respondents said he should be executed.

"Neither his American citizenship nor his small legion of U.S. sympathizers can bail him out of this predicament," the Chronicle wrote in an editorial last week that called Walker "the enemy."

Tamiscal High School, where Walker graduated early from an independent studies program, was lampooned as a "rotting, stinking, left-wing" place by syndicated radio host Michael Savage in San Francisco.

"There's a mentality of subversion in Marin that the children are generally raised with," Savage said Wednesday.

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