So John Walker Lindh got twenty years. I’ve been fiercely ambivalent about him since his story broke: John, my evil twin brother. There’s a part of me that just wants to feel sympathy for a dumb kid who got in way over his head. When someone makes a mistake, it is good adab to make an excuse for them. When misfortune overwhelms someone, we sympathize by pointing to what was unavoidable about their situation. And certainly what we don’t choose in our life is greater than what we choose. But John, John is just too close for comfort. When he was front page news and they were condemning his poor parents, I couldn’t stop picturing myself in his place. Could I accept someone to say its my parents’ fault I’m a muslim, or because I had an open religious background, or because I was young? How insulting. I just can’t sympathize with John without insulting myself. John put his first foot in the right direction with his shahada. For what came after, he alone will have to account to God and the US Department of Justice.
On a related note, there is an awful tendency I’ve observed to apologize for “muslim” behavior by saying we cannot judge; God judges by intention and we didn’t know the person’s intention. True enough, final judgement is Allah’s alone. But niyyat does not exempt us from the rule of law. A thief who steals to feed his family is still a thief and punishable as such, though God may forgive his sin.
It gets worse.
The first jumah after September 11, the imam at the masjid I attended had the gall to exhort the audience not to judge the hijackers, since we didn’t know their intentions. Astaghfirullah. What intention could they possibly have had?! The feds can go ahead and wiretap the masjids if it’ll mean I don’t have to hear khutbas like that again.