Many Americans seem to want to put Marilyn Walker and Frank
Lindh on trial along with their son John. However, America
could learn more from what John Walker's parents have done right
than by what they did wrong.
There are four charges commonly leveled at Walker's parents:
Charge #1: They stood by and allowed their son to become deeply
involved in a "violent, anti-American" religion like Islam.
Islam as a whole isn't "violent" or "anti-American" and isn't
much different from Judaism or Christianity--all three proclaim
similar values, such as charity to the poor, belief in and
submission to one God, prayer, etc. Walker's parents no doubt
valued the salutary effects the religion had upon their son--how
it gave him a sense of purpose and self-discipline, and helped
to keep him away from teenage scourges like drugs and alcohol.
taught high school and I know a lot of parents who would have
loved to have seen their troubled sons make the same conversion.
Are John Walker's parents really expected to have anticipated
that Walker would somehow adopt the extreme, pseudo-religious
insanity of the Taliban?
Charge # 2: They encouraged and subsidized their son's descent
by paying for John's now-infamous 1998 trip to Yemen to study
Islam, and later by sending him $1,200 while he was at a
religious school in Pakistan.
Let's look at the situation as it must have appeared to Walker's
parents in 1998. They probably thought, correctly, that travel
is good for young people because it broadens their horizons.
Perhaps they understood that young people who can't travel or
follow their desires often feel stifled and deprived later in
life when they are saddled with families and responsibilities.
Also, it is natural, and even admirable, that John would want to
study his religion in some of the countries where the religion
was deepest and strongest, first in Yemen and then in Pakistan.
Most American parents would be proud of their sons or daughters
if they wanted to travel to Rome to study Catholicism or to
Israel to study Judaism. No doubt Walker's parents were
impressed by their son's dedication and willingness to go to
these lengths (including learning Arabic from scratch) to
practice his religion. They also probably believed that
learning Arabic would be an excellent job skill for him someday.
Charge #3: They caused their son's problems because, like so
many Northern California liberals, they were overly "tolerant"
and they gave their son no values.
This charge is based on the utterly fanciful notion that if
parents firmly implant a moral and political value system in a
child, when that child becomes a teenager he or she will always
follow it instead of rebelling against it.
Charge #4: Even now, when they see what their son did, they
defend him--a clear example of the moral vacuum which caused the
problem in the first place.
Marilyn and Frank are trying to protect their son from a
populace which has prejudged John guilty and is ready to hang
him. What parents wouldn't seek to protect their child?
Walker's parents have weaknesses, like any other parents, but
they also have some important strengths. The biggest of these
is that, although they're divorced, rather than attacking or
carping at each other, they've stood united in defense of the
son they love. In so doing, they set a fine example for the
millions of American parents who selfishly break their
children's hearts by trying to turn their children against the
At each step along the way Walker's parents have tried to deal
with their enigmatic son with intelligence and compassion. Those
who vilify them today have forgotten one of life's most
important lessons--sometimes you do the right thing and it
doesn't work anyway.
This column first appeared in the
Los Angeles Times