Jewish World Review April 3, 2006 / 5 Nissan 5766
John H. Fund
Ivory Tower Stonewall: A 9/11 survivor asks Yale to explain why it admitted the Taliban Man
Mrs. Bailey's sister, whose daughter graduated from Yale last year, has written Mr. Levin three times to demand an explanation. All she has gotten back is a single "form letter" that repeats the same vague 144-word response that has been Yale's sole statement on its Taliban Man for the past five weeks. "It's insulting and not at all brave," says Mrs. Bailey. Ms. Pothier is even more blunt: "Can't they see they are causing people pain and making it worse by ignoring our questions?"
In the past month, Mrs. Bailey and Ms. Pothier have had to be painfully reminded of Ace Bailey's death twice. The first was when they both watched a live TV feed of the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker who was arrested a month before 9/11 and now has confessed to helping plot the attacks.
The second was when they learned that Yale had admitted Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, a 27-year-old former official of the Taliban, the murderous regime that harbored Osama bin Laden. Mr. Hashemi remains largely unrepentant about his involvement with the regime, whose remnants are still killing Americans. Last Wednesday brought word of the 139th U.S. soldier to be killed in combat at the hands of Taliban guerrillas, and yesterday, five U.S. soldiers were wounded when their armored vehicle struck a Taliban roadside bomb in Kunar province.
Mrs. Bailey feels an obligation to travel from her home in suburban Lynnfield, Mass., to a federal courtroom in Boston, where 9/11 families can watch the Moussaoui trial on closed-circuit television, so she can confront the evil that killed her husband. She says the courtroom scenes are chilling. "When prosecutors discuss how much he hates America, he turns around to face the camera he knows is broadcasting his trial to the victims' families," she told me. "He then pulls at his beard and vigorously shakes his head at us: 'Yes, yes.' "
Mrs. Bailey wishes all Americans could see what she's seen and hear Moussaoui's "blood curdling" testimony. "If the president of Yale and his officials could see the trial, perhaps they'd understand why people are upset and why they should find the courage to act on their Taliban student," she told me yesterday. "I only wish I could be sure they'd understand. They seem to want to stay inside their little bubble at Yale."
Mrs. Bailey has tried to take a positive approach to the loss of Ace, her husband of 29 years. She now spends most of her time promoting the Ace Bailey Children's Foundation, which assists programs such as Tufts University's Floating Hospital for Children, which treats children with major medical conditions.
But the past keeps coming back to haunt her. On the morning of 9/11, she had dropped Ace off at Logan Airport so he could board his United flight to Los Angeles on a hockey scouting trip. She says that he tried to reach her three times from his cell phone after the plane had been hijacked. "I didn't have call waiting on my home phone then, so I missed his first two calls because I was talking to someone else," she recalls. Then, in what she assumes was desperation, her husband called her downstairs business phone. "I ran down to get it, but when I picked up the line it went dead. It was the precise moment that Flight 175 lost contact with the outside world and hit the Trade Center. I never got to speak any final words with him." Last Friday, she was deeply saddened when the tapes of several dozen emergency calls from people trapped in the Trade Center that day were finally released to their families.
Mrs. Bailey says that such incidents as the Moussaoui trial and the release of emergency call tapes are unavoidable reminders of her loss. She is also concerned that "many Americans have become complacent since 3,000 of us died on 9/11. The attitude of those at Yale who think we need to educate Hashemi rather than a deserving Afghan victim of the Taliban is evidence of that laxity," she says. "What's almost as bad is that they refuse to discuss their decision with anyone."
Her sister tried to start a dialogue. On March 9, 11 days after a sympathetic 9,000-word New York Times magazine profile of Mr. Hashemi broke the news of his presence on campus, Ms. Pothier emailed President Levin from her home in Brookline, Mass.:
Our daughter, [name withheld], graduated from Yale in 2005. We are quite dismayed to hear of the attendance of Sayed Rahmatulla Hashemi at Yale University this year.Five days later, Mr. Levin's office responded with the 144-word form letter. "I was incensed," Ms. Pothier told me. "My daughter who went to Yale lost her favorite uncle on 9/11 and all he could do was send a word-for-word regurgitation of Yale's media statement."
She felt she deserved more. Unlike many parents, Ms. Pothier and her husband had paid Yale's full tuition, which during the time their daughter attended ranged from $36,000 to $39,000 a year. "I walked to work as a nurse every day at 6:15 am to pay those tuition bills," she told me. "I sent over $150,000 to Yale, and all I could get back from President Levin was a lousy form letter."
