Hamza Walker Lindh

This is a moving story about Hamza Walker Lindh. It is written by an award winning journalist Tom Junod for Esquire.

He is a better person than you or I. He has gone away, but his story hasn’t, because his story is about something no prison can extinguish. Even in prison, he has a glow, a light on his face. He has a spiritual presence. His list of don’ts stretches further than your list of dos, and his list of dos keeps him occupied in the vast chronological wasteland of prison. He’s very kind. He has no anger, no dark testosteronal currents. He has a sad story to tell, but he doesn’t tell it as a sad story. He is not bitter. He’s funny, in fact. His father, on the lecture circuit now, says that when he visits his son in prison, they sit for five and six hours at a time, talking, laughing. The guards look at them. Not that he’s flippant, a wiseguy. He’s very, very serious. He’s very concerned about the poor–so concerned that he’s lived among them. He’s committed to social justice, though he’s the first to admit that he’s made some bad decisions in that regard. But that’s another thing about him. He never lies. He never changes his story, even when he has every reason to. He’s very consistent, to put it mildly.

If you happen to be a Muslim: Well, he’s a better Muslim than you are, too. If you want to know him–why he did what he did, why he does what he does–all you have to do is open the Koran and read. It’s all there. In Islam, more than in Christianity or Judaism, perfection is a possibility, and that’s what he strives for. Islam has no apparatus for the official recognition of saints, but it has a word, waliyy, that means in the Arabic “one of God’s special slaves.” Well, that’s him. When he went to Yemen in 2000–the trip that took him to Pakistan and Afghanistan and back to America in shackles–he went to memorize the Koran. He got a quarter of the way through before he was captured on December 1, 2001. He finished at the federal prison in Victorville, California, where he lives now. In the Muslim world, that’s not only an honor to him; it’s an honor to his entire family.

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