Thursday, March 30, 2006

Taliban Yalie redux, the liberals, and Jim Sleeper

I have written twice before about the saga of Rahmatullah Hashemi, a.k.a. Yale Taliban man -- the former Taliban spokesman who is now studying in a special program at Yale and may be admitted as a full student next fall. The latest from the Wall Street Journal's John Fund, who has been on the trail of this story, here.

Among other things, Fund reports allegations that Richard Shaw, the former dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale (and now an official at Stanford), "ran roughshod" over the committee designated to approve the selection of special students when he steamrolled through Hashemi's admission.

Fund also reports on some interesting reactions on campus:

The Yale College Council, the undergraduate student government, last night debated a resolution urging that in seeking to develop future leaders Yale must recognize that goal "can only be fulfilled by those individuals who possess a genuine moral concern and consideration for others unlike themselves." The Yale College Council debate ended last night with no resolution and will continued. Several student representatives pleaded for "tolerance" for Mr. Hashemi even though he wasn't even mentioned in the mild resolution." But is there any doubt that by defending and promoting the Taliban's reign of terror, Mr. Hashemi fails Yale's own test of moral character?


Last week, I attended a talk at Yale by Malalai Joya, a 27-year-old member of Afghanistan's post-Taliban parliament. She spoke in English about her concern about U.S. policies which she believes are indirectly supporting warlords and retarding women's rights in her country. She was applauded vigorously.

But after her prepared remarks, she denounced Mr. Hashemi's presence on campus. Her message could not have been more clear. "The freedom-loving people of the USA should raise their voice against existence of such criminals in your country," she shouted. After her remarks, the crowd of 200 was completely silent, until the moderator stepped forward and invited questions. None of the six questioners mentioned Mr. Hashemi, even though he had just been condemned in the strongest possible terms by one of his nation's most prominent politicians.

Why? Makai Rohbar, Ms. Joya's backup translator that evening, believes that the lack of reaction might be explained "because of it being easy to worry about something far away from campus, but not when it is right next to you." Other students I interviewed at the reception afterwards more or less concurred that discussing Mr. Hashemi was more difficult because, as one put it, "he's now part of the Yale community."

You have to wonder: would the same acceptance as "part of the Yale community" be extended to a former Ku Klux Klan spokesman, particularly a barely repentant one who regretted only not being more soft-spoken in presenting his emssage? Fund reports on the outrage at Yale when a legal scholar named Kelly Camara was invited to speak on a panel. In 2002, Camara was at the center of a controversy when, as a first-year student at Harvard Law School (at the age of 17!), he posted some class notes on his website referring to blacks as "nigs" in discussing a property rights case which helped end racially resrictive covenants. Camara quickly took down the notes and repeatedly apologized, but that has not been enough to satisfy some:

When it was learned Mr. Camara would be speaking at Yale, a campus petition was circulated urging that his invitation be reconsidered. When he did show up, one-third of the audience--including law school dean Harold Koh--stood up and walked out in protest. Mr. Koh told the Yale Daily News he left because he considers "racist speech to be an affront to each and every person in our community."

And propaganda for a murderous, repressive, misogynistic regime, apparently, is not.

Meanwhile, Jim Sleeper, lecturer in political science at Yale, who previously reacted to the story by slamming Fund, is at it again. In another column at The American Prospect Online, he levels the charge of liberal-baiting at those who have criticized Yale over the Hashemi admission -- including yours truly. Sleeper once again pushes the idea that the admission may have been engineered not by diversity-mad liberals but by conservatives eager to exploit Hashemi's possible intelligence connections. He once again does not mention that Fund discussed this possibility in his second piece on the story. He trumpets (but does not link) Hamilton Stephens' blog item on the subject, which, he says, "produced a 1996 Outside magazine profile of Hoover by New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel that mentioned Hoover’s CIA and State Department contacts." Well, not quite. The profile said:

Hoover entered Afghanistan 22 times with NIFA to cover the war against the Soviet Union, which invaded the country in 1979. Much of his footage ran on CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. Freelancers like Hoover were among the few sources of information, and he says that twice he was debriefed in Washington by William Casey, then head of the CIA.

Thus, it was Hoover himself who mentions his CIA debriefing (as I previously asked, would he do that if he really had intelligence ties?); there is no mention of any State Department contacts.

