Saturday, March 04, 2006

Ex-Taliban at Yale: another changed mind?

The cover of last Sunday's NY Times caught my eye with the following teaser: He was the Taliban's spin doctor. So what's he doing at Yale?

Okay, I'll bite. What's he doing there, indeed?

Well, according to the article, by Chip Brown, he's doing what most of the students at Yale are doing (or are supposed to be doing): studying.

In Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi's case, the subject is mostly political science. He's a guy who got a lot of on-the-job experience in the field, as the Taliban's chief spokesperson abroad until the war that brought them down.

Rahmatullah has something to say about that, too:

Some of what I am studying at Yale in theory I think I have already learned in practice. Theory is always distant. Theory and experience hardly ever meet. I was more confident in 2001 than I am now. I was probably a better speaker then, because everything was so new to me. Before I was meeting high-ranking people — learning how to interact, how to argue, how to make points, how to write letters. I think I'm forgetting it now. I see myself not being focused enough. It's easier to learn in practice than in theory."

His Yale experience isn't the first change for Rahmatullah. He's twenty-seven years old, but he's already lived several lifetimes. One of seven children born to a Pashtun family that exiled to Pakistan during the Soviet invasion, his childhood wasn't easy. He had to drop out of regular school at the age of ten, but he did manage to enroll and learn English in a training school for Afghan refugees established by an American charity.

This knowledge of English proved to be the ticket to the rest of his life, which involved a return to Afghanistan when the Taliban came to power at the end of the bloody civil war that followed the Soviet invasion and pullout. Like many, he originally saw the Taliban as a force for order and peace in a nation torn by decades of strife and death:

"I went with my father to see Kandahar and our village," he recalled in the late-afternoon hush of the Commons dining hall. "The reason why the Taliban were so successful at first was they were seen as the ultimate good guys. They stabilized the country. The areas they controlled were unique for peace and security. I said to my father, 'I really want to join them.'"

So at sixteen Rahmatullah got his wish: he became an English translator for the Taliban. As such, his attraction to the group never seems to have been especially ideological--at least as he now tells it. There is, of course, no way to know whether he's just spinning things again, for an American reporter and an American audience.

At any rate, this is his story:

Truth be told, Rahmatullah was beginning to wonder about some aspects of life with the Taliban. He was appointed to the position of diplomat in the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad in 1998, and when Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil became foreign minister in 2000, he made Rahmatullah a "roving ambassador." The international image of the Taliban was increasingly dominated by the Vice and Virtue busybodies who were checking the lengths of beards and thrashing women with leather straps and herding crowds into the Kabul soccer stadium to witness lashings amputations and executions. Even among ordinary people, he was increasingly reluctant to appear in his black turban. Before long he found himself wrapping on turbans of a less controversial color.

"I felt better not being distinguished," he said.

These doubts didn't prevent young Rahmatullah from going abroad in 1999 as a translator and a sort of roving ambassador to try to improve the Taliban's image. He managed to visit the Gulf states, Switzerland, France, Holland, Denmark, and Germany--and then in 2000, through an American he'd met in Afghanistan named Hoover (who later was instrumental in helping him go to Yale), the US.

The article describes an interesting exchange in terms of how minds change, or begin to change, or might begin to change. The following incident occurred when Hoover and Rahmatullah were first in Afghanistan:

Over the next three weeks, Hoover and Rahmatullah traveled around Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and formed a deep friendship. One night, a week or so into the trip, Hoover was sitting on the floor of the foreign office guest house in Kandahar, drinking tea as Rahmatullah and some other Taliban peeled potatoes and onions. Rahmatullah asked him a question.

"Do you believe people are related to dogs?"

Dogs are not favored in Afghan society; the question dared him to contradict common sense.

"Yes," Hoover said.

The Taliban all laughed in amazement.

"How can you possibly believe that? We are so different."

"You see only differences. I see similarities."

"Similarities! Like what?"

Hoover wanted his first example to be an intellectual bunker buster, so he thought carefully.

"Bilateral symmetry," he said. The laughter stopped, which pleased him.

"What does that mean?"

"It means dogs have eyes on either side of their nose, just like humans. Dogs have two nostrils, just like humans. They have two lungs. They have toenails. They have a heart in the center of their chest. Dog blood and human blood are indistinguishable."

Recalling the exchange not long ago, Hoover said: "Now you could hear a pin drop — and it was a dirt floor. They were starting to get uneasy. There was a dog right outside. It was scraggly and covered with sores; I think the appropriate word for it would be 'cur.' When I finished laying out how they might be genetically related to the cur outside, they went off and started talking among themselves very intently. What they were discussing and what they wanted to understand was if what I was saying was true, would it fit within the teachings of the Koran. After a long time they came to the conclusion that it would."

In this case, the new thought was absorbed into the old system; I assume without a change in basic beliefs. But it's still an example of the ways in which beliefs can begin to change, an example of some flexibility when confronted with new information, and a willingness to listen to that information and not reject it out of hand.

