Progressive parents have done it again. They’ve unleashed their progeny on us. The breezy bubbleheads that gave us the prototype schoolyard mass murderer, whose petulance and sense of entitlement led him to pump his peers with lead, the same sort of loopy parents have again handed us their life’s work – a son who joined the Taliban.
I speak of the parents of John Walker, alias Abdul Hamid. The wounded 20-year-old American was picked up by U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan. Walker was a combatant, fighting for the Taliban; although, to listen to his dad Frank Lindh, you get the impression that Walker is nothing but a sweet kid, returned from a summer camp gone terribly wrong.
As gleaned from a typical Larry King stump interview, the boy’s ordeal was the end stage, the culmination of a process that was indulged, even facilitated, by the parents. Incidentally, if Larry King found the unflappable father’s narrative bizarre or in anyway jarring, he was not letting on. But it is arguable whether Larry King is indeed truly alive. In any case, it is instructive to trace the warp and woof of a permissive upbringing.
Walker had converted to Islam when he was 16. The dropout who was named for John Lennon was not content with confining himself to a mosque in San Francisco or merely practicing the rituals of Islam. With the “blessings” of his Catholic father and Buddhist mother, he traveled to Yemen to study Arabic.
At this stage, no bells went off for Mr. and Mrs. Bozo. They were wholly supportive of Abdul’s “spiritual quest,” allowing the boy to journey to Pakistan for, ostensibly, Islamic scholarly pursuit.
“Other than a kid who … had converted to a religion that” dad respected, “and that seemed very healthy and good for him,” Mr. Lindh seemingly saw no reason to exercise parental propriety. Dodo dad concedes that he would like right now to give sonny boy “a little kick in the butt for not telling” him “what he was up to.” A bit late for that, dad.
Surprisingly, the beatific Frank Lindh was not clutching a pseudo-parchment of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” as he spoke to King. Lindh’s ideas about parenting echo the silly riffs delivered in this obscure text; words that became – and seemingly still are – a catechism for the progressive parent and his hip children:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
The questionable wisdom of the child-centered school of parenting lingers in every cultural crevice: The public – and private – schools, the mental health expert’s rooms, and the media. Accordingly, formative figures are no more than facilitators, catalysts for “growth,” blah, blah. A hangover from Rousseau’s noble savage concept animates a vision of the child as a primordial, naturally-good being, and a spontaneous learner. If left to his own devices, and if allowed freedom from adult poisoning – the child will interact with his environment, and in time glean the necessary moral and intellectual lessons. Unconditional love is his only requirement.
The self-esteem talisman is another creation of the progressive parent and pedagogue. Every child, irrespective of his qualities and abilities, must be helped to develop a self-esteem that borders on the gargantuan. There is a price to pay for encouraging in kids a Nietzchean celebration of self. We now know that inflated self-esteem, the kind that is frankly endemic among Americans, is associated with the psychopathic behavior we have come to see erupt regularly in schools and other arenas.
Then there is the exculpatory “It Takes a Village” wisdom. The official literati and assorted “progressives” have collectivized the responsibility for “Our Children,” to use Hillary Clinton’s confiscatory term. Consequently, parents behave as if Taliban toddlers or schoolyard murderers just land on you, courtesy of some amorphous social force.
Predictably, Walker’s father deflects from his role in his son’s downfall. Hinting that the young man was brainwashed or that he was non compos mentis, Mr. Lindh ventured that Abdul, alias John, should be “debriefed by the government,” and then sent home.
Shirking responsibility for laissez-faire parenting is one thing, but attempting to shield the young man from facing the consequences of his choices is quite another. Walker’s actions were premeditated and volitional. While we are certainly shaped by an upbringing – we are not determined by it. The ability to exercise a measure of free will in practically every contingency in life is what separates human beings from animals, whose actions are instinctive.
John or Abdul made his choices. He must pay the price. Hopefully, moral communities will also find a way to hold accountable parents who spawn such feral creatures and unleash them to their midst.
To sum, if your kid comes home with a cap, a Koran, and a prayer mat tucked under his arm, don’t pal around. Thank your lucky charms it isn’t a broomstick and a Wicca wand that the youngster yearns for, but drop the ever-so-mod habit of paraphrasing the child’s every utterance and quit extending him assorted Socratic invitations to respond.
Tell the adored personage that, in my case, “we are Westerners, Jewish, to be precise. So long as you live on mommy’s property, you will respect this fact. No, you cannot worship at a nearby mosque, and no, so long as I pay your way, the University of Medina is not going to be your alma mater.” You explain to your cherub that it is natural for impressionable youth to romanticize unknown beliefs. You tell her that because of her youth, this temporary infatuation may lead her down a dangerous path, and that it is your duty as a parent to guide her.
At all times keep a firm grip on reality.
Despite President Bush’s assurances, I’ve been disabused of any notion that the practitioners of Islam are of a peaceful disposition. The sample of Muslims, religious leaders included, that is engaging in barbaric flummery is simply too large and too representative to be coincidental. Heck, look at Yusuf Islam, formerly a peaceful lyricist who went by the name of Cat Stevens. Stevens gave up his career to serve the prophet Muhammad. Soon after his “peaceful” metamorphosis, we find Mr. Islam giving the thumbs up to Ayatollah Khomeini for issuing a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, author of “Satanic Verses.” OK, turncoat Cat now occupies himself harmlessly by composing “A’s for Allah” tunes for kiddies. Still, calling for the head of an author for offending Islam is not very nice, nor peaceful.
The letter and spirit of Islam evades us: Some scholars vouch for the faith’s peacefulness; others controvert it. Mindful of this, parents should avoid blessing a sudden run by a son on the Islamic seminary or extracurricular trips to view the stalactites and stalagmites of the Afghan caves. Safer to stick with Sunday or Hebrew school.
©2001 By Ilana Mercer
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