In any case, I will repeat my earlier question: let's suppose that, in fact, a coveted place at Yale is being used as a reward for cooperation with U.S. intelligence. Surely that's as scandalous as a former Taliban spokesman being admitted to Yale as a diversity pick. In fact, to liberals, it ought to be even more scandalous. So, where's the outrage? Certainly not in Sleeper's column. This is all he has to say on the substance of the story:

Impressed with America, Hashemi had regretted his spin-doctoring for mullahs and is now, at 27, a special student at Yale. Although administrators there had known of his past and vetted him, the Times report took most of us who teach there by surprise.
And ... that's all? Does Sleeper believe that Hashemi, whose "regrets" are very limited and who still defends most of his actions, belongs at Yale? What does he have to say to Malalai Joya? Really, I'd like to know. Instead, he lashes out at Fund, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and me for supposedly "running and shouting, 'Liberals, liberals, liberals!'" Well, that sounds like Hannity all right, but I don't see that Fund is doing that in his columns on the Yale Taliban story (in fact, he has quoted liberals who disagree with the school's decision to admit Hashemi), and I'm certainly not doing that. This shouldn't be a liberal vs. conservative issue.

Speaking of which, Jamie Kirchik, another Jim Sleeper target, has an excellent column in the Yale Daily News, "Two Afghanis," about Hashemi and Joya. Money quote, as Andrew Sullivan would say:

Whether one believes Hashemi should be at Yale or not, his presence has been instructive in one way: It has caused a reckoning at Yale over the issue of cultural relativism.

Outrage over religious fascism ought to be the province of American liberals. But in Hashemi's case it has been almost entirely trumpeted by Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and right-wing bloggers. A friend of mine recently remarked that part of his and his peers' nonchalance (and in some cases, support for) Hashemi has to do with the fact that the right has seized upon the issue. Our politics have become so polarized that many are willing to take positions based on the inverse of their opponents'. This abandonment of classical liberal values at the expense of political gamesmanship has consequences that reach far beyond Yale; it hurts our national discourse.

Something, perhaps, for Jim Sleeper -- who has derided Kirchick as a faux liberal -- to ponder.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post--very balanced and informative. Thank you!
Christina Bost Seaton

Joan said...

Thanks for this excellent recap of where things stand with this situation, Cathy. Unfortunately, I do think that oppositional politics is at the heart of liberal's defense of Hashemi's presence at Yale. Well, a combination of two things: an inability to admit they made a mistake, and an unwillingness to agree with their ideological opponents. It makes me want to tell them to grow up!

Anonymous said...

Outrage over religious fascism ought to be the province of American liberals. But in Hashemi's case it has been almost entirely trumpeted by Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and right-wing bloggers.

I would *hope* that outrage over religious fascism, far from being the "province" of liberals, would be able to be shared by *everyone* regardless of ideological stance.

Great post. I echo Christina's comment.

Amber said...

It's Kiwi, not Kelly.

sierra said...

This shouldn't be a liberal vs. conservative issue. Exactly, and it's really puzzling to see it morph into one. I wonder how much of it is really political -- right-wingers want him out, therefore he stays -- and how much is plain old circling the wagons. I've seen a few nonchalant students interviewed on TV, and each time they seem to be saying: "Yale could not have made a mistake in allowing Hashemi on campus, otherwise they might have made a mistake in allowing me."

Dean said...

The polarization cuts both ways, I think. Not only have some on the left pretty much ignored this story merely because those on the right are trumpeting it, but one of the key talking points on the right has been that this case is evidence that the left employ a double standard.

In other words, this case wouldn't mean anything to those on the right, either, except that they think they can make the left look bad over it.

As an outsider, I think everyone comes away from this one a little dirtier than they went in.

Steven said...

Of course it's politics. If John Fund is leading the charge, it's political. If this weren't an opportunity to make Yale "liberals" look bad, I doubt that Mr. Fund would care one iota about whether Mr. Hashemi attended Yale.

On a more substantive note, and what to a large degree has bothered me about the criticism of Yale in this matter, both you and Mr. Fund seem to be of the view that there are ideological or political positions that disqualify someone from attendance at Yale. What are those standards? Would a high-ranking official in the Russian government be acceptable? Or an aide to Ayatollah Sistani? Once you start imposing these kinds of ideological barriers, where do you stop?

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Cathy Young said...

amber, thanks for the correction.


both you and Mr. Fund seem to be of the view that there are ideological or political positions that disqualify someone from attendance at Yale. What are those standards?

How about "not being a spokesman for a murderous group of thugs and religious fanatics"?

I have to reiterate my question, steven: if Hashemi had been a spokeman for the Ku Klux Klan or the Aryan Brotherhood, and was largely unapologetic about his role, should that have been an ideological barrier to his admission? Again, remember that Yale did not simply admit this guy on an equal basis with all other applicants, but went out of its way to give him special breaks.