In his US tour, Rahmatullah ended up lecturing and trying to defend the Taliban, despite what he says were his own doubts at the time. Audiences were often quite hostile; the majority of the verbal attacks he tried to counter (mostly unsuccessfully) were about the Taliban's curtailment of women's rights and their religious intolerance, particularly around the planned destruction of the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan.

In fact, a clip of one of his unfinest hours ended up in the movie "Fahrenheit 9/11." It featured a woman in the audience accusing the Taliban of crimes against women, and Rahmatullah answering, "I'm really sorry to your husband. He must have a very difficult time with you."

But as Rahmatullah reports things, his doubts had increased about these aspects of Taliban rule, aspects he'd never really cared for in the first place. When he returned home, he says:

I nearly got into a fight with the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Mullah Saqib, who had verified the edict to demolish the Bamiyan Buddhas," he recalls. "I said, 'Why can't we have women's education?' And he said, 'We'll have it later.' I said: 'There isn't any time. Why are we waiting?' He said to me, 'I think you were really indoctrinated by America.' That really ticked me off. I wanted something good for Afghanistan. I was saying what I was saying because it was for the good of Afghanistan, not because I was being paid by the C.I.A. He was a sycophant — he didn't want to upset the conservatives."

After the events of 9/11 the writing was on the wall and Rahmatullah's entire family left Afghanistan soon after, leaving for the old haunts in Pakistan. Rahmatullah lay low for quite a while, then in 2003 took his high school equivalency exam and ended up returning to Afghanistan and undergoing an interrogation process that cleared his name with American authorities there. After that, Hoover resurfaced and started a long chain of events that ended up with the somewhat startling result that Rahmatullah came to Yale as a special student studying political science.

Here's how a friend describes him now:

When you see him, you wouldn't believe he's the same guy. He chills with us, he cracks jokes with us. He's a fundamentalist in the way he believes in the essence of religion, but he's not an extremist at all. He gives you intellectual answers versus dogmatic answers. He's very serious and disciplined about his education. He missed a class once and was horror-struck. I said, 'Dude, we miss classes all the time!' You can tell he's seen a lot just by the aura around him. But even though he's seen a lifetime of experience already, he's young. He's thirsty for the innocence of life without war, emigration, bombs, politics, danger. Everyone needs a time to be young."

And this is what Rahmatullah himself says now about the whole thing:

I regret when people think of the Taliban and then think of me — that feeling people have after they know I was affiliated with them is painful to me. When I read that the neo-Taliban are burning girls' schools, I am ashamed."

Many distinctions could be drawn between his old life and his life at Yale. But he had seized on one.

"You have to be reasonable to live in America," he said. "Everything here is based on reason. Even the essays you write for class. Back home you have to talk about religion and culture, and you can win any argument if you bring up the Islamic argument. You can't reason against religion. But you cannot change Afghanistan overnight. You can't bring the Enlightenment overnight."

Well, I'm not at all sure I'd agree with him that everything in the US is based on reason, even at Yale.

And even neocons understand that you can't bring the Enlightenment overnight to a place such as Afghanistan.

But if one accepts Rahmatullah's story at face value, or even as an approximation of the truth, one has to believe that change is possible, especially in the young. The force of reason is probably one of the most important tools towards effecting that change. Not for dogs, perhaps (despite the points of resemblance to us that Hoover pointed out to the Taliban)--but for humans beings, whose innate capacity for reason doesn't seem to vary very much throughout the world, despite cultural differences in the expression of that potential.

[NOTE: I'm fully aware that some may quarrel with affording Rahmatullah the opportunity to study at Yale and to be in this country at all, considering his background. And I'm likewise aware, as I said in the article, that he may be dissembling about his actual point of view, both then and now. In fact, much of the talk around the blogosphere about Rahmatullah is universally against his being at Yale. The point of this post is not to take a position on that one way or the other--I myself have some doubts about the whole endeavor.

I found, on a quick perusal of posts about this subject throughout the blogosphere, that none of their authors seem to have taken the time to carefully read the original article and to analyze what might have gone on with Rahmatullah himself. Because my particular interest is different--understanding political change--I've written this post from that perspective. And so I've decided to take the article at face value, because if it does in fact represent what actually happened, I believe it's another fascinating case of change. At this moment, my personal opinion is that it has the ring of truth. Either that, or Rahmatullah is an excellent spin doctor indeed--which is certainly possible, in which case the change would be no change at all.]


At 2:31 PM, March 04, 2006, Blogger gcotharn said...

I am confident change can happen, for it happened in my own heart, and can even be said to happen on a consistent basis.

That is not to say,however, that I am confident change has occurred for this young man.

At 2:43 PM, March 04, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Agreed, if you read the "Note" I just finished putting at the end of the post. That's why the question mark is also there at the end of the post's title.

At 3:26 PM, March 04, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very good. Thanks for the dogged research and a unique and important view of an odd story.

In thinking about this story, and specifically what you have stated here, I'm surprised to find that so many religious arguments come into play on my postion. Should we have "faith" in this person? or should that only come if he has in fact "repented". Not being particularly religious myself, I find it odd to find that those were the first words that popped into my head.

In most cases,I am prepared to accept a person who was formally "my enemy", but I will need to hear an admission of capitulation before I do. I havent heard that sort of apology from this guy. I also havent heard a "thank you" to the infidels of the west, who despite all logic have accepted him into their country and into one of the finest universities.

