Yale’s Taliban: defending the indefensible, part I

Posted: Mar 30, 2006 10:05 AM

Yale is in a dilemma. It made a huge, indefensible blunder when it admitted the senior advisor to Mullah Omar as a special student, and now it’s taking hits from students, from alumni, and from the media. 

How can Yale spin its way out of this one? They have at their fingertips an invaluable resource, someone who made a career of defending the indefensible. In fact, this PR flack extraordinaire was so successful that he was reportedly on the fast track to become the Taliban’s next foreign minister. Unfortunately for Yale, Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi isn’t talking.

Others are taking up for Yale, but the results aren’t convincing anyone. Let’s take a look at some of the excuses offered on Yale’s behalf.

The Non-partisan Defense

Yale officials don’t like all the politics surrounding Mr. Rahmatullah’s admission. According to Yale Herald reporter Yotam Barkai, who interviewed some of Yale’s brass, they “believe that alumni donations should not be used as a form of political activism.”

“Oftentimes, the people who are most generous understand the University well and they know that we are an educational, not a political institution,” Yale’s Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach told the Herald. 

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey added, “What is remarkable about our alumni is they continue to be generous even when something happens on campus with which they might not agree.”

Funny, because I believe that college admissions should not be “used as a form of political activism”. Especially political activism that supports our enemy’s officials during a live, shooting war. In fact, it takes an amazing degree of gall for Yale administrators to make such a blatantly political admissions decision, and then to blame the alumni for politicizing the process. 

The Jim Sleeper Defense

Yale lecturer in Political Science Jim Sleeper has hinted darkly that there is some intelligence/CIA angle on the Boola Boola Mullah’s presence at Yale. In an open letter to the Wall Street Journal’s John Fund, who has been doggedly investigating this issue, Sleeper urges him:

W]hy don’t you look a little more deeply than you did into the provenance and motives of Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi’s patron Mike Hoover, who commended him to Yale's admissions office? Why don’t you ask if Rahmatullah's enrollment was facilitated less by the "diversity" ethos than by yet another of Yale conservatives' recent, bumbling efforts to revive the university's old conduit to national intelligence and to framing grandiose "grand strategies?"

First, if Mr. Sleeper has some reason to believe that is the case, it is a dreadfully irresponsible charge to make. If Mr. Rahmatullah were being groomed to be a CIA asset, Mr. Sleeper’s braying about it can only serve to compromise his mission.

But whether or not there is an intelligence angle to this story, the mere rumor that Mr. Rahmatullah is some sort of spy will endanger his life when he does return to Afghanistan—and unlike Valerie Plame Wilson, there is every reason to think Mr. Rahmatullah will be going abroad once more. Regardless of Mr. Rahmatullah’s true status, he has been branded an American intelligence asset now.

The irony of Mr. Sleeper’s accusations is that they are almost certainly baseless. Granted, Yale has historically had links to the intelligence community—detailed thoroughly in Robin Winks’ book Cloak and Gown—but the notion that CIA agents are parachuting into Mazar-e-Sharif with briefcases full of Yale acceptance letters, passing them out to willing defectors and warlords, does not pass the smell test. Having worked in Yale’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions for three and a half years, I can say pretty confidently that the idea is ludicrous. Yale’s admissions office is not interested in accommodating the CIA’s nation-building ventures.

Besides which, if this was some sort of spook deal, why would Mr. Rahmatullah suddenly start interviewing for a long, smoochy biopic in the New York Times Magazine? Why would then-Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw pop up in the interview as well? And why would the fellow who brought him to  America, CBS cameraman and stuntman Mike Hoover, show up to defend him on Fox News, or brag about his two CIA debriefs to Outside Magazine in 1996?

Sleeper claims that Hoover has contacts at the CIA. Hoover also quite obviously has contacts to the Taliban, since he was able to operate in Afghanistan under their reign and even—perhaps as a quid pro quo, as with CNN’s Eason Jordan?—arranged Rahmatullah’s 2001 tour of the United States, which was an extended apologia for how the Taliban made the trains run on time.

Yet just because of those contacts, no one on the left would seriously entertain the thought that Mr. Hoover some sort of Taliban mole. I don’t either; I simply think Mr. Hoover and his compatriots at the International Education Foundation are simply besotted by a one-world faith that educating the Taliban will magically solve all our problems. In fact, that is the next defense I’d like to address.

The Alan Colmes Defense

Fox News’ Alan Colmes asked me, liberal Yale alum (and Rahmatullah opposer) Christina Bost-Seaton, and Natalie Healy, mother of a SEAL killed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, the same question: isn’t this guy better off at Yale than he would be in a madrassa? He even asked Healy, “You don't want him back there with them [the Taliban] killing them [our children], do you?”

What is fascinating about the Colmes defense is his presumption that but for the grace of a Yale education, Mr. Rahmatullah would be toting an RPG through Waziristan, picking off American troops. Mr. Colmes, usually a reasonable sort of liberal, apparently sees some danger in Mr. Rahmatullah that the rest of us do not (as I’ve said from the beginning, I don’t think he’s a terrorist, but merely an apologist for them). But if Mr. Colmes honestly believes that Mr. Rahmatullah is that close to snapping and becoming a terrorist, he should be arguing that the place for him is certainly not at Yale, but in detention. 

In any case, education is important, but it is not magic.  Exposure to a liberal arts curriculum—even to a “great books” curriculum—broadens minds, changes lives in unpredictable ways, and makes better citizens, but it cannot transform a hardened jihadist into a civic-minded scoutmaster.

For someone with an open mind, it might make a difference, but Mr. Rahmatullah is a Taliban ideologue, and as he has said at USC in 2001, “For the Taliban, ideology is everything.” Ironically, those who scoff at neoconservative efforts to democratize the Middle East are all about democratizing Mr. Rahmatullah. Somehow they think that discussing Diderot over calzones at Yorkside Pizza will overcome the murderous ideology that he helped manufacture and articulate, and that he was still defending on September 12, 2001.

Yale couldn’t even succeed in making me into a liberal, though it took off a few rough edges. Does anyone think Yale could do any better for someone who proudly told reporters why Christian missionaries must be tried—and possibly face capital punishment—for proselytizing? Does this sound like someone open to the give-and-take of academic discourse? It may succeed in smoothing out his delivery a bit, but given that we are in a shooting war with his regime, how can that be a good thing?

There is more defense of the indefensible going on. The Good Lord and Townhall’s editors willing, I will post part two of this column in a day or two, answering the rest of the Boola Boola Mullah’s defenders.