They’ll let anyone in these days…even ex-”Tangoes”

Not since that hottie Natalie Portman has a freshman at Yale an ivy-league freshman created this much buzz. Meet 27-year-old former Taliban spokesperson Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi:

The Before and After pictures (via the NY Times)

The University of Yale has a freshman who is thankful to have landed up in the prestigious institution rather than the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, a former Taliban spokesperson, who has the dubious distinction of having come in contact with terror mastermind Osama bin Laden has joined a non-degree course, which includes a class on terrorism… Turned away initially from a Taliban office in Kandahar, Hashemi had offered his skills as a computer operator because of his “high proficiency in English”, the New York Times quoted the freshman as saying.

But later, adding a couple of years to his age, he was accepted and became a part of the hardline Islamic regime that also brought him in contact with 9/11 mastermind Laden.

“I saw bin Laden after he was brought to Kandahar in 1997,” Rahmatullah told the Times.

Hashemi fled Afghanistan for Pakistan after the September 11 bombings. [Link]

Hashemi has had a brief flash of fame once before. He appeared in Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11:

As the chief spokes-terrorist for the Taliban, Hashemi traveled extensively throughout Europe and the United States. While speaking at the Atlantic Council in 2001, Hashemi was confronted with a woman who detailed the horrors facing the women of Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban. He dismissed her as if she were an insolent child and announced to the woman: “I’m really sorry for your husband. He might have a very difficult time with you. Hashemi’s disgusting comments were immortalized in Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 911…” [Link]


p>Over a week ago the New York Times did a fantastic 12-page in-depth story on Hashemi (a must read article).

His room was more than he could afford, but he had his hands full with his classes: ENGL 114, Reading and Writing Argument, with Prof. Deborah Tenney; and PLSC 114, Introduction to Political Philosophy, with Prof. Peter Stillman. 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. He spoke English well, but it was still his fourth language after Pashto, Urdu and Persian and a headache to write even for natives. What he had to learn initially was how to learn. You didn’t have to read everything the professors assigned, but you had to pay close attention to the closing minutes of class, when they recapped material likely to appear on the exam. People thought he was kidding when he asked what the difference was between a test and quiz. Dude, you’re a student at Yale, and you don’t know the difference between a test and a quiz?…

He did not like to dwell on the past, much less advertise it. To avoid alarming eavesdroppers, he referred to his former compatriots as “the Tangoes.” But sometimes the past had a way of finding him…

So rather than simply memorize the Koran all day every day, things at Yale would be a bit different.

As you can imagine, there are a LOT of people not happy that a “terrorist” has gotten admission to Yale:

Never has an article made me blink with astonishment as much as when I read in yesterday’s New York Times magazine that Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, former ambassador-at-large for the Taliban, is now studying at Yale on a U.S. student visa. This is taking the obsession that U.S. universities have with promoting diversity a bit too far.

Something is very wrong at our elite universities. Last week Larry Summers resigned as president of Harvard when it became clear he would lose a no-confidence vote held by politically correct faculty members furious at his efforts to allow ROTC on campus, his opposition to a drive to have Harvard divest itself of corporate investments in Israel, and his efforts to make professors work harder. Now Yale is giving a first-class education to an erstwhile high official in one of the most evil regimes of the latter half of the 20th century–the government that harbored the terrorists who attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001…

In the spring of 2001, I was one of several writers at The Wall Street Journal who interviewed Mr. Rahmatullah at our offices across the street from the World Trade Center…

As for Osama bin Laden, Mr. Rahmatullah called the Saudi fugitive a “guest” of his government and said it hadn’t been proved that bin Laden was linked to any terrorist acts, despite his indictment in the U.S. for planning the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. [Link]

I think you got to give the guy a break. Sometimes people don’t appreciate how thoroughly one can be brainwashed. Maybe after having tasted freedom and opportunity in America it will change his perspective and he will return to Afghanistan someday to help improve society there. You have to hope at least. By the way, this was my favorite part of the Times article:

Over the next three weeks, [Mountaineer, cameraman, and filmmaker Mike] 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…” [Link]

110 thoughts on “They’ll let anyone in these days…even ex-”Tangoes”

  1. RC,

    My response was in no way an insult to the “desi” term. I’m just saying Afghans, whether they are Pashtun or not will not identify ourselves as that. And same with Pashtuns in Pakistan, at least the ones I know. Its hard enough for some us to identify ourselves as Afghans. We are tribal people.

    Have you ever meet a Pashtun from Pakistan? If you know any, ask them, for their take on the subject.

  2. first of all, ppl from afghanistan call ourselves AFGHAN – not afghani – its insulting to us as a people, so pls refer to us correctly.

    And no, as a afghan (who’s family is composed of hazaras and pashtuns), I identify myself w/ central asia, and not as a desi… before any afghan (tajik/hazara/pashtun/uzbek) will claim heritage from South asia, we’ll claim it from iran and mongolia first.

  3. Ok from what i see this is getting WAY out of hand. As an Indian muslim myself, I know exactly what ethnicities i have things in common with. Bengalis and Pakistanis are my desi brothers, they were originally part of india anyway if it wasn’t for the partition. But, Pakistan is the Limit. even in western Pakistan there are people who do not look anything like indians, they resemble more of persians and arabs. Because of this Pakistan is the limit to being desi, and those pakistanis that resemble persians and arabs can only be considered desi because of their location in pakistan, their arab/persian ancestry can be ignored.