My issue with this story actually has to do more with the Yale Administration than this person. I do not think that Yale has taken the same steps to accept members of the US military or controversial members of the christian religion as it has done with members of the taliban. Unfortunately Yale faculty, like that of many Universities, finds virtue only in those who oppose western civilization and the concepts of liberty, democracy and freedom. Great leaps of faith are always given to the very worst sorts of unhumane regimes and the people who support them, so long as they are not "one of us".

At 3:29 PM, March 04, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

To frank martin: I agree about Yale. But if this guy is on the up and up, it's certainly true that he'd offer a unique perspective and a real learning experience to the other Yale students who are in the same classes with him.

At 3:31 PM, March 04, 2006, Blogger Kalroy said...

I don't buy it. I know reporters can be dogged scum, but this guy's response to them trying to get an interview on the street was more like Benan Sevan's than someone who had realized that he once supported evil.

I don't have a problem believing that he's given up on the Taliban, but I haven't heard him come out and renounce the Taliban or Islamism. So I'm not buying that he's had a change of heart so much as a change of fortune.


At 4:17 PM, March 04, 2006, Blogger Sissy Willis said...

Two things:

1. Thank you for reading and analyzing the article with your usual intelligence and wit so I didn't have to. The writer's fawning, gushing style set my toes to curling.

2. My gut tells me this fellow exemplifies what Don Herzog titles his new book, Cunning.

At 4:30 PM, March 04, 2006, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

I believe this man may legitimately change. I am not sure that's likely to happen at Yale...

Now if he had matriculated at Yeshiva University, I could support that.

At 4:32 PM, March 04, 2006, Blogger Tom Grey said...

In Book 6, Severus Snape kills Dumbledore at the end; at the beginning he is busy proving to other Deatheaters he is on the side of the Dark Lord.

Dumbledore trusted him, and he had saved Harry Potter's life. (I think he hated Harry's father, but loved Harry's mother.)

Only JK Rowling now knows if Snape will, ultimately, be for or against the Dark Lord. (I suspect he'll be both in book 7, but not sure till near the end which way he'll end up.)

I strongly suspect R. is trying to keep some options open -- everybody who leaves one place of work is told: "don't burn bridges."

If Bush's WOT is successful, so Afghanistan's democracy holds, R. will be one of the very, very few Afghans educated at Yale. And, if the Taliban return to power, and R. wants to be a Big Man there, he'll likely have kept that option open.

No verification is possible; no more than polite trust is called for.

At 5:35 PM, March 04, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

The original concept here seemed to be, religious fanatic now goes to Yale, and thereby shows the power of reason to bring change.

I think reason is a core concept, and important, because it tends to release you from the grip of irrational fears and habits, gnothi seauton and all that, and it also puts you in control of your passions and interests, and, just in general, let's you view the landscape from afar. Plus, any kind of intellectual activity is great fun. So I don't need to be sold on any of this.

The dilemmas are twofold.

One, reason tends to be abstract out the good emotions too, such as empathy, or tat tvam asi mystical feelings of connectedness, and therefore compassion, with all other life. It can lead to cold calculation.

Second, however much one person or group of persons are committed to reason, they have no chance, if the surrounding culture is not. And while the surrounding culture _may be_, the surrounding majority almost never is, being driven here and there by the same irrational prejudices, fear, nightmare shapes, and conventional wisdoms as ever.

The 20th Century in Europe alone is a testament to the fact that reason can lose, if only because it is easily drowned out by a mob.

The best we can hope for is that the political leadership is rational. I'm not sure it is.

At 5:36 PM, March 04, 2006, Blogger Megan said...

Tom...interesting analysis of Harry Potter. :) I'm itching for that new book to come out.

When I first heard of this man going to Yale I was horrified. That of course was my first instinct. After analyzing it and reading more I'm not so sure it's as horrible as I thought. However, I do think that he needs to be watched carefully.

He was a member of the Taliban who we still fight today. I can accept that he joined them out of necessity. What other option was there for a young boy/man to have any kind of life in Taliban controlled Afghanistan? Surely he followed the doctrines and teachings of them, regardless of what he says.

I started out in my younger years as a Democrat and liberal. I am that no longer. So perhaps change is possible for this man too.

At 5:38 PM, March 04, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

"They stabilized the country. The areas they controlled were unique for peace and security. I said to my father, 'I really want to join them"

One of the ways they did it was cause they didn't care who they had to kill to do it. Such regimes soon lose all sanity and descend into murderous barbarity. The United States has existed in our state because of certain qualities. One of those qualities is to conserve ruthlessness until the time of great desperation. The Taliban were used to being ruthless so much of the time, that they in the end became no better than what they fought against.

The reason why Iraq isn't stable is because the United States has not taken off the gloves yet, and we prevent anyone else from taking off the gloves as well, in the pursuit of some idealistic style of police power.

In the end, reality will dictate events and solutions. a weird balancing act between long and short term safety.

