Taliban in Jackson Hole
By Daryl Hunter

After a commercial rafting trip one day, I asked this gal from Kansas how she liked her trip. She replied it was fun and it sure is pretty around here, but the mountains get in the way of the view.

Although this is a non-ideological anecdote, it is one of the most illustrative examples of perspective I have had the opportunity to witness. It is amazing to me how two people can look at the same thing and see it totally differently. It brings to my mind the way liberals and conservatives appear to live in parallel universes.

By now most Americans have heard about Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, the Taliban’s former ambassador-at-large, who is now attending Yale, his education funded by the International Education Foundation (www.intedfoundation.org), which was created for Hashemi by Jackson Hole residents Mike Hoover, an adventure film maker, Paul and Tatiana Maxwell, and Jackson Attorney Bob Schuster.

On Feb. 26, New York Times Magazine published a 10,000-word puff piece by Chip Brown about Hashemi called “Afghan diplomat is Yale Freshman,” a great human interest story that might have opened up my mind if it wasn’t for my common sense ­ or paranoia ­ that makes me fear for my family, city, state, country prompting all due caution. This was answered by with a couple columns by John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, who in his opinion pieces asks what seem to me to be some good but obvious questions.

Last week, the Jackson Hole News and Guide added to the coverage with a puff piece about Hashemi and his Jackson Hole benefactors. I have a different take on the matter.

The N&G article contained one inconsistency that I noticed. It reported that Hashemi was an interpreter for Hoover during Afghanistan’s mujahedeen war with the Soviet Union, a war which ended in 1989. Hashemi, born in 1978 would have been only 11 years old when the war ended, and younger when Hoover was producing film footage (footage that Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting suggests was dubious; visit http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1193) for CBS and Dan Rather earlier in the war. According to the Times’ Chip Brown, however, Hoover and Hashemi meet in May 2000 when Hoover was one of the few American news cameramen to whom the Taliban had given permission to visit Afghanistan since the cruise missile retaliation for the Kenya and Tanzania Embassy bombings of August 1998. Hashemi had been assigned to be a guide and translator by the Taliban for Hoover’s travels. Was this a careless slip on the part of the N&G, or a softball attempt to disaffiliate Hashemi from the Taliban?

In his article “Jihadi Turns Bulldog,” printed in the Feb. 26 Wall Street Journal, John Fund wrote about how, during Hashemi’s spring 2001 Taliban public relations blitz, Hashemi visited the Wall Street Journal and told Fund that Osama bin Laden was a “guest” of his government and it hadn’t been proven that bin Laden was linked to any terrorist acts. Hashemi said that if the embassy bombings were terrorist acts, then so was the Clinton administration’s cruise missiles attack in his country in an attempt to kill bin Laden. “You killed 19 innocent people.”

“I felt I had looked into the face of evil,” Fund wrote after Rahmatullah defended the Taliban’s treatment of women and said he hadn’t seen any evidence that their “guest” Osama bin Laden was a terrorist.

In the spring of 2004, Hoover proposed to Hashemi the possibility of attending college in the United States. Hashemi jumped at the opportunity to leave Pakistan to attend school in the U.S.

The Times reported that Bob Schuster, a Yale alum, “called the [Yale] provost’s office to ask how an ex-Taliban envoy with a fourth-grade education and a high-school equivalency degree might go about applying to one of the world’s top universities.” Richard Shaw, dean at Yale, was intrigued and suggested that Rahmatullah come to New Haven for an interview. Shaw said the admissions office once had another foreigner of Rahmatullah’s caliber apply for special-student status. “We lost him to Harvard,” he says in the Times. “I didn’t want that to happen again.”

As Fund wrote in a Feb. 27 Wall Street Journal piece, “This is taking the obsession that U.S. universities have with promoting diversity a bit too far.”

An excerpt from one of International Education Foundation’s downloadable PDF documents provides a startling insight into the mindset of its founders: “In the spring of 2001 he [Hashemi] came to the U.S. for a series of talks to try and bridge the growing gulf between the moderate Taliban and the U.S. government.”