    Afghanistan is out of the question. They have no linguistic ties to India, the majority of them don’t look anything like Indians, their culture is more persian and arab, and they were never part of india before the partition. Afghans are DESI? uhhh…NO.

  4. ^ thank you, afghans are NOT desis.

    and let us not forget that both afghanistan (ariana) and India are 2 very old regions, w/ great culture and history – pakistan isn’t even 70 yrs old!

    The northern parts (such as the NWFP) are more closely connected to afghans and afghan history then to pakistan’s india… its really the british that came in and messed the whole thing up.

    Anyway, I meant no disrepect to indians, or desis, its just aggravating to see ppl speculating & making claims about another – if you want the opinion of afghans, go ask them, just don’t speculate… we have (just as any other group of ppl) our jerks who’ll also respond, but that just simply adds more flavor… you’ll find afghans who like the post above me, and myself, are from mixed ethnic groups, as well as others that aren’t, and different attitudes – but next time a debate goes on like this, (and on a few other pages), go get afghans to express how they see themselves, not indians, and not the CIA world guidebook.


  5. Pakistani Pashtuns are complex bunch of people. The lowland Pashtuns are culturally quite close to Punjabis (they’ll never admit it though!) but the highland and tribal Pashtuns have very little in common with Indic culture.

    Despite being only about 10% of Pakistan’s population they are still a widespread and influential group, and at 20 million they arent exactly a small minority. Their are more Pashtuns in Pakistan than in Afghanistan.

  6. As for the Kapoors, as Amitabh pointed out theyre not really Pashtuns.

    The Hindko speaking Hindus that used to live in Peshawar were culturally indistinguishable from the Hindko speaking Muslims of Peshawar, in fact Peshawar had a Hindko speaking majority until the fifties when Pashtuns from the surrounding villages and the Tribal Areas started to settle there in large numbers.

    Despite being the major group though, Pashto and not Hindko has always been the trade language in Peshawar, so all Hindko speakers (Hindus included) also spoke Pashto as their second language, this is why they were reffered to as Punjabi Pathans.

    Their are no actual Hindu Pashtuns. One of the distinguishing charecteristics of being Pashtun is to be Muslim. The Hindus of the NWFP were all of Punjabi ancestry, they moved into the region during Mughal and Sikh rule to become tradesmen and merchants. The same goes for the Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan, they are also of Punjabi ancestry.

  7. Afghanistan and NWFP are distant corners of the sub cont . in terms of historical and cultural influences,they are connected and have similarities to the Hindi/Urdu speaking heartlands.BUT they are not Hindustani. However western Afghanistan is part of the greater Persian cultural world not Indian /Desi sphere .Anyone who speaks Urdu or Punjabi who crosses the Indus and heads into The NWFP, Baluchistan and Afghanistan or even Eastern Iran knows they are way out of their comfort zone in many ways .Even my father says he is a foreigner when he leaves Punjab to visit Peshawar.Yes many things seem a bit Desi in places like Peshawar but a Lucknow vala would still be just as ‘lost’ as if he went to Madurai in the South or Chittagong in the east. Many things in Cambodia seem a bit desi at first but that is the SE Asian connection with India which is another matter.

  8. South Asians have no pride when compared to the Iranians. Iranians have been invaded by Turks, Mongols, Arabs, and Greeks. The area compromising Pakistan has also, incidentally, but the big difference is that the Iranian will still proclaim his/her “Iranian purity” (even the Turkic speaking Azeris of the North). Moreover, they are very proud of their zoroastrian forefathers.

    OTOH, most Pakistanis and Indians proclaim some foreign ancestry and they are not proud of their Hindu ancestors. I saw this Malayalee girl on match dot com, and she said that she was from Kerala, which, being a coastal town, welcomed Arab merchants, Jewish refugees, and Christians, and thus, she is genetically related to them (which maybe the case, but she begs for this condition, it seems).

    Another thing, the Persians HATE what Alex the Great did when he waged war and conquered the Iranians in ~300BC. However, Indians are very proud that he ruled over their ancestors, even though he technically never crossed the Indus.

  9. Regarding PunjabiJatt: He’s right. If you read an afghani chat, they despise the indian race (but not indians). their insult to one another is “you must be a dark paki.” and they equate pakistani and indians with dravidians. in general, the tajiks claim that pashtuns are indian and ‘dravidian’, which i find offensive, since I’m a Dravidian. However, I’ve seen Afghanis at the Indian Student Associations in the past. I suppose that they choose to be Middle Eastern/Eurasian when it suits them and they choose to be Indic when it suits them. I am always going to be a proud desi, that not adultered with Greek, Saka, Kushana, Tocharian, steppe nomads, Hunnic, European, or Hepthalite genes!

  10. sighs

    afghans are eurasian – central asian. not middle eastern nor desi. As for the confused afghans out there, its not a matter of “switching” whenever it suits them – but typical ignorance displayed by displaced afghans.

    Please keep in mind, you’re dealing with a whole new crop of people whose parents were fleeing the country & leaving everything they knew behind – either before they were born or while they were still in elementary school.

    War leaves alot scars: cultural, moral, intellectual, emotional, in addition to physical.

    I hope this helps answer your question.

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