Taliban Ambassador Now Yale Student
Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine profiled Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, a former Taliban leader now enrolled at Yale.
Sometimes walking up College Street, when the bells were ringing in Harkness Tower and the light on the gabled dorms and leafy quads made the whole campus seem part of some Platonic dream, he could almost forget that there were people back home who would be happy to kill him.
His formal introduction to the terrain of the Western mind came in July at the start of the summer term; most of the class of ’09 would not arrive until the fall term. He was glad for the chance to get his bearings. The direction of Mecca he knew from the compass on his watch. For local attractions he had a map of the campus; he got a cellphone, a Yale e-mail account. His student ID card admitted him to lots of campus dining halls, where at first it seemed he was free to choose anything he liked as long as it was pasta. He took to drinking milk with the pasta, but milk didn’t agree with him any more than pasta did, and he dropped 15 pounds over the summer. It wasn’t until the fall that one of his new friends, Fahad, a Pakistani, tipped him off to the kosher meat at Slifka, the Jewish dining hall.
His room was more than he could afford, but he had his hands full with his classes: ENGL 114, Reading and Writing Argument, with Prof. Deborah Tenney; and PLSC 114, Introduction to Political Philosophy, with Prof. Peter Stillman. He got a pair of B’s, and B+’s on papers. (“B positives” he thought they were called.) Because his official education ended in the fourth grade, the marks eased some of his anxiety about passing muster at Yale. He spoke English well, but it was still his fourth language after Pashto, Urdu and Persian and a headache to write even for natives. What he had to learn initially was how to learn. You didn’t have to read everything the professors assigned, but you had to pay close attention to the closing minutes of class, when they recapped material likely to appear on the exam. People thought he was kidding when he asked what the difference was between a test and quiz. Dude, you’re a student at Yale, and you don’t know the difference between a test and a quiz?
How whimsical. Who is this stranger in a strange land? An Afghan diplomat and “roving ambassador” for the Taliban.
John Fund is not amused.
“In some ways,” Mr. Rahmatullah told the New York Times. “I’m the luckiest person in the world. I could have ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Instead I ended up at Yale.” One of the courses he has taken is called Terrorism-Past, Present and Future.
Many foreign readers of the Times will no doubt snicker at the revelation that naive Yale administrators scrambled to admit Mr. Rahmatullah. The Times reported that Yale “had another foreigner of Rahmatullah’s caliber apply for special-student status.” Richard Shaw, Yale’s dean of undergraduate admissions, told the Times that “we lost him to Harvard,” and “I didn’t want that to happen again.”
This reminds me of Jesse Jackson’s oft repeated maxim that it is cheaper to send a kid to Yale than to send him to jail. Still, there’s no reason to think that Rahmatullah committed any crimes and he’s obviously doing reasonably well at Yale. (Although a B is reputed to be the lowest possible grade there, so it’s hard to say for sure.)
I don’t believe Mr. Rahmatullah had direct knowledge of the 9/11 plot, and I don’t think he has ever killed anyone. I can appreciate that he is trying to rebuild his life. But he willingly and cheerfully served an evil regime in a manner that would have made Goebbels proud. That he was 22 at the time is little of an excuse. There are many poor, bright students–American and foreign alike–who would jump at the opportunity to attend Yale. Why should Mr. Rahmatullah go to the line ahead of all of them? That’s a question Yale alumni should ask when their alma mater comes looking for contributions.
But, surely, not everyone who worked for the Taliban was a bad guy, any more than everyone who worked for the Nazis or Soviets was. People have to make decisions within the context of their society, sometimes.
This story strikes me as more unusual than outrageous.
Update: Yale Law grad Glenn Reynolds observes that the food is probably better at Gitmo than the Yale cafeteria. Yale drama alum Roger Simon thinks the magazine fluff piece downplays Rahmatullah’s “arrogant male chauvinism.”