Walker Lindh: From Marin County to Mazar-I-Sharif
By Christian Beenfeldt (East Valley Tribune, July 18, 2002)
It has been about seven months since the Marin County Taliban (John Walker Lindh) was apprehended in Mazar-i-Sharif, sporting an AKM rifle in support of the Taliban regime. Having made a plea bargain for a maximum of 20 years without parole, Walker avoided what would certainly have become a high-profile trial.
Attempting to make sense of the situation, there has already been a flurry of attempts at explaining the paradoxical phenomenon of the arch-liberal boy from the bastion of the anything-goes culture, turned armed defender of one of the world's most backward and oppressive regimes.
Despite the flurry, none of the standard lines of explanation make much sense.
The Liberals--well knowing that Walker grew out of their backyard--attempt to bury the issue of explaining the case, implying that no explanation is possible and that "people just do things." Perhaps Walker is just a "victim" who was "in the wrong place at the wrong time," and who just happened to have been "brainwashed," as his parents have claimed. Expert and lecturer on cults, Rick Ross, chiming in on this view, said in an article in Time that "The Taliban could easily be considered a cult, and Walker simply one of its brainwashed groupies." This, though, is no explanation at all, since Walker independently made a great effort to study and accept certain ideas and values, and acted upon them with clear determination across years. His father described him as a "very committed Muslim boy," a boy who freely stated to CNN that he found his goal of fighting for the Taliban "exactly what I thought it would be." He continued: "I started to read some of the literature of the scholars and the history of the movement. And my heart became attached to them. I wanted to help them one way or another." Hardly the words of someone brainwashed under duress.
As early as October 2000 when the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen, Walker expressed in an e-mail to his father the view that this was a "justified response," clearly implying that he had no problem with terrorism. This was not a baseball-on-Sundays kid, who made a wrong turn at the intersection and found himself in Afghanistan with a Kalashnikov strapped to his back and seven weeks of training in weapons and explosives under his belt. He knew what he wanted and went to get it.
The Republicans--well knowing that Walker grew out of the Liberal's backyard--have had a field day with the issue, aiming some well-deserved blows at the relativism of the Liberal agenda. Yet, beyond that, they are as much in the dark regarding Walker as the Liberals. Just last month, the President remarked that: "religious faith is the moral anchor of American life" and "an incredibly important source of goodness in our country." If so, the devoutly faithful Walker (along with the equally faithful Taliban regime) must be the paradigm of morality and goodness.
Thus, both the Liberals and the Republicans have no more of a clue about Walker than does his father, who was quoted by Newsweek as saying: "I can't connect the dots between where John was and where John is."
Let's proceed to connect the dots for them and for him.
The real answer is that "non-judgmentalism" and "religious values"--i.e. relativism and mysticism--are two sides of the same coin: both deny the possibility of objectivity. To concretize this, let's consider the issue in the realm of ethics.
Relativism holds that all values are equally good, which means that any value you choose is merely an expression of your arbitrary preference, not to be evaluated in any way. This is the point of view that the Walker family exemplified, with their nonjudgmental attitude towards Walker's early affinity for nasty rap music, his later conversion to radical Islam and his decision to move to Yemen, a hotbed of international terrorism. How does a relativist decide what to do? Since every theory of what to do is as good as any other, he just does what he feels like doing.
Mysticism holds that some values are absolutely good and others absolutely bad, but proceeds to defend its values by appeals to authority or revelations, both to be accepted on faith. This makes their values as arbitrary as the ones of the relativists, since they cannot be established by reference to facts, and since you can get an infinite number of opposing authorities and revelations, depending on which of today's thousands of religious directions or sects you happen to stumble upon. How do you decide which faith to have, which revelations to follow and which authority to obey? In short, you feel it. You feel that Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, astrology or whatever, is the right faith for you. Walker himself exemplified the mystic view, with his rebellion against the "freedom" of his upbringing, and his subsequent unquestioning acceptance of the precepts of the Koran, dictating every aspect of his life.
In contrast to both of these, an objective approach to ethics recognizes that values are the means of achieving life. The nature of man--the factual requirements of his survival--determines what is valuable to him. It is not arbitrary preference or mystical dogma but objective fact that determines that the air you breathe in and the food you eat are values to you--and poison is not. Similarly, as Ayn Rand has shown, it is not arbitrary preference or mystical dogma but objective fact that determines that reason, capitalism and industrial civilization are moral values to man--and faith, statism and primitivism are not.
Thus, the paradoxical conversion of the Marin County Taliban--from arch-relativist to arch-mystic--isn't so paradoxical after all. He merely took the other side of the same non-objective coin. What is needed, then, to avoid the Walkers of the future, is the rejection of both relativism and mysticism, and the embracement of the only alternative to both: objectivity.
Christian Beenfeldt, MA in philosophy, is a guest writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand--author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.
For more articles by Christian Beenfeldt, and his bio, click here.
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