That Hashemi’s benefactors consider the Taliban to be moderate explains their lack of qualms about importing its chief apologist from Pakistan and giving him an education my children will never have the opportunity to receive.

Since he can’t make it home to Pakistan, Hashemi spends his breaks from Yale in Jackson Hole. When in town he stays either with Hoover or the Maxwell’s. He has been a guest speaker at our Jackson schools and library.

“In some ways,” Hashemi told the New York Times, “I’m the luckiest person in the world. I could have ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Instead I ended up at Yale.” Laura Hayes wrote at www.infoplease.com, “Most shocking to the West was the Taliban’s treatment of women. When the Taliban took Kabul, they immediately forbade girls to go to school.” Women were barred from working outside the home, Hayes wrote, and could leave home only with a male relative. “Those that did so risked being beaten, even shot, by officers of the ‘ministry for the protection of virtue and prevention of vice.’ A woman caught wearing fingernail polish may have had her fingertips chopped off. All this, according to the Taliban, was to safeguard women and their honor.”

The N&G reported that Tatiana Maxwell ­ who supports the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, an independent organization of Afghan women fighting for human rights for social justice in Afghanistan ­ denied reports that the Taliban yanked fingernails of Afghan women who wore nail polish. “The Taliban certainly do some bad things, but get your facts right,” she told the N&G.

The N&G didn’t report on how Maxwell felt about a well-publicized incident involving Hashemi. While he was addressing the Atlantic Council in spring 2001, the New York Times reported, a gray-haired woman in the audience, an Afghani exile, stood and lifted the burka she was wearing over her head. ‘You have imprisoned the women ­ it’s a horror, let me tell you,’ she cried.” Rahmatullah was caught on videotape responding, “I’m really sorry to your husband. He might have a very difficult time with you.” The footage later was used in Michael Moore’s documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Liberalism certainly creates some confounding dynamics that are difficult for a simple conservative like myself to follow. For instance, how does it behoove us to educate our enemies in our universities, and host them in our communities? The war on terror is not over!

Fund summarizes: “I don’t believe Mr. Rahmatullah had direct knowledge of the 9/11 plot, and I don’t think he has ever killed anyone. I can appreciate that he is trying to rebuild his life. But he willingly and cheerfully served an evil regime in a manner that would have made Goebbels proud. That he was 22 at the time is little of an excuse. There are many poor, bright students ­ American and foreign alike ­ who would jump at the opportunity to attend Yale. Why should Mr. Rahmatullah go to the line ahead of all of them? That’s a question Yale alumni should ask when their alma mater comes looking for contributions.”

Brown’s article paints a sympathetic picture of Hashemi, and I am sure he has become a fine friend of Hoover’s and Schuster. However, in this post-9/11 world, do we want to import, educate, aid, abet and provide a platform from which to lecture our children a confidant and subordinate of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden’s host in Afghanistan?

Fox News’ conservative pundit Shawn Hannity and other conservatives have been reporting this story, and Hoover bemoans the attacks about Hashemi attending Yale, contending that conservatives are against diversity. Hoover appeared on “Hannity and Colmes” during the first week of March to respond to the controversy, but he still disparages the Fox News, telling the N&G that he wasn’t surprised by the conservative network’s reaction: “That is what they do.” Hoover, fully ignoring the fact Fox invited him on to deliver his point of view, also said, “It’s funny that [Fox] is still called news.”

I assert, in response, if we want to sponsor Afghanis in Yale to learn about Afghanistan, let’s recruit from our allies in Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance.

You say tomato, I say tomato; you say friend, I say foe. Parallel universes are the only possible explanation that makes any sense. Just as one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world intrudes on what a Kansas girl considered to be the perfect vista, so liberals and conservatives will never be able to focus on a problem with stereo vision because the focal plane of each mind’s eye reports to a hard drive and processor deep within our grey matter that are of different and incompatible makers and are programmed in different languages. Liberals and conservatives are clearly hard wired differently! Sometimes here in Jackson Hole we think that the war on terror is a long way away, but maybe it really isn’t. Diplomats are salesman, usually charming and sometimes spies. I hope that Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi hasn’t sold our neighbors a bill of goods.

 

 

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