Thursday, April 06, 2006

Selective Outrage

I’m not sure how much there is to say is about Mark Hyman and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s outrage about the fact that a former Taliban spokesperson was accepted as a non-degree student at Yale.

Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi received the requisite student visa from the U.S. government, and claims to have abandoned at least some of the more radical aspects of his former beliefs. He’s in a non-degree program, which means that he’s probably not taking up one of the coveted spots in its undergraduate class. And apparently he’s carrying a B+ grade point average.

Given all this, it’s hard to take seriously the idea that Yale is harboring an “evil-doer” who can’t cut it academically. Was Yale grandstanding by courting him as a potential student? Sure. Admissions decisions are often based on things that have nothing to do with how much a given student deserves to be at the university or their aptitude for academic success. After all,
our current president was only admitted to Yale because his father went there, and apparently George W. Bush didn’t do as well academically there as Mr. Hashemi is doing. So it’s difficult for me to work up a hearty indignation about this particular case when so many others have gotten so much for doing so little.

On top of that, the idea that exposing minds of young adults from countries hostile to the U.S. to Western education as a way of winning hearts and minds is one the Bush administration itself has championed. Recently, Condoleezza Rice suggested the need to get more Iranian students into American universities, and
proposed that we spend taxpayer money to provide scholarships for them. The fact that Mr. Hashemi is a relatively high-profile figure among those who see the U.S. as an enemy is probably a point in favor of exposing him to a Western education, not a strike against him.

Having said all that, it’s true that the Taliban hold reprehensible views, and any interaction with even former members should be done with a great deal of caution and respect for what messages it might send. On that point, ISI and Hyman are right.

But I wonder, where was the outrage when it wasn’t a private university giving a single former member of the Taliban an opportunity to take classes, but rather the
Bush administration indirectly giving $43 million to the Taliban through aid packages to Afghanistan as a reward for their crackdown on poppy growing? Why is it an "outrage" that a former Taliban is taking a few classes at Yale, but it was apparently okay for the U.S. government to spend a huge amount of money in a move that served to solidify the Taliban's hold on power, and in fact reward them for certain aspects of their dispicable policies that happened to suit wishes? To paraphrase Hyman’s argument, imagine how much body armor that money could have bought for brave U.S. soldiers. Imagine how many beds in battered women’s shelters could have been provided. Or how many patients could have been admitted to drug treatment centers. Or how many intelligence agents could have been hired to follow up on indications that Osama bin Laden was planning an attack on the U.S.? How much could have been done with that money, rather than using it in a way that propped up a government that, as Colin Powell himself noted when he was announcing the gift, sponsored terrorism and systematically abused women?

If you’re outraged about the former Taliban at Yale, I understand. But if your outrage stops there, you’re a hypocrite.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.86


At 10:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The truth is contained in the transcript of a briefing given by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who on May 17 announced the $43 million grant; it was aimed at alleviating a famine that threatened the lives of four million Afghans. Far from handing the money over to the Taliban, Powell went out of his way to criticize them, and to explain the steps the United States was taking to keep the money out of their hands.

" We distribute our assistance in Afghanistan through international agencies of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, " Powell said. " We provide our relief to the people of Afghanistan, not to Afghanistan’s ruling factions. Our aid bypasses the Taliban, who have done little to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people, and indeed have done much to exacerbate it. "

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

First, to follow up on the citation given above, the entire text (not just the stuff in quotation marks) of the "anonymous" post comes from Dan Kennedy's article, "Did the White House Give the Taliban $43 Milion." Google the title if the link in the above post doesn't take you there.

Second, I agree that Colin Powell gave a number of rationales for giving aid to Afghanistan. The idea that this was strictly for famine relief is a a non-starter, however. Clearly, the administration wanted to reward the Taliban's crackdown on opium production. As evidence, we need look no further than an additional gift of $1.5 milion dollars given by the administration to Afghanistan for the express purpose of helping out former poppy farmers, a gift that was made barely a month before 9/11.


One can even argue that paying off Afghanistanis not to grow opium is a good use of money--that it does more good than harm. My point is that the exact same argument can be made about educating an influential former member of the Taliban in Western ideas.

