An Adversarial Culture

Following the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, John Walker Lindh, also known as Suleyman al-Faris and Abdul Farid, got his 15 minutes of fame the hard way.  Or perhaps it is more proper to say that he was the object of a Two Minutes Hate by many on the right, even as his arrest brought on a knee-jerk defense reflex from many on the left.  Some observers I respect made a case that Lindh/Al-Faris/Farid was not really guilty of treason, as many thought him to be (he eventually was sentenced to 20 years for, according to a CNN report, “supplying services to the Taliban” and fighting against U.S.-backed Northern Alliance forces; a “conspiracy to kill US nationals” charge was dropped), but the question that was barely explored may have been the most important one: Why did an American kid convert to Islam at age 16 and eventually join the Taliban?

Lindh spent his early years in Tacoma Park, Maryland.  His father was a Catholic, working as a government lawyer.  His mother worked in healthcare and became a Buddhist.  John was one of three children, and his parents eventually separated and later divorced.

When John was ten, the family moved to ultraliberal Marin County, California, just north of San Francisco.  John enrolled in what has been described as an “alternative school” for “self-directed students.”  He later told the FBI that he...

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