Anonymous said...

My reflex is to say that Yale should never have admitted this man, nor any member of the Taliban who hadn't totally gone against the Taliban's ideology.

But then I get nervous. I don't like the idea of ideological requirements for college admission. What about conservatives who think that supporting the Palestinian Liberation Movement is "being a spokesman for a murderous group of thugs and religious fanatics" - will they start arguing that pro-Palestinian activists should not be admitted? Why wouldn't they? (Some right-wingers positively gloated when Rachel Corrie was killed in an accident; should I believe these same people wouldn't take an opportunity to oppose her entrance in college?)

On the extreme left, there are people who consider conservatives to be "spokespeople for a murderous group of thugs and religious fanatics."

About that Klansman: Maybe he'd learn better at Yale. Maybe he'd become an effective voice against hatred and bigotry, if he was in an environment where he (or she) was forced to read minority writers and anti-racist writings. It could happen.

* * *

But as far as Yale going out of their way to recruit this scumbag - that, to me, is way over the line. I can see an argument for ideologically-neutral admissions, but not for going the extra mile to specially recruit woman-hating fanatics.

Rainsborough said...

The Taliban regime was illegitimate. It was recognized only by a couple of other countries (most dubiously, an ISI-influenced Pakistan) and was treated as a pariah nation by the United Nations. The legal treatment sccorded the regime was in recognition of its utter immorality, exemplified in its virtually imprisonment of half its people. It was quite literally a slave state, except that slaveowners are more concerned to keep their workers alive than was the regime to keep its subjects alive.
Therefore anyone commmitted to serving that regime is no better than a Nazi. Any acceptance of a committed Taliban is no more permissible than of a committed Nazi.
A liberal who doesn't own up to these realities, who gets more exercised over an e-mail use of the n-word later profusely apologized for than he does the record in power of the Taliban, has lost all sense of proportion.
In a NY Times column, Robert Wright has contended it's important than social sanctions be enforced against people who resort to ethnic slurs. The Taliban regime was the mentality of the slur carried to an extreme. Surely then, an unrepentant Taliban deserves ostracism as quick and resolute as any. And ostracism would seem to include denial of admission to an elite school.
The only possible defense of Hashemi's admission--short of implicit acceptance of the rather outlandish, not to say outrageous, notion that certain Nazis should have been welcome at Yale in the thirties--would have to turn on his having been only 22 when he served the Taliban, and his having learned something since. But if he is largely unrepentant, and still defends the regime, it would seem he's learned little.
In many nations of the world today, especially Muslim nations, many people exhibit a readiness to categorize large segments of humanity as rightsless, unworthy of a modicum of respect. We do need to understand this mentality. But ours is not such a nation, ours is a liberal society. And one of the things liberals do is refuse to countenance hateful ideologies. It would be naive to do otherwise, for an ideology of hate is the indispensable intellectual buttressing of harmful, deadly, actions.
It's no less naive, or something worse, not to see clearly that the Taliban's was an ideology of hate, of the most virulent sort.

Cathy Young said...

Steven, I'm no fan of Putin but I still wouldn't quite compare him to the Taliban. Sistani is a more problematic case, have to agree.

ampersand, you raise interesting points. There are difficult lines to draw once you decide that some views, statements, etc. are beyond the pale. I would draw the line at advocacy/apologism for either terrorism or murderous political repression.

And I agree with you that the real scandal is not that Yale admitted this guy but that it went out of the way to recruit him.

Rainsborough, excellent points!

Anonymous said...

I am with ampersand on this one. Granted, Yale is private, and they have the right to do whatever they please. But, I am very uncomfortable with the idea of passing an ideological litmus test to be admitted to a university. Maybe its my libertarian tendencies... maybe its being an atheist, which apparently makes me part of the least trusted group in American society (according to some recent poll, sorry for the lack of a reference). I don't know.

In any case, admission should be based on merit, with an extra allowance made for people who performed under harsh conditions (ie. All things being fairly equal, I would certainly be more impressed with a candidate who maintained good grades despite the death of a parent or other unfortunate circumstances). I really don't care if the guy sitting next to me in English was a homophone or a clansman or a Pat Robertson clone or an anarchist or whatever. I would only care if the university recruited the guy, based on his insane beliefs, and was paying his bills. That would make me mad. And that makes me mad about the Taliban guy. No scholastic merit. Admitted and funded solely on the basis of being religious fanatic and apologist for a murderous regime. Not acceptable.


sierra said...

