The Sunday Times Magazine did a feature yesterday on Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, former ambassador-at-large for the Taliban, now attending Yale. “I’m the luckiest person in the world.” Rahmatullah told the Times, “I could have ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Instead I ended up at Yale,” where (not surprisingly) one of his recent courses was:”Terrorism-Past, Present and Future.”
Yale was equally delighted. Yale’s admissions office had once had another foreigner of Rahmatullah’s caliber apply for special-student status, Richard Shaw, Yale’s dean of undergraduate admissions, told the Times. “We lost him to Harvard. I didn’t want that to happen again.” The allegedly 27 year-old (who has a history of changing his reported age) former Taliban had visited Yale once before, speaking in March of 2001 as diplomatic representative of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. His diplomatic assignment came about as the idea of Mike Hoover, American adventurer, mountain-climber, and film-maker. In 1998, Rahmatullah was assigned by the Taliban government to guide Hoover and serve as his translator. Hoover became the young Afghan’s friend and benefactor, first suggesting the role of representing the Islamic regime abroad, then personally funding travel expenses and arranging speaking appearances and interviews.
The Rahmatullah of 2001 was turbaned, more hirsute, and a lot more combative than today’s Yale student. He vigorously criticized UN sanctions on the Afghan regime, and casuistically defended the dynamiting of the ancient buddhas and the segregated place of women in Taliban-ruled Afghan society.Rahmatullah was married and living in exile in Pakistan, after the fall of the Taliban regime, when in 2004 Hoover, his perennial benefactor, proposed sending him to college in the United States. Hoover consulted with an attorney friend from Jackson Hole, Bob Schuster Y’67, who helped him arrange for Rahmatullah to be interviewed for admission as a special student, a temporary status, reflecting his 4th grade education and high school equivalency diploma, convertable after a year of satisfactory academic performance to regular baccalaureate study.
Waiting to hear from Yale, Rahmatullah spent the holidays in Jackson Hole with Hoover. He met Bob Schuster and spoke to students at several local schools. The talks reprised the form if not the content of his lectures in America in 2001. After a talk to the young teenagers at the Jackson Hole Middle School, two boys approached Rahmatullah.
“Can we ask you a question? Have you ever been in a war?”
“Can you tell us about it? We want to be Army Rangers.”
He thought for a second. “Do you guys play video games?”
“Yeah,” they said, looking at him as if he had rocks for brains.
“I thought so,” he said. “Let me ask you, have either of you ever killed a chicken?”
They shook their heads. They didn’t know anyone who even had chickens.
“When was the last time you had to kill anything to eat?”
They were confused.
“I killed a goat before I came here,” Rahmatullah said. “I hated doing it. Go kill a chicken, and pluck it, and eat it,” he said softly. “And then maybe you will know a little bit about war.”
One suspects Ramatullah has killed other things besides goats in his day. And you can just watch the frissons of combined terror and sexual excitement travel down the spinal columns of the liberal American intelligentsia at this kind of talk from the visiting, hopefully now safely domesticated, barbarian.
John Fund waxes pretty sarcastic about all this in the Wall Street Journal.Â But it is true that there is a long-standing tradition of Ivy League schools reaching out to provide educational opportunities to promising representatives of non-traditional constituencies, and the appetite of such schools for candidates with good stories or colorful backgrounds could be predicted to assure a warm welcome for any plausible Pashtun.