04 May 2006

Should a university deny admission to an applicant based solely on the fact that he worked for the Taliban in his early twenties?

That's the question facing Yale as they endure criticism for considering the application of Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, a former Taliban diplomat and spokesman.

It seems to me that refusing admission based on his previous career and ties with the Taliban would set a horrible precedent. Yes, we are at war with the Taliban. Yes, they were (and are) horrible to women and religious minorities. But there are a lot of regimes around the world that do unsavory things, and that doesn't prevent officials from those countries from studying in the United States. The Chinese military has had a number of its officers spend time at the Kennedy School of Government, for example. And there are a number of Latin American regimes where relatives of officials have received American educations. Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria, studied medicine in the UK while his father was president. Are we now going to say that, if you are connected to a regime that has done something bad, you aren't allowed to study in an ostensibly open educational setting?

Another problem is that different people see regimes through different perspectives. While the Taliban is easy to condemn, there are sharp and honest differences of opinion over the moral righteousness of countries like China, Israel, and even the United States. If some foreign country thinks the U.S. is guilty of war crimes, do we want Americans with government experience be precluded from studying in that country?

Unless Hashemi himself is accused of specific crimes, or unless we think he's a spy, he shouldn't be denied admission solely on the basis of his prior service with the Taliban.

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