A lot of revolutions succede, and then the elite take over and it's all the same thing again. French, Russia, Vietnam, you could go on and on. It was very very weird, and probably an accident of history, that the American Revolution did not go sour.

You'd think that now that they knew it could be done, people would be imitating the Founding Fathers. Except... they still fail. And this is without Colonial Powers.

One of the things that is necessary for a revolution to succede, in my view, is that there has to be a time of independent rule. Some time where the people are allowed to govern themselves and weed out the weak from the strong leaders. Then they will have the organization, the institutions, and the leaders to carry them through the dark times and hold off the darkness of human nature.

For America, it was British Colonialism. It gave us the time for independence and to become self-sufficient. For Kurdistan, it was the no fly zones and fighting terrorism in the eastern mountains.

Well, I'm not at all sure I'd agree with him that everything in the US is based on reason, even at Yale.

Compared to the Heart of Darkness he once lived in, America most certainly is based upon reason. Like quantum mechanics, everything is relative.

Whether Ram is a bonafide convertor or not, depends upon how he was debriefed and who he was debriefed by. If it was a Special Forces operator, with field experience, then he is bona fide. If it was some inexperienced clerk in Mil Intel, getting a tour in Afghanistan, then we got problems.

Depending on the questions they asked, it could just be that he wasn't affiliated with any terroist actions which cleared him for release. But then that wouldn't mean necessarily that he was open minded and wouldn't blow somebody up.

There are questions you could ask to probe him psychologically, but Yale students, faculty, and the media don't have the intent nor the ability to do so.

So there is no raw data if the military doesn't release this guy's debriefing and interrogation.

At 6:51 PM, March 04, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

based upon what he said, there are some scenarios possible here.

1. He is a true patriot and wants what is best for Afghanistan.

2. He is a realist, and goes with the winning side, which would be the US.

3. He is an idealist and was very uncomfortable with the Taliban but saw no other choice for his ideals.

4. He is loyal to his family and wants them to be safe and prosperous.

Those 4 were written before seeing the article at all, so now I'm reading the article and making some comments. Let's see how it branches out.

Fahad, a Pakistani, tipped him off to the kosher meat at Slifka, the Jewish dining hall.

Seems to be no Jewish phobia. That is a good thing.

. He got a pair of B's, and B+'s on papers. ("B positives" he thought they were called.) Because his official education ended in the fourth grade, the marks eased some of his anxiety about passing muster at Yale.

Self-taught, hard to brainwash those guys. Still, dangerous if successfully turned.

Friendships helped assuage the ache he felt for his wife, Asyah, and their daughter, Suraya, who was 5, and their 4-year-old son, Suleman, who was born the day after 9/11.

A family man. Good and bad. Bad in the sense that he has things people can leverage against them, and his family is in Pakistan not in the US. Good, in that it should degrade any natural psycho tendencies like suicide bombing. Doesn't rule out spying though.

To avoid alarming eavesdroppers, he referred to his former compatriots as "the Tangoes."

That is... weird. Sounds like counter-terrorism lingo.

Why would he use counter-terrorism lingo?

Mohammad Fazal Hashemi worked with one of the seven Afghan mujahedeen parties that were fighting the Soviets with the help of billions of dollars of covert American aid.

His early years were right up there in the fire, exposed to Soviet and American realities. Such a background is usually harder to reeducate than someone living in a village never seeing a foreigner in his life.

Which is probably a point in his favor, perhaps he might remember his father and American help.

"Many of the Pakistani Pashtuns in Quetta were Communists, and they hated the Afghan refugees. They called us bagori, which means 'escapees.' I remember in school they'd call us puppets of the Americans. I got into a lot of fights with these people. They'd say things like, 'The Russians have a missile that can hit the White House,' and I'd say, 'The Americans have a missile that can hit a dot on the back of a cow standing in the Kremlin!"'

Like I said, very weird early background. Set up as a American CIA-Agent background. Very, very, hard to turn ideologically if this is true. You just can't beat early year cruelty, in setting up mental barriers and defenses.

If this man had lost his wife, his family to American missiles, then you could turn his early history and pain into hate for America. But it doesn't seem the qualities are there.

It wasn't true back then that our bombs were able to hit a dot, but with GPS guided bombs, JDAMS, we actually can now. So he turns full circle.

After the Soviets limped home in 1989, Afghan Communists hung on to power until April 1992, when the mujahedeen finally captured Kabul. The victory of the holy warriors quickly devolved into a civil war as brutal and unholy as anything under the Soviet occupation.

Hrm, revolutionary victory leading directly to strife and turmoil. Not surprising.

When Rahmatullah turned 16, two weeks after the Taliban took Kandahar, thousands of Pashtuns were having a coming-out party. The buzz of liberation was in the air; suddenly it was safe to go home.

you will never see reports concerning this about the US liberation. Which is why hard raw data is hard to get. You only get it one sided, peripherally, and you have to shift through for consistent facts. The press annoy me in that respect.

The fourth was Osama bin Laden. I said, 'Who?' I had to have one of the Americans repeat the name for me."

Funny. Definitely not an Al-Qaeda affiliated guy. It'd be pretty hard for a fanatic to say with a straight face that he didn't know Osama.

