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Contentions

From Hemingway to the Taliban

While it has been increasingly difficult to follow the reasoning of the editors of the New York Times, the paper’s decision to publish Frank R. Lindh’s defense of his son, Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh in Saturday’s edition must rank as one of the most bizarre in recent memory.

Entitled “Bin Laden’s Gone. Can My Son Come Home?” the elder Lindh argues that the killing of the Al Qaeda leader ought to lead to a general amnesty for all whose crimes are connected with the war on terror and its main front in Afghanistan. Lindh believes his son, captured under arms while fighting with the Taliban against allied forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for aiding the Taliban, has suffered enough.

Any parent’s grief should be respected, but the attempt to portray someone who went to Afghanistan purposefully to fight on behalf of one of the world’s most repressive regimes as “idealistic” is beyond absurd. In one of the most idiotic lines published not only in that newspaper but any publication, Lindh asserts that his son’s decision is in the tradition of those who went to Spain in the 1930s to fight fascism: “Like Ernest Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War, John had volunteered for the army of a foreign government battling an insurgency.”

Let’s parse that sentence.

First, if there were any literate editors on duty at the paper when this atrocity was processed, they should have remembered that Hemingway did not fight for the Loyalists in Spain, he merely wrote about those who did. Hemingway did volunteer to fight for a foreign government, but it was for Italy 20 years earlier during World War One—a different war and a different novel; A Farewell to Arms(1929), not For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).

Second, given that most of those Americans who did volunteer to fight for the Republicans in Spain were Communists, you could argue that they did have something in common with a person who supported another, albeit religion-based totalitarian regime like that of the Taliban.

But that aside, it must be understood that the allusion here is to the general belief that those who fought Franco believed they were fighting for freedom. But John Walker Lindh was not, as his father disingenuously claims, seeking to defend Afghan civilians against terrorists from the Northern Alliance. He was defending a government that tortured and killed its own people in the name of his Muslim faith, not to mention virtually imprisoning its entire female population.

More to the point, far from an innocent “soldier” of the Taliban, his son also appears to have taken part after his capture in a prison rebellion in which Lindh’s comrades killed an American CIA officer named Johnny Spann. While Lindh cites Rudy Giuliani’s belief that his son was a traitor as an example of over-the-top prejudicial rhetoric, the truth is that Lindh’s actions actually do fit the constitutional definition of that crime: “levying War against them [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

Lindh is no scapegoat for 9/11. He is a traitor and was lucky to receive a relatively light sentence. There was nothing romantic or idealistic about his actions. And bin Laden’s death neither diminishes Lindh’s own crimes nor ends the ongoing war that his Taliban and Al Qaeda friends are still waging against the West. That the Times would allow even his father to so obscure the truth in this matter speak volumes not only about their editors’ poor judgment but the paper’s level of discomfort with American efforts to fight back against Islamist terror.


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