- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 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 has 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 has led him to Afghanistan. And they reject the notion that ideals of tolerance and open-mindedness have 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 apparently has been providing useful information to American authorities. No final decision had been made on his fate.
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 Koran, 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 had 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. Mr. Savage thinks Walker should be tried in Afghanistan, and either executed or jailed for life.
"There's a mentality of subversion in Marin [County] that the children are generally raised with," Mr. Savage said Wednesday. "Here's an extreme example of what can happen with this loose permissive upbringing."
Principal Marcie Miller said the competitive school remains proud of Walker as well as its other students, who tend to be self-directed.
Mercy seems to be the message among many others in Marin County, where chain stores, neckties and non-organic coffee are shunned, and people who aren't fortunate enough to telecommute disappear into million-dollar homes after battling the Golden Gate Bridge traffic from San Francisco each evening.
Chip Gow, an investment manager from Kentfield who stopped at a bakery with his 5-year-old son, objected to the idea that the community's values sealed Walker's fate.
"It's nonsense that the attitudes prevalent here give rise to Taliban warriors," said Mr. Gow, adding that he wants his son to be open-minded. "I strongly believe in this sort of citizen-of-the-world notion."
Walker was drawn to Islam as early as 14 years old. In Internet chat-group messages he signed in 1995, he was quoting Malcom X and ranting about hip-hop lyrics. He began asking questions about Islam, and within a couple of years he was berating Zionists and signing his posts, "Salaam, Prof. J."
He began attending prayers at the Islamic Center of Mill Valley as one of the few white people at the mosque, said friend and fellow worshipper Abdulla Nana, who knew him as Suleyman.
The mosque was not a place for political discussion, said Mr. Nana, 23, an Indian American raised in Marin County who shied away from questions about the morality of Walker's involvement with the Taliban.
"As a friend and as a person who cares for Suleyman, I hope he can come back to his friends and family. Whether he has done something wrong is not for me to say," Mr. Nana said. "Really, God determines. God will judge a person's actions in the hereafter.

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