He said, 'It's not that we refuse to let the girls study in school, it's that we haven't prepared the materials yet.'

His idealism is showing.

It was quickly evident that they weren't interested in his ideas.

Not in the inner circle, and not worth killing because he didn't know jack? Perhaps.

He asked if Rahmatullah would like to return to Kabul and clear his name with the American authorities. Yes, he would, he said, and a week later in Kabul, Rahmatullah saw Muttawakil for the first time in two years.

Now who would come back voluntarily to an American base, if he was guilty?

If this was all planned, it was a pretty piss poor selection of agents. This guy is too public to serve as anything really useful. Too many agencies know his name and is watching him now.

An American woman who identified herself only as Michelle showed up at the house, along with a man who smiled a lot but didn't give his name. They all had tea together. Rahmatullah had been nervous about getting an adversarial debriefer. Somebody could put whatever he felt like in his file, and he would be on a transport to Guantánamo Bay with his head in a sack. He was thankful that Michelle seemed thoughtful and not arrogant at all. She asked if he had seen Mullah Omar recently. He had not. She asked if he knew of anyone who would pose a threat to Muttawakil, who as a moderate ex-Taliban might be in the cross hairs of extremists on both sides. He said he didn't know of anyone.

Sounds like spycraft and tradecraft going on here. A woman? A guy that won't say his name? Good cop, bad cop? Some good chance the man was a Special Forces operator, or a CIA/Military interrogations officer. He didn't say what they were wearing, a pity.


But you cannot change Afghanistan overnight. You can't bring the Enlightenment overnight."

He might have been refering to the Taliban's attempt to Enlighten the folks in religious virtue through banning all those things overnight. Unsure.

"I could have ended up in Guantánamo Bay. Instead I ended up at Yale."

That's a weird thing to say.

There's a lot of holes, and the biggest is the lack of mention of the interrogation questions used by the man and the woman, Michelle.

Overall, it is an indepth article.

The background is pretty consistent in the psychological sense. Childhood dreams, hopes and aspirations, family man, future endeavours. The little details of hearing bad news in Afghanistan mentioned every once in awhile, leading to him getting sad is a good detail. Very consistent.

Again, if this was an expert insertion through covert means, then the background would be consistent. Except I believe an expert insertion through covert means would not use this man, he is too much in the spotlight. So there seems some inconsistency here.

Either he isn't covert, and is telling the truth, or he is covert and our enemy is so stupid he'd waste a really good cover background on this guy, going to Yale.

And it also doesn't make a lot of sense, there is more immediate intel available if he accepted Karzai's position in the Afghanistan government. If Pashtun tribes wanted to get an agent into enemy territory, this guy should have accepted Karzai's offer and allowed Pakistani tribes to protect his family.

So that is another thing in favor of him telling the truth.

In the end, there are aspects of all 4 in his personality. Some patriotism, some idealism, some realism, and mostly family loyalty.

Family loyalty is very important.

The most likely scenario is if someone threatens his family and he agrees to snoop on something here in the United States. Which given our media, doesn't really require any real covert intel ops on the enemy's part.

I can recognize spin doctoring. In my belief, this isn't spin. Or if it is, it is good spin done stupidly.

If I was American Intel, I'd try and bring his family over if at all possible. He could be a useful source of intel and other things, once he graduates.

Al-Qaeda and Pakistan might have wanted to get rid of this guy, but he is perfect for our purposes of infiltration, translation, and ambassadorhoodness.

It would be pretty ironic for him to turn into an American ambassador to Pakistan or Afghanistan when all is said and done.

At 7:22 PM, March 04, 2006, Blogger gcotharn said...

I have a deep-seated, emotional reaction to this young man. When I look at him all the warning claxons go off in my head. I am reminded of a smooth, unethical evangelist; or a guy running a shell game on the street; or a guy sweet-talking my daughter, though I can see the sweet talk will likely stop the moment he marries her, when he will also possibly don a wife-beater t-shirt, and begin drinking one big-mouth 16 ouncer after another. I want to be clear I do not believe I know this young man's heart. I'm only saying my insides scream out with surprising alarm.

The feeling I have is a snapshot of the West's larger question about Islam: are these Muslims, or those Muslims, really moderates? Or, are they intentionally buying time with a clever truce - or clever offers of friendship, while all the time intending to harm us when they become stronger, and opportunity presents itself? This is the very trickery the Prophet Muhammed famously engaged in, when he was in a tough spot. This Western fear tracks closely with the fear many Americans have about the port deal with UAE.

The post, and neo's main interest, is about change: can, or how can, fundamentalist Muslims become moderate? And, maybe, how can we know if they have become moderate? How can we have a decent level of confidence that change has occurred for them? Some possible starting places:

1) Does the neo-moderate Muslim profess belief in free will? Does he reject the notion that exposure to, for instance, women's hair, might legitimately victimize a Muslim man who cannot control his natural passions?

2) Does the neo-moderate Muslim reject the traditional Arab shame society?

A Western liberal likely believes in free will, and rejects any shame society coda. When such a liberal professes that they have changed, their profession can be given a particular type of weight. A person who has lived without believing in free will, and who lived a life of adherence to shame society coda, must openly reject those dictates, if his profession of change may be given a similar weight to the same profession by a Western liberal.