The idea that barring Hashemi imposes an ideological litmus test is a bit overwrought. There's a pretty clear distinction between what a guy believes and the actions he takes. To use Ampersand's example, this would not be someone simply demonstrating in support of the Palestinians. If you march at a demo or sign a petition, you are presumed to be acting in your own conscience, and not under the direction of the PLO. That presumption reverses once you become a prominent official of such an organization, for whose actions you bear a far stronger and more direct responsibility. And yes, partisans might use such a precedent to illegitimately attack their ideological opponents. But the alternative is to shrink from drawing an important moral distinction simply out of fear of drawing distinctions.

Rainsborough said...

According to an article in, "since 9/11, Hashemi has said that he is no longer a member of the Taliban. He also told the New York Times Magazine in February that he wanted to pursue an education to try to better support his family. ... He’s also participated in a 'Jews and Muslims' dialogue group."

Taylor W. Buley said...

You better believe I would fight so damn hard if they let the Taliban in my school. Why doesn't Yale student bodyy give a flip?

Anonymous said...

And yes, partisans might use such a precedent to illegitimately attack their ideological opponents.

Then it is hardly 'overwrought'. As it stands, partisian politics have become too mixed into university education. You really want to add more fuel to that fire?

But the alternative is to shrink from drawing an important moral distinction simply out of fear of drawing distinctions.

In my opinion, university admission should be based on the scholastic competence, not the morality, of the student. Universities aren't seminaries. They are, for most of us, job training programs that we spend an obnoxious amount of money on. It is one thing to be told, 'We won't waste a slot admitting you because you clearly don't have the skills to make it here'. It is quite another to be told, 'We don't want your money, because we don't admit YOUR kind.'

When you talk about what university admission policy should be, you base it on how it would likely to be applied and what the likely outcomes would be... not on the freaky exception most of us agree is bad. If you start making morality an admission criteria, particularly at public universities, what you are going to get is lots of law suits, from people on both sides of the political aisles. Let me start with a short list of things that might be used to deny students admission based for demonstrable 'immoral' behavior: being part of a gay student group, volunteering for a pro-choice group, being part of a group that demonstrated in favor of the Iraq war, lobbying for free-trade agreements which don't contain worker safety and environmental provisions, etc. I'm sorry, but even an atheist can recognize the road to hell.


Lori Heine said...

How utterly heartwarming that Hashemi has participated in a 'Jews and Muslims' dialogue group." It makes me go all gooey inside. We should all line up to hug him!

Might I suggest, however, that what ought to concern us about admitting creeps like this to the Ivy League is NOT "morals," but the survival of our nation and of our very way of life.

It is useful idiots to Islamofascism who will be appeased by Mr. Hashemi's claim to have participated in touchy-feely "dialogue groups." Awwwww, they feel so much better now!

To compare allowing gay groups, pro-choice groups or any other sort of group (womens', Christian, etc.) on campus to allowing the sort of beast who would destroy them all is nothing short of insane.

It really IS us against them. If I sound like Archie Bunker, then just 'scuse the heck outta me.

Anonymous said...


I HATE being accused of making comparisons that I am not actually making. So let's recap, letmespellit suggested that to avoid Hashemi types getting admitted to universities, we should have a morality standard for college admission. I said that was a bad idea, because it would be absolutely missapplied to exclude people for college admissions who should NOT be excluded, like members of women's groups, gay groups, pro-war republicans, etc. All that would get us is a bunch of law suits. That is, in NO WAY, a comparison between gay groups, women's groups, and the freakin' Taliban.

What should have happened here, is that the US government should never have let this creep in our country. So one of two things are going on with this.. 1. They are getting intelligence from him, and Yale is his reward. 2. This administration has demonstrated, once again, that they are utterly inept and we should all be very afraid.


Revenant said...

letmespellit suggested that to avoid Hashemi types getting admitted to universities, we should have a morality standard for college admission. I said that was a bad idea, because it would be absolutely missapplied to exclude people for college admissions who should NOT be excluded

Colleges already have "morals tests" for admission. For instance, most of the colleges I applied back in the day asked me if I'd ever been convicted of a felony, and several asked about drug use as well.

It is hypothetically possible that requiring that students not have earned a living shilling for murderous homophobes will somehow lead to gays and liberals being denied admission too. It is also hypothetically possible that a meteor strike will destroy the Yale campus and render this discussion moot. Neither possibility has any significant chance of happening in our lifetimes.

Lori Heine said...