The idea that it's "outrageous" to allow a single former Taliban member to immerse himself in a Western-style education, but that it's completely cool to funnel millions of dollars (even if it is done under the aegis of humanitarian aid) as a payoff for the one Taliban policy that we approved of simply doesn't make sense.

The selective "outrage" of Hyman and the ISI seems to be based on the fact that Yale is associating itself with a former member of the Taliban. But if that's the source of outrage, the same charge should be leveled at the Bush administration, and with far more validity.

Perhaps it's wrong to do anything that associates us with a terrorist government, even when it seems like it might pay future dividends. Perhaps we shouldn't be dissuaded from constructive engagement from those whose ideas we despise if it might end up serving the long term good. Good arguments can be made on both sides, but to selectively decide when it's okay and when it's "outrageous" based on political whims is dishonest.

Oh, and one more tangential but sigificant point: since the Bush administration sent aid to Afghanistan as a result of the Taliban's crackdown on opium growers, Afghanistan has once again become the number one opium producer in the world during the U.S. occupation.


At 5:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ted: You are tap dancing.

"But I wonder, where was the outrage when it wasn’t a private university giving a single former member of the Taliban an opportunity to take classes, but rather the Bush administration giving $43 million to the Taliban when they were in power, just a few months before September 11th?"

Fact is, the Bush administration did not give that $43 million to the Taliban.

So instead of conceding that point, you tried to justify your remarks when challenged. There is no shame in admitting to honest mistakes Ted. Your attempted justification however, begs the question, "Did you intentionally 'overlook' the facts in making the $43 million argument?

At 11:19 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

Sorry about my "tap dancing." That's not what I was intending to do. You're absolutely right that Bush did not give $43 million directly to the Taliban. My wording was a simplification. What would be more accurate (and what I have changed the wording to say in the post) is that the Bush administration arranged for $43 billion to be sent to Afghanistan in an effort to stabilize the country and reward the Taliban government for their assistance in the "war on drugs." This amounted to an indirect subsidy and buttressing of the Taliban government, but it *was* an indirect subsidy, so your point is well taken.

But the larger point still remains: why is it okay for the Bush administration to have dealings with the Taliban, but an "outrage" for Yale to have a former Taliban member on its campus? In fact, you can take the whole money issue out of the equation. That specific example was meant as a synecdoche for the larger dealings between the Bush administration and the Taliban (remember that the very man who Hyman is "outraged" about being at Yale was admitted to the U.S. in 2001 as part of a contingent of Taliban admitted to the U.S. for negotiations). As I said in my post, I'm not even necessarily arguing that it was a mistake to allow the Taliban to come to this country for talks; what I find perplexing is the argument that it was okay to welcome them when they were in power and treat them like a legitimate foreign government, but it's criminal that Yale is allowing a former member of this same group to be exposed to a Western education.

In point of fact, I wouldn't have brought a former Taliban member to the campus were I Yale's president, but I also wouldn't have rolled out the red carpet for the Taliban had I been president Bush, either. But honest people can disagree about that. It's the inconsistency in the argument that bothers me. If you have any thoughts on the matter, I'd be interested in hearing them.

And on the admitting a mistake thing, again, you're absolutely right, and I hope I've cleared up any misunderstanding. I sympathize with what you're saying, though, believe me! If you've read this blog for any length of time, you've probably seen posts by one semi-regular here (sometimes under the name "Sickofspin," sometimes simply as an anonymous poster) who often not only makes mistakes about factual issues, but makes personal attacks against me and other posters here. When he's called on his mistakes or groundless assertions by other readers, he simply sticks his head in the sand. For example, he has said in the past that Mark Hyman "exposed" me, that I use my teaching position as a political stump, and that I can't hold down a job. When other readers and I pointed out to him that Hyman was forced to publicly retract what he said about me, that he had no evidence that I preached politics in my role as a teacher, and that I held down a tenure track teaching position, he simply ignored all of us rather than admit that he had let emotion get in the way of his better judgment.

All this is simply to say that I hear what you're saying about the necessity of admitting mistakes, whether intentional or merely oversights. I'm glad we're on the same page, and thanks for reading and posting!




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