- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

This was treason, not idealism

So what if John Phillip Walker Lindh, a.k.a. "Abdul Hamid" and "Sulayman al-Lindh," does bear a passing resemblance to Tom Cruise grubbed up as Ron Kovic in "Born on the Fourth of July." It's still a good thing that the Arab intellectuals who recently gathered in Cairo under the auspices of the Arab League "to improve Islam's image" didn't make Mr. Lindh the poster boy for their make-over movement. Mr. Lindh, a Marin County convert who joined the Taliban to help build "a true Islamic state" in Afghanistan, looks like any other Islamic hijacker I mean, hijacker of Islam and, as such, is one of Islam's biggest problem children.

Or is he? As these Arab notables would have it, the question before the Islamic world is not how to pry that peaceable religious tradition we keep hearing about from the defiling grasp of militants like Mr. Lindh, but rather, as the New York Times paraphrased it, how to combat "what they called Islamaphobia a Western fear of Islam." According to this somewhat exotic perspective, the problem is not so much that Koranically inspired "martyrs" tend to blow people up in New York and Jerusalem, but that Westerners are afraid of being blown up. Can't wait to see the "action plan" the conference will offer Arab League leaders in Beirut next March.

Meanwhile, what to do with 20-year-old Mr. Lindh? Son of a Catholic father and a Buddhist mother, this young Muslim (and multiculturalist's dream) recently emerged with his Taliban and al Qaeda brethren from the flooded basement of a 19th-century fortress in Northern Afghanistan after a week-long rebellion that left hundreds dead including CIA officer Mike Spann.

Now what? Is Mr. Lindh a prisoner-of-war? Unclear. As an American citizen, he is ineligible to come before the kind of military tribunal President Bush has established. If he has renounced his citizenship and, having already voiced support for both the September 11 assault on America and the attack on the USS Cole, he might as well have done so this Taliban fighter could be turned over to the Northern Alliance and tried in Afghanistan as a war criminal. More than likely, he'll remain in American hands, ultimately facing one or more of an array of sedition charges, chief among them treason. All of these charges, by the way, are commonly dealt with considerably more severely than the "little kick in the butt for not telling us where he was" that his father considers just punishment for joining a foreign army to kill Americans.

First things first: Mr. Bush should stop calling Taliban John a "poor fellow." Showing sympathy may make the president feel the warmth of his own magnanimity and, in this tough time, it's hard to begrudge him that but after the flicker has faded, John Walker Lindh is still not a "poor fellow." He's a traitor and must face the consequences of his treachery. That means the guy should have to answer for his contemptible actions by looking justice in the eye not by sinking into a legalistic limbo of phony victimhood.

Speaking of legalistic limbos of phony victimhood, it's worth noting that just as John Walker Lindh came into public view, another homegrown American terrorist, Sara Jane Olson, all but left it. The well-coifed Minnesota matron and the filthy Taliban soldier may seem to have little in common, but what bonds them is an abiding rage against their country that led both to take arms against it.

And the consequences? It's all over, finally, for Olson, the former Symbionese Liberation Army member. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has refused to allow Olson to withdraw her twice-offered (and twice-recanted) guilty plea on charges of trying to bomb policemen to bits in Los Angeles in 1975. While awaiting sentencing in January, the suburban desperado has already been dealt the cruelest and most unusual punishment of her life: being forced to take responsibility for her actions.

In Olson's day, young revolutionaries suited-up to play at a war they soon tired of. But instead of picking up the pieces and paying for the destruction, they simply moved on. Certainly, that's what Sara Jane Olson did, never dreaming she would have to make amends for what she'd done not even after being captured in 1999. As the 28-year-old bomber turned into a 54-year-old doctor's wife, she may have grown older, but she never grew up.

That's because society never asked her to, having remained ambivalent about whether bomb-throwers such as she were, in fact, terrorists or just "idealistic kids." After September 11, it becomes harder to cling to that same cocoon of indecision, which is something both Sara Jane Olson and Mr. Walker are likely to find out.

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