John Leo

A: Ricki, in an American context, the Taliban might look a bit authoritarian. But remember, in a group where control is shared by all, you have a facilitative climate that empowers every person. An organic flow is created with individuals living together in an ecologically related fashion. The locus of choice still resides in each person, yet as awareness expands, intuitively the community choice becomes a shifting consensus expressing each individual choice, just like the sap rising and falling in a tree when conditions make one direction or the other appropriate. I believe the women of the Taliban understand this even more clearly than the men.

Q: I see ...

Strategy has been complicated by the revelation that Walker isn't just a confused adolescent who drifted into the Taliban army. He is a graduate of a terrorist training camp. This may be hard to handle:

Q: John, many of us respect your personal quest, but what about the terrorist training? Help us with that.

A: It was a shock to me too, Geraldo. Imagine my surprise when I learned that my training wasn't just civil defense. It was a proactive course in blowing up buildings and people! Thank heaven our troops intervened before I was pushed into that sort of stuff. I think your viewers know that I stand for spiritual fulfillment and personal growth, not explosions.

The probable strategy is to portray Walker as a gentle, not-too-bright soul who really isn't responsible since he may have been brainwashed. This calls for the "mistakes were made" admission. Since Phil Donahue retired, the best place for the 20-minute redemption and absolution is Oprah's show:

Q: John, you have outlined for us the honest errors you made along the path you chose. Admitting this must have been painful.

A: It was, Oprah, but my pain isn't the issue. The important thing, as you say, is honesty. If we level with ourselves, we keep growing as persons. This is what I stand for, and if I'm punished for that, so be it.

Q: Audience, what about that?

(Wild applause. Fade to commercial.)

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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