All societies must remain both continuous and open in order to allow change to manifest in positive ways. Rahmatullah Hashemi ’09 represents a changing Afghani society, the memory of its past and the openness of its future.
Negative reactions to Hashemi’s presence on campus, namely the belief expressed by Harold Koh, the dean of the Yale Law School, in Josh Duboff’s article (“Ex-Taliban Gets Media Attention” 2/27), and the views expressed by James Kirchick on this page (“Ex-Taliban can learn from Yale experience,” 3/1), express concern that Hashemi supports practices upheld by the most extreme elements of the Taliban. This is simply not the case. Yale faculty, students and members of the American public who are just now learning about Hashemi’s presence at Yale must keep in mind certain facts, all of which can be gleaned from the article, “The Freshman,” in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.
Some students have questioned why Hashemi joined the Taliban in the first place. This question dismisses the realities in which thousands of young Afghans like Hashemi were first compelled to join the Taliban. In a country ravaged by warlords, the Taliban were welcomed as saviors. It was only later, when the balance of power shifted towards the radical elements of the Taliban that things started going wrong. In Chip Brown’s article for the Times, Hashemi mentions his regret about human rights abuses and the unreasonable extremes the Taliban used in their governance. A young person like Hashemi who was educated in a Madrassah, a religious school, and never exposed to enlightened thought, can be forgiven for joining a force which he believed would bring peace to his country.
Further, to dispel the sense of discomfort with Hashemi’s past association with the Taliban, it should be kept in mind that Hashemi’s mentor Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil, the former foreign minister, was the most moderate amongst the Taliban leadership. He was cleared within no time by the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and there was even talk of including him in the new administration of the country. His life is now being protected by international forces. Similarly, Hashemi was offered a position within the American-backed Karzai government, despite being a Taliban. This can serve as proof of the relatively enlightened nature of Hashemi’s real ideology today.
The State Department and Homeland Security had no trouble clearing Hashemi for his past involvement. Koh’s comment called for an investigation into Hashemi’s background. Homeland Security procedures are stricter than ever, and other students admitted to Yale have faced difficult delays acquiring a visa, so it would be unreasonable for anyone to assume that Hashemi was granted entrance without a thorough investigation. In fact, he was detained for 40 days in Kabul before being cleared by U.S. forces. He then received clearance from the State Department in the process of obtaining his visa.
Already offered a position in the Karzai government, Hashemi is viewed as a capable personality who could help in leading his country. It seems clear that Hashemi’s real motivation is to educate himself and to then use it to enlighten his country. The decision made by former Undergraduate Admissions Dean Richard Shaw to invite Hashemi to Yale’s classroom community was a necessary step that should serve as a model for American higher education. If we shut ourselves away from an understanding of Hashemi’s culture and life experiences, we restrict our own agency over our identity in an increasingly complicated and connected world. This is our burden to tend to, and there is no better way to develop a clearer understanding of our differences and similarities to the Afghani people than to invite Hashemi to learn in our system. Despite our anxieties, we must maintain the energy and tolerance to seek the origins of other ideologies. If Hashemi’s voice were absent from University discourse, we would risk crippling our perception of today’s world.
Bess Hinson is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. She is a former staff reporter for the News.