Middle East studies in the News
Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi's luck is running out. Eight weeks ago the Taliban diplomat turned special Yale student made a media splash on the cover of the New York Times magazine in which he proclaimed: "In some ways I'm the luckiest person in the world, I could have ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Instead I ended up at Yale."
But the continued outrage over the news that an unrepentant former official of a criminal regime whose remnants are still killing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan is part of the Ivy League is catching up with him. Yale is about to establish tougher standards for the program under which he is applying to become a degree-status sophomore next fall, and the consensus is that Mr. Hashemi won't measure up.
Taliban Man's days as a Bulldog look to be numbered. But Yale may be about to stir up new controversy as it appears to be on the verge of offering a notorious anti-Israel academic a faculty position.
For now give Mr. Hashemi and his financial backers at the Wyoming-based International Education Foundation (www.intedfoundation.org) credit for persistence. Ignoring hints that he should "study abroad" next year, Mr. Hashemi and the foundation are forcing Yale officials to rule on whether or not their former prize "diversity" catch still belongs at the university. "He's doing all he can to come back," Mike Hoover, the CBS producer/cameraman who is one of the founders of the IEF, told the Yale Daily News last week. "For him to be a real shaker, it would be great [for him] to have graduated with a degree."
Yale's Special Student Program consists of two parts. The first, under which Mr. Hashemi was admitted last year, allows "nontraditional" students to attend classes for credit they can use at other colleges, but it doesn't lead to a Yale degree. The second, named after Yale alumnus and cotton-gin inventor Eli Whitney, serves older students who are seeking a Yale degree. Mr. Hashemi has applied for admission in the fall under the Whitney program.
Now Yale is rethinking the standards for both parts of the program--standards they once described as difficult to meet. A Feb. 24 article in the Yale Herald announcing Mr. Hashemi's presence as a special student reported that "the bar for admission is set high so that potential part-time Yalies must be as qualified as their full-schedule counterparts." Yale College dean Peter Salovey told the Herald that "The [special students programs] are very selective."
That was back in February. Last week, Yale's president, Richard Levin, issued a statement saying that a review he had ordered "raised questions whether the admissions practices of the non-degree Special Student Program have been consistent with the published criteria, let alone the standard that should prevail." He noted that "in recent years, while fewer than 10% of the applicants to the regular undergraduate program have received offers of admission, more than 75% of the applicants to the non-degree program have been admitted."
Mr. Levin's conclusion was that both the nondegree and Whitney special programs "suffer from lack of clarity about mission, purpose, and standards." He ordered they undergo a full review to define "admissions criteria consistent with the high standards and moral purposes of a leading institution of higher learning." The Yale Daily News reported that in an interview Mr. Levin made clear that Mr. Hashemi's pending application in the Whitney program will be held to the same standard as that of a regular applicant.
Clinton Taylor and Debbie Bookstaber, two young Yale grads who became so frustrated at their alma mater's refusal to answer questions about its Taliban Man that they launched a protest called NailYale, say they are encouraged. "The notion that there are 'moral purposes' to an institution of higher learning is a refutation of the culture of nihilism that led Yale to welcome Hashemi in the first place," Mr. Taylor told me. "Without admitting or confronting the full error of its decision, I think Yale is laying the groundwork to reject him, without looking like they were pressured into it." Ms. Bookstaber agrees, and notes that if Yale now admits Mr. Hashemi as a full-degree seeking student it will be inviting a fresh firestorm of outrage from the 19,300 students who applied to Yale's 2010 undergraduate class but were rejected last month.
Meanwhile, Yale faces a new challenge. In the next few days the university may hire Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan, to fill a new spot as a professor of contemporary Middle East studies.
Mr. Cole's appointment would be problematic on several fronts. First, his scholarship is largely on the 19th-century Middle East, not on contemporary issues. "He has since abandoned scholarship in favor of blog commentary," says Michael Rubin, a Yale graduate and editor of the Middle East Quarterly. Mr. Cole's postings at his blog, Informed Comment, appear to be a far cry from scholarship. They feature highly polemical writing and dubious conspiracy theories.
In justifying all the time he spends on his blog, Mr. Cole told the Yale Herald that "when you become a public intellectual, it has the effect of dragging you into a lot of mud." Mr. Cole has done his share of splattering. He calls Israel "the most dangerous regime in the Middle East." That ties in with his recurring theme that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee effectively controls Congress and much of U.S. foreign policy. In an article titled "Dual Loyalties," he wrote, "I simply think that we deserve to have American public servants who are centrally commited [sic] to the interests of the United States, rather than to the interests of a foreign political party," namely Israel's right-wing Likud, which was the ruling party until Ariel Sharon formed the centrist Kadima Party. Mr. Cole claims that "pro-Likud intellectuals" routinely "use the Pentagon as Israel's Gurkha regiment, fighting elective wars on behalf of Tel Aviv."
Last January, Mr. Cole participated in a "teach-in" at Yale that could have been an audition for his possible hiring. According to the Yale Daily News, he told students that U.S. efforts "in helping create a constitution for the 'new Iraq' have increased factionalism." He concluded that "this is a recipe for continued social turmoil and continued global war."
Mr. Cole says that he is often unfairly attacked for being anti-Semitic, when in reality he claims he is only critical of Israeli policy. But Michael Oren, a visiting fellow at Yale, notes that in February 2003 Mr. Cole wrote on his blog that "Apparently [President Bush] has fallen for a line from the neo-cons in his administration that they can deliver the Jewish vote to him in 2004 if only he kisses Sharon's ass." Mr. Oren says "clearly that's anti-Semitism; that's not a criticism of Israeli policy." (Exit polls showed that 74% of the Jewish vote went to John Kerry.)
Mr. Cole appears to be the only prominent academic in America to have embraced "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," a highly controversial paper by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard. Mr. Cole told the Chicago Sun-Times yesterday that the paper argues the "virtually axiomatic" point held by the rest of the world that a "powerful pro-Israel lobby exists." The result is that "U.S. policy toward the Middle East has been dangerously skewed."
But the paper has been roundly attacked for sloppy generalizations. The two authors claim that "neither strategic nor moral arguments can account for America's support for Israel." Even Noam Chomsky, a far-left critic of Israel, wrote that we "have to ask how convincing their thesis is. Not very, in my opinion." But Mr. Cole praises the two professors for seeking "to end the taboo [on discussions of the "Israel lobby"], enforced by knee-jerk accusations of anti-Semitism."
Mr. Cole wants to enforce his own taboos on free expression. In February, he told the Detroit Metro Times that the federal government should close the leading cable news channel. "I think it is outrageous that Fox Cable News is allowed to run that operation the way it runs it," he said in summarizing his view that Fox "is polluting the information environment." He went on to claim that "in the 1960s the FCC would have closed it down. It's an index of how corrupt our governmental institutions have become, that the FCC lets this go on."
Appointing someone as hotheaded and intolerant as Mr. Cole to a prestigious appointment at Yale wouldn't seem to make any sense. The drive to hire him can be explained in part by the same impulses that prompted Yale to admit Mr. Hashemi. "Perhaps the folks who still want to let Taliban Man into the degree program are also thinking Cole would make a great faculty advisor for him," jokes Mr. Taylor, the alumnus leading the NailYale protest.
But that might not be a joke. Many Yale faculty members are deadly serious about wanting Mr. Cole to become their newest colleague, and their views hold great sway. Unlike at Harvard, the university president at Yale has no power to veto the faculty's hiring choice. So even if the admissions department rejects Mr. Hashemi's application for the fall semester, Yale may jump out of the Taliban frying pan and into the Cole fire.
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