Allah and the Taliban at Yale
Whatever the story with Columbia's new faculty member and misdirected email, it's certainly been overshadowed by recent events at Yale. As various and sundry have been reporting, Yale decided to admit Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, a former sort-of-ambassador of the Taliban, as a "special student." The predictable outrage shows no signs of quieting. Considering the situation this evening, two thoughts struck me. The first was a memory of Amy Lamboley's reaction to a comparison of Bush and the Taliban:
What bothers me most about the suggestion here that the Bush administration is equivalent to the Taliban is not that the comparison is unfair to Bush et. al., it is that it is unfair to the Taliban.
What made the Taliban a vile, despicable regime whose death went entirely unlamented was not the fact that they wished to enforce certain religious norms upon the population, but rather the brutally extreme measures to which they were willing to go in order to achieve that goal.
No question there. Buddha-busting throwbacks to the Dark Ages, Mr. Hashemi used to flack for folks whose idea of a good time was peeling off women's fingernails and tipping walls onto homosexuals.  No wonder these freaks didn't like religions that believed in reincarnation: such thoughts must be profoundly uncomfortable for the spiritual descendants of Torquemada who somehow misplaced his fashion sense. ("Our chief weapons are suprise, fear and a fanatical devotion to grubby-looking clerics in eyepatches!")
And then the second thought: what was Yale thinking? When millions of Afghanistani citizens could use a first-rate education, they're giving tuition subsidies to a former mouthpiece of the mullahs, ecstatic that they clutched to their busom a pre-renaissance man. (Apparently they were worried he might get scooped by Harvard.) What could this guy possibly have to offer? What could possibly be worth the inevitable--and justifiable--PR hit?
Then the answer hit me. Staring up at me from my desk was a copy of Thank You for Smoking, Christopher Buckley's tale of a lovably devious spinmeister for the tobacco industry. When the protagonist Nick Naylor gets a bit down, one of his best friends and fellow sin-lobbyists tries to pick him up:
"Heyy," Polly said, taking him by the shoulder, "Where's the old Neo-Puritan dragon slayer? Where's the guy I used to know who could stand up in a crowded theater and shout, 'There's no link between smoking and disease'?" . . . [S]he was right. You want an easy job? Go flack for the Red Cross.
Well forget Big Tobacco: Hashemi used to do spin control for sadistic fundamentalist freaks to whom John Yoo's torture memos would seem less strained legal guidance than light foreplay. And maybe that's the answer. We all know that Yale is an institution in constant pursuit of excellence: maybe they were just trying to snag the very best.
: Note to Yale: weren't some of you willing to go to the Supreme Court over don't ask, don't tell? Are the Taliban somehow more acceptable because they did ask?