In the past three weeks, no Yale story garnered more press than that of Rahmatullah Hashemi, the former spokesman for the Taliban’s foreign minister who currently attends classes here at the University. But amid the firestorm of debate that has swirled around the 27-year-old special-degree student, we have not heard enough from Hashemi himself, and the extremely limited comments of Yale officials lead us to believe that the administration needs to know more, too.
At this point, we know much about what Hashemi has said and done through 2001, but there remain serious questions regarding his attitudes and activities since. Former Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Richard Shaw makes it sound as though Yale was quite eager to enroll Hashemi as a special-degree student, and we would like to know what kind of research the University conducted to conclude that he has changed from the young man who handled press for the repressive Afghan regime.
Advocates for Hashemi assert that he was too young to be held accountable for the policies he defended — especially since there seems to be no blood directly on his hands — but we find the former spokesman’s own recent statements less than convincing. While Hashemi has said he supports basic democratic ideals and that he resents being lumped in the same category as more extreme Taliban members, he has not repudiated the ideals or goals he espoused while a Taliban mouthpiece; he has said merely that he regrets some of his more candid responses to criticism of his former superiors.
Despite our own best efforts and those of The New York Times Magazine’s Chip Brown, we have little idea of what Hashemi is doing at Yale, or of what he plans to do with a Yale education. We have seen a generally positive response from his professors, and Hashemi told us that he wants to aid “thinking about change” in his home country — and that he may write a book — but he has been otherwise vague. While we respect every student’s right to privacy, we believe the extenuating circumstances of this case merit further discourse.
The argument made by University officials — that Hashemi adds an important perspective to the Yale community — is typical of its admission of older or non-degree students, but that argument fails if he is unwilling to share his perspective. And while we can appreciate that the outrage spewing from much of the popular press would be enough to send anyone into hiding, both Hashemi and the administration must recognize that their silence does no good for the University.
Hashemi has said he is applying for regular-degree status this spring. While his fall grades suggest that he is capable of competing academically at Yale, his admission on the basis of a GED makes it clear that he is not here for the same academic reasons as even other special-degree students. National Hockey League Hall of Fame goalie Mike Richter, for example, is currently at Yale to finish the collegiate study he began elsewhere. In seminars and through his work with the men’s hockey team, Richter has also become a visible presence on campus.
If Hashemi is truly here to add “unusual dimensions to undergraduate life” – one of the stated goals of the special-degree program — we ask that he open himself up to the Yale community. Just as he is learning what and how our professors think, we would like to know more about what and how he thinks, and we consider it essential that his experiences at Yale shape his perspective more than the Taliban did. For better or worse, we are now associated with Rahmatullah Hashemi, and we would like it to be for the better.