At 7:53 PM, March 04, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

I want to be clear I do not believe I know this young man's heart. I'm only saying my insides scream out with surprising alarm.

Where is your biographical and psychological analysis here?

You refer to your fears, but do you take counsel of them?

If you don't, then what reasons do you have against this person specifically given what you know. Forget the other situations, they do not apply since you cannot tie European events and organizations to this person.

I've spent a good bit of time ignoring my deep seated emotional reactions. Not because I discount intuition and gut feelings, but because feelings don't do you any good if you don't know why you feel the way you do.

The reporter, forgot name, was recently on Hannity and colmes. His arguments were unpersuasive, but that was before I read this NYTimes lengthy article. The information was far more convincing and consistent.

If you can take that apart, then your emotional reaction might be justified.

Any good covert identity would automatically "reject" whatever you told him to reject. That is no proof or reason to believe in anything.

At 9:17 PM, March 04, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Several thoughts:

1. If he is sincere, this is a very heartening development.

2. If.

3. If he's a genuine spy for the rump Taliban, this is also a heartening development because it means they really are a bunch of morons.

4. Most likely situation: he's an opportunist who is pro-Taliban when the wind is from Kabul, pro-West when it blows from Washington, and has scammed Yale into giving him an education and a First World lifestyle. When that palls he can go back to Paki and be the Educated Expert on the Western Mind for his Tali pals.

At 12:53 AM, March 05, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fascinating story, and all of the comments have been interesting. One quote really jumped out at me, though:

"You have to be reasonable to live in America," he said.

That made me smile. It also made me think of Ayn Rand, who was pivotal in my own change. It suggests to me that he might be on the up-and-up. (Then again, I'm a terrible judge of people, so don't nobody take my word for it.)

But that line really sticks with me; not specifically in his case, but in a larger sense:

"You have to be reasonable to live in America," he said.

That really says it all, doesn't it? We Americans will accept pretty much anybody from pretty much anywhere. We don't care what you look like, what language you speak, what kind of work you do, or what your religion is. All we ask is that you be reasonable.

At 1:27 AM, March 05, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If he took a spot from someone else he should be sent back. I understand that he is a not a regular student, but if he took a spot from someone who had worked for years to get there? Imagine working for five or six years to get into yale and someone from the frickin' taliban took your spot.

At 3:03 AM, March 05, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reaction to that Times story from some major warbloggers is something to make one consider becoming an ex-neo-neo-con:

It's pretty clear that Charles Johnson didn't read the article with anywhere the depth that NNC did-- if he read it at all. Instead, he just turns a very nuanced, complicated story into more chum to feed his increasingly rabid fanbase, the kind of folks who really believe Bush is without blemish and that everything needed to understand Islam is contained in the events of a single day in New York City. It's stuff like that more than anything which makes me despair that the war of ideas has been lost. If people like Johnson really believe it's come down to a Manichean struggle between Bush versus Bin Laden/Saddam/Dan Rather/the entire Democratic Party except Lieberman, what more can be said?

At 3:24 AM, March 05, 2006, Blogger Megan said... seem to question Charle's motives or beliefs but he has done a great service...exposing the amazing amount of corruption and brutality that exists in (almost) all Islamic run countries. As well as the links between terrorists, Saudis, CAIR, etc.

All is not lost on LGF... if you spend any amount of time in the comment section you will see great debates often take place. They're enlightening and interesting and often challenging.

LGF is a lot more complex than chum for his fanbase. And it's obvious you don't read the comments often. There are many, many, many who complain about Bush. It's not about blind, unquestioning loyalty at all.

I think most people's instinctive response to this story was ... "What the hell?" Nothing wrong with that.

At 6:53 AM, March 05, 2006, Blogger Judith said...

Neo, I read the article and had the same reaction you did, it's nice to read someone who believes there can really be second acts in our lives.

If we don't believe anyone can actually be influenced by other ideas and change, what are all these blogs about anyway?

Glenn was just as suspicious as Charles and everyone else.

At 10:32 AM, March 05, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, he may be like Walid Shoebat, who decided that he could make alot more money speaking to Zionist groups than working for Palestinian independence. He still urges the destruction of Israel - albeit via the coming of Jesus rather than guerilla warfare - and gets paid by Zionist groups to say it. Simple self-interest is probably enough to explain this.

At 11:52 AM, March 05, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

If he tries to bring his family over, then that is self-interest.

If he is planning to go back, then that speaks for patriotism and idealism.

At 12:38 PM, March 05, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

As far as Charles's reaction goes (anonymous 3:03 AM)--I followed the link and read it. Charles really doesn't comment at all except to say it's further evidence the world is insane, which is an understandable reaction. It is indeed a very strange turn of affairs. I read all the comments, too, and I fail to find anything wrong with them. I skimmed them quickly, so maybe I missed something, but it's just people saying maybe he's a double agent (absolutely possible) and why is he taking up a place at Yale (a reasonable response also), combined with a fair number of people saying wait a minute, maybe he's on the up and up. I see nothing objectionable in the reactions there.

