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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. [1] 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.

[1]: 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?


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As I understand it Hashemi was granted a visa for purposes of study by the US government. Whether or not Yale were wrong to accept him, I don't understand how anyone can possibly view that as more significant than the government's decision on the matter.
He may very well meet the standards for entry under a student visa, actually. (I'm not particularly familiar with those.) The government, after all, has to follow rules promulgated by Congress and executive agencies, and its discretion is quite bounded. Also, the two questions don't address the same issue. The government had to decide whether he was worthy of studying medical records management at a community college. He might pass that standard. This is, however, Yale.
My understanding is that Yale et al. don't apply much in the way of moral standards to their applications process. Harvard rescinded admission after they discovered that Gina Grant had murdered her mother (so she went to Tufts instead), but that's about it. I also got the impression from the NYT Magazine story that made Hashemi's presence public that he's not acting as a cheerleader for the Taliban anymore, but instead working on figuring out how they went off course from what he'd thought were their ideals. Fund's selection of quotes isn't as one-sided as I would think, as the Taliban are in fact not the same as Al Qaeda, and we're unlikely to get far with changing Afghanistan until we grasp that certain aspects of the Taliban regime apparently appealed to quite a few people there.
Would things be better if the Taliban were still in power? "Economically, no. In terms of security, yes. In terms of general happiness, no. In the long-term interests of the country? I don't think so. I think the radicals were taking over and doing crazy stuff. I regret when people think of the Taliban and then think of me — that feeling people have after they know I was affiliated with them is painful to me. When I read that the neo-Taliban are burning girls' schools, I am ashamed."
Of course, maybe he's just spinning for his new audience.
hi, think in this way,if u give a good education to a downtrodden man,won't he make into an individual thinker and would try to emulate the goodness from america into his country the next time when he goes there.I believe fundamentalist can be changed only when we give them good education.
hayagreevan, Mr Hashemi was complicit and a cheerleader for the Taliban's crimes. As an alumni, I am ashamed that Yale admitted him as a student. I was present at Yale when he first showed up (before Sept 2001, and after the Bamiyan demolitions) and spewed hatred of gays,non-muslims and the appropriate suppression of women. I have no sympathy for him and I don't think he deserves this. There are many Afghans who would benefit a lot more from this opportunity and who are not criminals. I get the feeling that he has been sponsored by the USG because of the possibility of future use as a tool with sections of the Afghan populace. Rather like the way they cultivated the Pakistani generals who later constructed the Kashmiri terrorist networks in India.

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