- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

Students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Falls Church, where the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke yesterday about peace, were divided about his would-be peace mission to Afghanistan.

Some students supported Mr. Jackson's efforts to meet with the ruling Taliban, but only if the civil rights leader has the backing of the Bush administration. Others, however, believe Mr. Jackson could compromise a unified front and might not represent the president's views.

President Bush has said he would not negotiate with the Taliban, a military junta of radical Islamic fundamentalists who seized power in Afghanistan in 1996.

"By going there, he may cause more harm than good," said Andrew McAlpine, 17, of Ashburn. "We should be united and decide together what course to take on this issue."

Mr. Jackson announced earlier this week he was considering leading a peace delegation to Afghanistan to urge the Taliban to free eight Christians, including a woman from Northern Virginia, who are being detained on charges they preached their religion, which is not permitted there.

In the past, Mr. Jackson has negotiated the freedom of hostages and detainees in Syria, Cuba and Yugoslavia.

Mr. Jackson, in remarks to reporters before and after his speech to students, said he doesn't want to go, but feels obligated to free the eight persons.

If he decides to go, Mr. Jackson said he would not interfere with Mr. Bush's insistence that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. More than 6,500 people were killed in the attacks.

"Ours is a moral appeal," Mr. Jackson said. "This is not about fights or a contest of superior ideas."

Mr. Jackson's staff called school administrators on Tuesday to ask about giving a speech to the students, school officials said yesterday.

In his speech to the students, who packed the school gym, Mr. Jackson preached about peace and asked the students to pray as he thought about his choice.

"President Bush said we may have to go to war," Mr. Jackson said. "Congress cheered. But members of Congress are exempt from fighting wars. It is the young that must defend our country."

After the speech, some students were angry with Mr. Jackson's comments and with school officials for allowing him to speak.

"His speech was too political and very biased," Andrew agreed. "I think it was unethical for the school to have him here. It was like promoting one thing over another. We didn't have both sides."

Lindsey Lucas, 17, of Fairfax, agreed. "The school was wrong to accept his offer to speak to us," she said.

Some students said Mr. Jackson should talk with the Taliban, but he should do it only with the president's blessing.

"He has shown amazing skills to get hostages free before," said Sarah Wyatt, 17, of Burke. "We should develop a good diplomatic relationship with the Taliban."

"It's for a good cause," said Sonia Torrico, 17, of Springfield. "We shouldn't leave anyone behind."

Ted Gudmundsen, 17, of Great Falls, said it is understandable that the student body is polarized on the subject. He said many students have parents who are in the military and they support going to war.

Ted, who is the school's student government president, said he has mixed emotions about Mr. Jackson's efforts.

"Some communication is better than none, I guess," he said. "But we've also got to think about the risk. He should be very cautious that he doesn't undermine what the country and the administration plans to do."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide