How John Walker became a Taliban

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Dec 10 07:54:25 MST 2001

Walker discovered his passion for Islam online, after sampling other
possibilities. At the age of 14, under the handle “doodoo,” he was visiting
Web sites for hip-hop music with particularly crude raps on sex and
violence. In one e-mail posting, he scorned a critic of hip-hop as a
“worthless d—krider.” In one e-mail at the height of his fascination with
hip-hop, he appeared to pose as an African-American, writing, “Our
blackness should not make white people hate us.” But as he got older, he
veered to a very different direction. He began visiting Islamic Web sites,
asking questions like “Is it all right to watch cartoons on TV or in the
movies?” His family says the turning point may have come at the age of 16
when he read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” which describes the
conversion to Islam of the famous black militant. Some Internet postings
examined by NEWSWEEK show that young Walker soon became pretty militant
himself. In a 1997 message to a hip-hop site, he demanded to know why a
rapper named Nas “is indeed a ‘God’? If this is so,” Walker indignantly
asks, “then why does he smoke blunts, drink Moet, fornicate, and make dukey
music? That’s a rather pathetic ‘god’, if you ask me.” He quizzes an online
correspondent about the Five Percent Nation of Islam—a small North American
sect—about its adherents’ vision of bliss and how to pursue it. “I have
never seen happiness myself,” writes Walker. “Perhaps you can enlighten me
... where I can go to sneak a peek at it.” Selling off his hip-hop CD
collection on a rap-music message board, he converted to Islam.

He began wearing Islamic dress, a long white robe and pillbox hat, and
calling himself Suleyman. His flowing robes raised some eyebrows, even in
Marin County, which is deeply tolerant of almost any form of
self-expression. “It was like watching Jesus Christ walk down the street,”
says a former neighbor. “That’s not your normal Marin attire, unless it’s
purple.” Walker’s parents balked at calling him “Suleyman” (he remained
“John” to them), but they tried to be nonjudgmental, even supportive, about
his conversion. They were “proud of John for pursuing an alternative
course,” says his father. They did not object when he dropped out and took
the high-school-diploma equivalency exam.

At about this time, late 1998, Walker’s parents were splitting up. Frank
went to live with a friend, Bill Jones, and Marilyn moved to a nearby
apartment with young daughter Naomi. Their teenage son became obsessed with
memorizing the Quran and the Sharia, Islam’s elaborate, fixed rules for
living and worship. He became convinced that he needed to go to Yemen
because Yemeni Arabic was the closest to the “pure” language of the Quran.
His parents, though strapped for money because of their separation, agreed
to pay for it. Frank later told NEWSWEEK that he wanted to support his
son’s “passion” and “commitment to learning.” 


Louis Proyect
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