As far as the reaction of most bloggers who wrote about this goes-- I think many people, like frank martin in the comments here, were upset at Yale for reaching out to this guy. A very very understandable reaction.

And many, for better or for worse, probably did not study the article in depth. I find that, whether it's in the MSM or the blogosphere, most people simply don't have the time to look at everything in depth. I know I don't. Everyone has to pick and choose. We may look at the larger issues in depth, but each article and each little piece of the puzzle can't be given full attention--there just isn't time.

And this sometimes has the effect that we distort things, or come to snap judgments that end up being incorrect. At least, in general, I've found the blogosphere to be more self-correcting on the whole than the MSM--probably because it has such a large amount of feedback built in.

In this particular case, even after reading the article very carefully, I'm still not sure about this guy. So sometimes longer study doesn't help, either. But I was coming at the whole thing from a different angle than most, anyway, which was to look at it as a possible "change" story.

At 1:49 PM, March 05, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From his own words, I get the feeling Rahmatullah has only changed in his realization that belief alone can't change the world, only reason can. He still seems to believe the entire world must be dominated by Islam, but now he's going to try using scientific study to bring down the infidel, rather than mere bloody-minded faith.

For this, he is far more dangerous than he ever has been. Unlike religion, science actually produces real, testable results, and will do so for the sinner as well as the saint.

If he actually does manage to reconcile his beliefs with reason and learn all his professors can teach him, I do not think he will use his new intellectual tools for America's benefit, let alone Yale's.

At 2:54 PM, March 05, 2006, Blogger Myrhaf said...

"Dogs are not favored in Afghan society..."

Afghans ARE dogs. Afghani are people.

At 3:13 PM, March 05, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

And many, for better or for worse, probably did not study the article in depth. I find that, whether it's in the MSM or the blogosphere, most people simply don't have the time to look at everything in depth. I know I don't. Everyone has to pick and choose. We may look at the larger issues in depth, but each article and each little piece of the puzzle can't be given full attention--there just isn't time.

I didn't read the article either until I had to know certain things you quoted in the article, so I logged on.

Yes, I logged on, I didn't register because I already had registered.

You see the point, don't you. People like me, and perhaps people like Charles, won't read the New York TImes anymore because it is enemy propaganda. Only if we need something specific will we even take the time to type in our pass and log on, let alone register.

As one commentator here said, you read the NYtimes so we don't have to.

Intellectual laziness? Perhaps. I tend to look at it as setting up barriers to enemy propaganda.

The NYTime's reputation is what they made it out to be. I cannot change that.

Trust is a two way street, and the NYTimes blew it up a long time ago.

Nobody that supports this war and is pro-American, with limited time on their hands, will take the time to read the Times for their information anymore, paper or online.

At 3:15 PM, March 05, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Other than certain individuals, like you and Bush senior, of course. Someone has to tell us what is going on, if we are to combat it.

At 7:49 PM, March 05, 2006, Blogger Papa Ray said...

Everyone has covered "Ram's" story pretty well. I am going to wait and see what he does in a couple of years.

Most likely back to Afgan and into politics. Good or bad thing..who knows.

What I wanted really to comment on is this:

..."--but for humans beings, whose innate capacity for reason doesn't seem to vary very much throughout the world..."

I not only disagree, but believe this [believing the above statement] is a common failing of Americans.

I have met and interacted with "extremeists" "fundmentalists" and they do not have the ability to reason. Their beliefs have destroyed that ability.

This is not just talking about Islam, but also other religions and other "groups". I am sure you also know a few rabid lefties that can not, not only not reason, but can not even converse with you anymore.

Never, never believe that "others" think like you do, reason like you do or will act in some projected manner in the future.

It will not only disappoint you, make you fail in many endeavors nowadays, it can get you killed.

Papa Ray
West Texas

At 1:04 AM, March 06, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Papa Ray, I believe you misunderstood what I said. I tried to phrase it very carefully: innate capacity for reason. That capacity can either be fostered by environment and culture, or stifled. In the latter case, it is not expressed.

At 8:48 PM, March 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon-"Well, he may be like Walid Shoebat, who decided that he could make alot more money speaking to Zionist groups than working for Palestinian independence. He still urges the destruction of Israel - albeit via the coming of Jesus rather than guerilla warfare."
I hope you don't mean that all Christians seek the destruction of Israel. If you do mean that, you are a nut, please seek help. If not, how do you support that accusation against Walid Shoebat?

At 1:40 AM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

I have met and interacted with "extremeists" "fundmentalists" and they do not have the ability to reason. Their beliefs have destroyed that ability.

If they don't have the capacity to reason, then does that mean they don't understand that when I shoot them with a .50 cal, that they are going to die?

Because it seems to me, that there is reason and then there is being reasonable. The ability to think, the former. And the ability to tolerate differences of opinion, the later.

Fundamentalists do have the ability to reason, as in think, otherwise they wouldn't be dangerous and would get blown up by their own IEDs more than the IEDs would harm us.

While it is true that they do not have the moral position of being able to disagree with others without resorting to violence, that meaning is not contained in reason alone.

