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Jewish World Review Jan. 7, 2002/ 23 Teves 5762

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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A terrorist is a terrorist, but a son is a mama's boy

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- OSAMA "Sammy" bin Laden. Richard "Shoe-bomber" Reid. John Walker "Suleyman" Lindh. Zacarias Moussaoui.

From the world's most wanted criminal to the strange boy from Marin County, Calif., these men are all related in some way to our deepest fear and our most horrible memory. Terrorists - or suspected wannabes - all, they also have one other thing in common that one can't help noting with a degree of sympathetic irony.

They all have mamas who love them anyway.

Osama's mama, Alia, doesn't believe her son killed all those people in New York and Washington, or that he is responsible for any other dastardly acts against humanity. But if he is, well, let Allah be the judge.

According to a Saudi paper, she's "satisfied with him as any mother would be with her children because he was obedient to her."

Too bad Alia didn't tell him: "No terrorism, Sammy, no, no, no."

Richard Reid, the 28-year-old would-be shoe-bomber who looks surprised to find himself wherever he is, has a mother who looks incongruously familiar. A blondish, fair-skinned Brit, the sort who might be fun to quaff an ale with, she seems an unlikely cradle-rocker to this dark, wild-eyed Islamist.

Reid, aka Abdel Rahim, may have been a troubled lad, involved in a string of street crimes, but he's still Lesley's son. If he did what authorities claim he did, she says, brainwashing must have been involved.

Then there's Zacarias Moussaoui. Like the shoe-bombing suspect, he studied at the Brixton Mosque. Unlike the reportedly upbeat, enthusiastic Reid, he was a sourpuss, always talking about jihad this, jihad that, according to Abdul Haqq Baker, mosque chairman.

To date, Moussaoui is the only person charged in the United States with conspiracy for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, his mama loves him. Aicha el-Wafi flew from Paris to Washington recently to ensure that her son get a fair trial. He may not be innocent, she says, but she's on his side anyway.

Finally, John-John the Talib-man's mother, Marilyn Walker, defends what she and the lad's father, Frank Lindl, view as their son's youthful indiscretion. "We love John. He's our son and like any parents, we're going to support him through this," they said in a statement soon after John Walker's capture in Afghanistan.

Walker more than the rest has piqued American interest, probably because he is one of us, as well as invited more criticism. His treacherous act of fighting alongside an American enemy has earned and deserves our enmity. But more to the point, many Americans, including a few pundits, have been quick to condemn his parents for "allowing" him to become a radical Islamic.

A vacuum always fills itself, and John Walker's upbringing in liberal Marin County - an open atmosphere reputedly conducive to self-expression - left lots of room for other air. His parents apparently encouraged Walker's teenage conversion to Islam and weren't alarmed when he began wearing long robes to school and signing Internet chat-group messages, "Salaam, Prof. J."

Creative boys will be, um, creative. You have to wonder, though, do Alia, Aicha, Lesley, Frank 'n Marilyn ever sit down over a stiff Chardonnay and say, "Did we do something wrong here? Were we good enough parents?"

Unraveling the psychology of these dangerous grown-up boys will make interesting reading for the next several years. Meanwhile, most parents who've passed through their sons' adolescence have learned this much: You can do everything right, read all the child-rearing books, say prayers at bedtime, dress them warmly, praise their good works, massage the little self-esteems and say "I love you" last thing every time they walk out the door. And still, stuff happens.

Most of us survive parenthood without producing a terrorist, but boys let loose in a seductive culture are vulnerable. I've always been haunted by and am reminded now of the scene in Francis Ford Coppola's movie, "The Conversation," in which the lead female character notes the bums sleeping on park benches.

"Every time I see one of those old guys, I always think the same thing," she says. "I always think that he was once somebody's baby boy."

So, too, the terrorist. As a fellow mama, I'm reluctant to judge those who love, believe in and forgive their once-baby boys. When it comes to parenting, hard work is critical, but luck is huge. There but for loads of it goes one of our own.


JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.

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