In “The new Malcolm X?” by Philip Sherwell in The Telegraph (thanks to JS), we learn that American Taliban John Walker Lindh is a respected figure among Muslims in prison, that he is deeply devout and dedicated to reading the Qur’an, that he is quiet and gentle, and that some see him as having a great future as an American Muslim leader.
It would be interesting to see, in that event, if he renounced any intention to bring Sharia to America — but he probably wouldn’t, because no one in the public sphere would call upon him to do so. And if he doesn’t, then any bridge building and work for social justice that he actually does will only be various forms of da’wa, or the spreading of the Islamic faith. Thus the social justice for which he stands will actually amount to injustice for women and religious minorities.
Lindh, who was given a defence lawyer and taken before an independent civilian court, had pleaded guilty to joining the Taliban and carrying weapons but, in a plea bargain, prosecutors dropped the most serious charge against him, of conspiracy to kill US nationals.
The Islamic convert had attended al-Qaeda training camps and met Osama bin Laden, but denied that he was a member of the terror network responsible for the September 11 attacks on his homeland.
Better known simply as the “American Taliban”, Lindh, now 25, has largely disappeared from public attention since his imprisonment in October 2002, not least because the terms of his incarceration effectively forbid him from communicating with the outside world. But the Sunday Telegraph has now been given the first account of his life behind bars, provided by a former fellow Muslim inmate and the religious counsellor who visits him in prison. They describe a devout, quiet and scholarly figure who has become a spiritual role model for his fellow Muslims. He has even earned the respect of other prisoners who once condemned him as a “traitor”, they said.
This newspaper has also obtained the first prison photograph of Lindh, who goes by the Islamic name of Hamzah. It shows a tall white man, beard down to his chest and wearing a knitted green kufi (prayer cap), standing in the back row of a group of mainly black Muslim inmates who had gathered last November for the Eid celebration that follows the fasting month of Ramadan.
According to Shakeel Syed, his religious adviser, Lindh commands such stature and esteem inside the prison that he is developing into a “softer version” of Malcolm X, the fiery black American Islamic leader who spent much of his life condemning whites as the enemy, only to mellow and preach a message of racial harmony after a pilgrimage to Mecca. “I’ve told Hamzah that he could become the new Malcolm X,” said Mr Syed, the quietly spoken director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. “I’m talking about the later Malcolm X who transcended racist sentiments and nationalism.
“When Hamzah is released, I believe he can become a bridge-builder between faiths and communities, a man who will fight against inequality and for social justice. He smiled at me when I told him that he could play that role in the future, but he is much too modest to say that he agrees.”
It would not be the first time that Malcolm X – who was assassinated in 1965, possibly on the orders of his former allies in the militant black Nation of Islam – has played a significant and inspirational role in Lindh’s life. As a 12-year-old boy, he first became interested in Islam when his mother took him to the Spike Lee movie, Malcolm X. Lindh was particularly taken, she recalled, by the final scene showing Muslims from around the world bowing down to God.
But for the foreseeable future, Lindh’s life will be dictated by the strictures of prison life as well as, in his particular case, the special administrative measures imposed upon him. He is forbidden to talk about events in Afghanistan, to speak Arabic (he was, says Mr Syed, put in solitary confinement for a few days after returning the traditional greeting “salaam wa-alaikum”), to lead prayers or to teach others about Islam. He can receive visits only from his family, lawyer and chaplain.
Like most of the other 70 Muslim prisoners – the majority of whom are black American converts to Islam – Lindh eats the vegetarian diet out of concerns that even non-pork meats have not been prepared to halal specifications. He shares a bunk-bedded cell on the prison’s ground floor with another white convert, and rises before dawn to pray for the first of five times each day. After breakfast, he goes to work in the prison library and education centre, then joins the other prisoners for lunch, before usually retiring to his cell for much of the afternoon to study the Koran and Islamic texts.
Robert Thompson (who goes by the Muslim name of Abdul Raheem), 52, was recently released from Victorville after serving eight years for bank robbery. He knew Lindh for nearly two years and also describes a pious and studious young man who is held in extremely high esteem by other prisoners. “I would safely predict that right now Hamzah is reading the Koran,” he said, during a late-afternoon interview. “I’ve never seen anyone read a book like Hamzah reads the Koran. He’s so quiet and gentle that you often wouldn’t know he’s there.
“He’s a lovely, sweet man. I don’t think that the non-Muslims know what to make of him, but they sure respect him. Some people hassled him and called him a traitor at first, but that’s long gone.”
Asked if Lindh ever expresses regret about how his life has turned out, Thompson laughed. “Of course not. We all know that everything in our lives is decreed by Allah. How can you have regrets when Allah has chosen your path. He tells us not to worry about how others perceive Muslims, that we should just focus on living a good life according to the teachings of the Koran.”