Even the most hardheaded fanatics can think, on some level. Therefore they can be reasoned with. It just so happens that reasoning with terroists requires nuclear demonstration bombings, executions, demonstrations of will, interrogation tactics, and many other manifestly obvious things not appropriate to use with a reasonable person.

For example. Take Saddam's trial. If you get a US officer and have him put a pistol to the head of Saddam's brother and shoot him on national tv, spraying brains everywhere, and then reason with the defendents, it would go something like this.

"See, Saddam killed his brother. Keep acting as you do, and Saddam will kill all of you. I don't want to see anyone else be killed, please be careful what you say."

They do reason and think, but based upon different ideas and axioms.

A reasonable person might say, "you ordered the brother killed, not Saddam". But nobody said Saddam's crew were reasonable. But they can reason, since logic and thinking is very accessible to those sorts.

At 12:45 PM, March 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to be late on this.

But I'm afraid I agree with anonymous above - I don't see much change in this guy, and he seems to be an inveterate enemy of the United States.

I would strongly recommend that you read the article in the WSJ:

He was a high ranking propogandist for one of the nastiest regimes in my lifetime. While I certainly believe in second changes I think that before any second chances are offered to anyone they ought to
1) Acknowledge that what they did was wrong.
2) Make some sort of effort to make amends.
I don't see much of either.

He doesn't regret statements he made about the rights (and lack therof) in Afghanistan.
'Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" captured one testy exchange he had with an exiled Afghan woman who told him, "You have imprisoned the women. It's a horror, let me tell you." The Afghan diplomat responded with a sneer: "I'm really sorry for your husband. He must have a very difficult time with you." Asked by the Times of London last week if he regretted that statement now, he replied: "That woman, for your information, did divorce her husband." He told the New York Times that if he had it to do over again he would have been "a little bit" softer in his 2001 speeches.'

He doesn't believe that the Taliban bear any responsibility for harbouring Bin Laden. As such he must view the US war against the Taliban as illegitimate, and to some extent believe that the Taliban should still be in power.

'late last year, Mr. Rahmatullah wrote an essay titled "Ignorance! Not an Option," ... In the essay, Mr. Rahmatullah takes Americans to task for both their "xenophobic" attitudes and ignorance of the Taliban. He claims the Taliban "were too ignorant to know that their guest"--Osama bin Laden--"was harming other people." He concludes that the Taliban "honestly practiced what they had learned in their religious schools. They did what they had been taught to do. Whether what they had been taught was good or bad is another subject."'

His public statements basically support the Jihadi world view:
'Mr. Rahmatullah called Israel a "franchise state" serving "as an American al Qaeda against the Arab World."'

The guys was a slick PR man, a Goebells in the making. He cleverly defended practices that everyone at Yale ought to be able to identify as abhorrant (pulling womens finger nails out for wearing nail polish, burying homosexuals in wet cement, and so on). He shows little remorse for any of his activities. I think he basically pulled a fast one on the NYT - his clearly a salesman by nature.

Anonymous, I fear, is right. He's at Yale to learn better techniques to defeat us all.

The WSJ thoughts on him -

'After a meeting in which he defended the Taliban's treatment of women and said he hadn't seen any evidence that their "guest" Osama bin Laden was a terrorist, I felt I had looked into the face of evil.

I walked Mr. Rahmatullah out. I will never forget how he stopped at a picture window and stared up at the World Trade Center, which terrorists had failed to destroy in 1993. When I finally pried him away, I couldn't help but think, He must have been thinking about the one that got away."

Now the WSJ is clearly a hostile witness. But I suspect the NYT is just as sympathetic. Would everyone be happy if one of the chief PR people for South Africa were in this position?

At 8:41 PM, March 11, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this guy may have changed. I hope he has, but if destroy israel someday, what do u think the chinese goverment will think. they are paying 16 percent of his current tuition.
any way who cares about the

At 12:14 AM, March 13, 2006, Blogger Justin Cox said...

The debate regarding Hashemi has been raging at Yale Law School (where I currently study). Check out for an idea of what's been said. Specific links include:

Debate within the Yale Law School:

A reaction:

On whether Hashemi is a "terrorist":

Background on Hashemi:

At 3:33 PM, March 25, 2006, Blogger Blah Blah Blah said...

I think you people have been taken in with the false hope that this Ex-taliban has some how had a change of heart.

This man once stridently defended the deeds and views of the TALIBAN. The Taliban was the foundation and vehicle to recruit Al-Qaeda operatives, some of whom were on the planes that crashed into the WTC. How can this man now, in the space of 4 years have a complete change of heart? How can someone in their right mind, tolerate him to attend their school, let alone befriend him.

It was an act of treason to allow this person to attend Yale, and to receive funds for his student program.

This may seem crude to you people, but I hope someone gets a moment of sense and either kicks this guy out, or arrests him and sends him to Guantanamo.

If this guy came to my school I would shoot him, no hesitation.

But if you think that is extreme, and yet you defend this man, who was a member of a group that did what they did, you're not thinking clearly. He is our ENEMY, killing him might not be necessary, but neither is murdering innocent women for forgetting to put on their burqas. Think about it


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