If Yale’s president wants to educate a deserving Afghan, I’ve got just the woman for him

She is strongly critical of U.S. support for her country’s new government

Opinion Journal, March 27, 2006

from The Wall Street Journal editorial page, by John H. Fund

NEW HAVEN, Conn.–The BBC calls Malalai Joya the most famous woman in Afghanistan. On Thursday the 27-year-old women’s rights activist, a member of the Afghan Parliament, mounted a stage at Yale and turned her fire on the university’s decision to admit a former Taliban official as a special student.

“All should raise their voice against such criminals,” she told a crowd of 200. “It is an unforgivable insult to the Afghan people that he is here. He should face a court of law rather than be at one of your finest universities.” The Yale Daily News reported that the large attendance at her speech showed that the former Taliban official “continues to be widely controversial.” Last night the Yale College Council, the undergraduate student government, began debating a resolution urging the university’s administration not to admit Mr. Hashemi as a regular sophomore in the fall.

Ms. Joya has standing to speak for Afghan women. She ran an underground school for women during the Taliban’s rule and today receives frequent death threats after giving speeches in Parliament against “fanatical warlords.” She is strongly critical of U.S. support for her country’s new government, which she claims is increasingly influenced by warlords, as evidenced by the now-abandoned attempt to try an Afghan named Abdul Rahman for the capital crime of converting to Christianity. “Why has $12 billion in foreign aid not made it to my suffering people?” she asked me during an interview. “Fraud and waste have largely diverted your aid to others.”

But it was her criticism of Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, the 27-year-old Taliban ambassador-at-large turned Yale student, that stuck in the minds of some audience members at a reception afterwards. “Before I was like, who cares if the guy was Taliban or not?” Yigit Dula, a sophomore from Turkey, told the Yale Daily News. “But it means a lot more to [Afghans] to have someone like Hashemi educated at Yale.” Aisha Amir, a physician who fled war-torn Afghanistan, told me she sympathized with the difficult choices people had to make to survive under the Taliban, but added that “there are so many more deserving Afghan students who belong in Hashemi’s place.”

Intrigued, I later called her up to get her full story. She left a refugee camp in Pakistan with her mother, Maroofa, and her four younger siblings in 2002. Like Mr. Hashemi she has only a high school equivalency degree, because schooling in the refugee camp was limited. Her mother can’t work and knows only basic English, so she and her sister Rona are the only means of support for the family beyond food stamps and $600 a month in housing assistance from the state.

At the time, no one knew what else the Taliban were doing in Bamiyan beyond blowing up Buddhas. Nearby, the Afghan video journalists found the remnants of the Hazara tribe. One survivor told them the Taliban had “tried to exterminate” the entire tribe, starting with the men.

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