The next day, Ms. Pothier wrote back:
I appreciate your reply. However, I consider your explanation of Mr. Hashemi's presence at Yale to be naive at best and somewhat disingenuous.After waiting five days and receiving no reply, Ms. Pothier sat down at her word processor a third and final time and penned the following letter on March 20:
After speaking with several alumni and parents of Yale graduates, it is clear to me that we all received the identical e-mail regarding our concerns about Mr. Hashemi's attendance at Yale.Two weeks later, Ms. Pothier has yet to receive a reply from Mr. Levin, "in keeping," she says, "with his general ostrich-like behavior" on the Taliban Man issue.
Ms. Pothier says she has been disappointed before by Yale's handling of the feelings of the families of 9/11 victims. In September 2001, she drove down from Boston to pick up her daughter at Yale for her uncle's memorial service. She was appalled when her daughter told her about a "town meeting" Yale's administrators had organized at Battell Chapel on Sept. 16. Its ostensible purpose was to explain the attack's significance to students.
"She went there to try to understand why her uncle was killed," Ms. Pothier recalls. "Instead she got something else entirely: the message that the U.S. may be partly to blame." The six panelists, led by history professor Paul Kennedy and former Clinton State Department official Strobe Talbott, all focused on the "underlying causes" of the attack and our need to understand those who hated America.
Mr. Talbott concluded that it "it is from the desperate, angry and bereaved that these suicide pilots came." But the most controversial comments were by Prof. Kennedy who suggested that students should understand the reasons why the U.S. was hated. He stated that the vastness of U.S. power in the world and the attractive nature of its political and social ideals were seen by many as "offensive cultural messages" and engendered anger. "Suppose that there existed today a powerful united Arab-Muslim state," he told Yale's students and posited that state had the biggest economy and the most powerful military in the world. "In those conditions, would not many Americans grow to loathe that colossus?" Mr. Kennedy wondered. "I think so."
The reaction from some faculty members who were not part of the "town meeting" was swift. Steven Smith, a political science professor, said that confused and timid statements such as those at the "Town Meeting" represented a "failure to see the attack on America as an act of clear and unmitigated evil." Donald Kagan, a history professor and former dean of Yale College, went further and blasted the panel for the uniformity of the views it expressed. He asked why Yale couldn't find one professor who could have focused on the enemy and "how to stamp out such evil." He wondered if Yale had found it "impossible" to find one, or "just undesirable."
Mr. Kagan wrote that the meeting was "a classic example of blaming the victim" and that Mr. Kennedy's comments "seem to suggest we react by appeasing the terrorists by a measured retreat." Mr. Kennedy responded to his critics by sending out the full text of his remarks and asking that "readers draw their own conclusions."
Ms. Pothier says her daughter had heard Mr. Kennedy in full and was still upset. Last week, she and Mrs. Bailey visited her daughter in Costa Rica, where she is teaching. "She still remembered how that Yale town meeting failed to see the real issues of 9/11," Ms. Pothier told me. "She and a college classmate had also just seen that Yale had admitted the Taliban official and both were aghast. We all wonder if Yale will ever get it."
Yale officials apparently now wish more than anything else to "move on" from the Taliban controversy. Mr. Hashemi has been silent for five weeks; his application to become a full-fledged sophomore next fall sits on Mr. Levin's desk. Last Wednesday the Yale student government debated a resolution that would have ratified the admissions policy guidelines set down in 1967 by Kingman Brewster, its late president. In relevant part, those guidelines state that "a demonstrated failure of moral sensitivity or regard for the dignity of others cannot be redeemed by allegations that the young man is extremely 'interesting.' "
But even though the resolution didn't even mention Mr. Hashemi directly, there was no vote and further debate was postponed. Austin Broussard, a junior and one of its authors, says several student officials at the meeting called for "tolerance" and giving Mr. Hashemi "the benefit of the doubt." But Mr. Hashemi's lack of repentance, followed by silence, does not merit such a charitable interpretation.
Yale officials now have other concerns. Yesterday it was announced that China's President Hu Jintao will deliver a major address on campus on April 21. Mr. Levin has sent out an email saying the Chinese leader's visit "affirms the value the Chinese place on their longstanding relationship with Yale. In recent years, Yale has been the most active of all American universities in establishing student exchanges and research collaborations with China."
Yale's enormous commitment to China is likely to dominate discussion on campus in the coming weeks. But Mrs. Bailey and Ms. Pothier believe the university is making a long-term mistake by trying to sweep the Taliban Man issue under a rug by ignoring their complaints and that of all others.
After all, they point out that it would just take one more Tiananmen Square massacre in China to leave Yale with an bigger embarrassment than even the Taliban Man has been. "Yale owes it to both itself and the world outside its ivory towers to clarify where it stands on moral questions," Ms. Pothier says.
She points out that last month, the university, with the support of the student government, decided to divest from Sudan, whose government condones slavery and has been accused of genocide. But when it comes to harboring a former top official of the Taliban, another murderous regime whose remnants are even now killing Americans, Yale's official silence continues and speaks volumes.
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