I quite agree with Anonymous that people are coming into our country who have no business being here. Anyone who doubts that needs to look at what's happening in Europe right now.

Many of the groups (including at least two to which I belong) have become so dependent upon political correctness to "protect" us that we are no longer looking out for our own best interests in the larger sense.

I do not believe that militant Islamism is compatible with Western values. Period. Is that a prejudice? If so, it is one educated by a wealth of recent experience.

Many of my longtime friends are shocked -- shocked!!! -- that I am being so un-multicultural about all this. Sorry, but I believe that my survival, and that of every person who values freedom, is at stake here.

This is a very weird and different sort of war. It is a war probably unprecedented in history. But it IS a war.

Anonymous said...


Now we are getting somewhere. It isn't a loose worrisome amorphous morality question to simply ask, 'Do you currently belong or have you ever belonged to any organization on the US Governments list of terrorist organizations?' I would be perfectly happy with denying admission to this country and to any US university to anyone who answers 'Yes' to that question.


Anonymous said...

... Or I might add, to anyone who lies about a 'No' answer.


Revenant said...

I would be perfectly happy with denying admission to this country and to any US university to anyone who answers 'Yes' to that question.

I don't see the problem with a subjective morals test. The market will punish universities who abuse it. If, for example, your nightmare scenario comes to pass, and Yale begins banning liberals, gays, Muslims, et al, the end result of that will be the end of Yale as a respected, high-quality educational institution. You can only get away with that sort of nonsense if everybody else does it too, and the days when everybody would go along with such discrimination are long gone.

The college admissions process for private universities is already almost entirely subjective. Few of them have a strict formula for admittance. If denying a person admission for having "insufficient extracurricular activities" and "not enough evidence of ambition" is acceptable, why should it be unacceptable to deny a person admission for having "poor moral character"?

Anonymous said...


In an earlier post I said that Yale is private, and can do whatever it wants. You are right to suggest that if it goes crazy, the market will punish. I was thinking, not just of the question 'What should Yale do', but of the larger question 'What should American Universities do'.

You and Lori have both focused on banning gays, liberals, yada yada. The more likely nightmare scenario is that war hawks, Pat Robertson clones, white supremacists, creationists, and the like would fail the kind of 'morality' test you might expect to be imposed by a liberal university. As liberal as I am, I would still view that as an undesirable outcome. Terrorists and other criminals should be banned. The rest should be evaluated based on scholastic ability, not the insanity of their world-view.


Revenant said...

The more likely nightmare scenario is that war hawks, Pat Robertson clones, white supremacists, creationists, and the like would fail the kind of 'morality' test you might expect to be imposed by a liberal university.

The only group on that list that has any chance of encountering a widespread ban on morals grounds is white supremacists. I can't bring myself to care if they can get into a good college, since I think the world would be a better place if every last one of them died of rectal cancer and stopped breathing the same air as me.

A large majority of people in the upper two income quintiles, and a slight majority of people in the middle income quintile, are politically conservative. Those three income quintiles represent almost all of the parents of private college students and most of the public university parents too. A university which decides to deny admission on the basis of conservative politics is going to lose not only conservative students, but students with one or more conservative parents, plus of course students, or parents of students, who are offended by such absurd discrimination. In short, almost all of their prospective students.

Now, they might be able to get away with banning conservative Christians, since fundamenalists are underrepresented among middle and upper-income families. But refusing to admit people for holding religious beliefs you disagree with is, in most cases, illegal. If I was as "Pat Robertson type" I'd be praying that the college I applied for rejected me on religious grounds -- with the money I'd make off the lawsuit I wouldn't NEED to go to college. :)

sierra said...

Sorry that I'm late. Anon said:
I HATE being accused of making comparisons that I am not actually making. So let's recap, letmespellit suggested that to avoid Hashemi types getting admitted to universities, we should have a morality standard for college admission.

No, I am not suggesting Yale institute a "morality standard," at least not one that would exclude members of advocacy groups. (Talk about "making comparisons that I am not actually making"...) My reference to "morality" is that the distinction between one's beliefs and actions is an important moral one that should guide this debate. Yale would maintain its current standard based on candidates' demonstrated propensity. (Indeed, the notion that Yale should only admit those who demonstrate scholastic competence is itself a moral judgement.)

Put into practice, Yale would not exclude a student based on his belief that people ought to be able to shoplift. Yale should, and (as John Fund points out) currently does, exclude shoplifters. To exclude shoplifters while allowing spokesmen for irredemably tyrannical regimes would be nuts, another important moral distinction.

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