QuoteSayed and de Man at Yale The campus that ran off a Nazi propagandist today welcomes one from the Taliban.Three weeks after the New York Times revealed that former Taliban official Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi is attending classes at Yale, many at the university still have little to say about the controversy. Meredith Startz, president of the Yale Political Union, told me "there's more discussion of military recruiting among people at Yale than about the Taliban student."That's partly because Ms. Startz's own organization is discouraging discussion of the subject. The union's vice president had invited me, along with Yale alumnus and Army veteran Flagg Youngblood, to debate both military recruitment and the Rahmatullah case, on campus March 29. But when he brought the proposal to the executive board, it was rejected. "No matter how carefully we frame this debate, it would inevitably turn into a trial of a fellow student and his personal life and beliefs," Ms. Startz wrote me. "The [Political Union] is not a forum for that sort of discussion." When I asked her how mentioning Mr. Rahmatullah's professional record as an apologist and propagandist for the murderous Taliban could be construed as a discussion of "his personal life and beliefs," she told me I was playing "semantics." But she stuck to her view that the debate would be improper. Yet Mr. Rahmatullah's views have been deliberated on the Yale campus before, by Mr. Rahmatullah himself. In March 2001 Gustav Ranis, then director of Yale's Center for International and Area Studies, moderated a debate on the Taliban at Yale between the Taliban mouthpiece and Prof. Harold Hongju Koh of the Yale Law School. It was a heated confrontation, with Mr. Koh only "reluctantly" shaking Mr. Rahmatullah's hand at the end. But it apparently made an impression on Mr. Ranis, who, one Yale official told me, soon took to calling then Attorney General John Ashcroft and other Bush administration officials "the American Taliban." Mr. Ranis did not respond to phone calls or emails. One of the few people to defend Yale publicly has been Mark Oppenheimer, a Yale graduate who is now editor of the weekly New Haven Advocate. While Mr. Oppenheimer allows that "perhaps Islamofascists shouldn't get the privilege of studying at Yale" he notes that "the determination about this particular young man was for the admission office to make. . . . Admission offices don't ask about students' politics--should they?" Mr. Oppenheimer also says he is "sure Yale enrolled some students who fought for, or somehow abetted, the Third Reich." That may or may not be true, but a pair of infamous incidents involved Yale professors who turned out to have been Nazi propagandists.The case of Vladimir Sokolov presents an interesting contrast with how Yale is reacting to its Talib student today. After his activities during World War II were exposed in 1976, he was run off campus and later deported. Sokolov, a native Russian, taught at Yale for nearly 20 years, rising to the rank of senior lecturer. He was beloved by his students, and the New York Times reported that his department's chairman considered him the school's best language instructor. He had not been known to harbor any anti-Semitic views, and indeed he lent his name to appeals that Jews be allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union. He also frequently wrote anticommunist articles for Russian-language papers in New York. Those apparently raised the hackles of the KGB, which in 1976 released files that showed he had been a willing tool of the Nazis during their occupation of much of Russia. In Orel, a city of 115,000 south of Moscow, Nazi propagandists hired Sokolov as a columnist and deputy editor for Rech (Speech), a Russian-language newspaper they controlled. Between 1942 and 1944, Sokolov, under a pen name, wrote articles that, according to the U.S. Justice Department, "advocated the persecution of the Jews" and attacked America. Among his more memorable phrases were "Let us salute our glorious Liberator, the Fuehrer" and "Never again will [Jewish] feet tread upon our soil." After the Nazis were driven out of Russia, Sokolov moved to Berlin, where he worked for another Russian-language Nazi paper. After the war Sokolov was able to enter the U.S. as a displaced person by claiming he had been only a "proofreader" in the Soviet Union and hadn't been involved in persecution. In the 1970s, when Sokolov was confronted with the evidence of his wartime propaganda, he offered the excuse that he'd been young. He was in his late 20s during the war, like Mr. Rahmatullah today. He also claimed that Nazi censors must have inserted the most anti-Semitic statements into his stories. An uproar occurred on the Yale campus. "There was a great deal of anger, many letters in the paper and much complaint," recalls Hanna Holborn Gray, who was Yale provost at the time and later acting president. Robert Jackson, a professor of international relations, described Sokolov's writings as "Goebbels-like." The noted historian Peter Gay vowed he would not "serve on the same payroll" with the "despicable" Sokolov and demanded he be fired. (Mr. Gay did not respond to phone calls.) Two Yale alumni recall the case being debated at the Yale Political Union, although because many YPU records from that time are missing they can't locate the specifics. Mr. Sokolov had a few defenders. Alexander Schenker, a Slavic professor of Russian Jewish background, wrote that "people have a right to change. [Sokolov] is not anti-Semetic now. In fact, he is probably the most pro-Semetic professor in the Russian department." After several Yale faculty members bullied Sokolov into resigning, the Yale Daily News editorialized that his "due process" rights had been violated and that he "deserved forgiveness." That wasn't forthcoming. The Reagan Justice Department, with the tangential involvement of an up-and-coming lawyer named John Roberts, moved to have him deported for lying on his citizenship application. Before a final hearing could be held, Sokolov fled to Canada, where he died in 1992. One Yale professor who must have followed the Sokolov episode with some interest was Paul de Man, the leading guru of deconstructionism, the dominant school of cultural criticism in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s. De Man, who had fled his native Belgium after World War II, had his own history of Nazi collaboration.To its adherents, deconstructionism was a powerful tool of analysis that held that language is always so compromised by hidden influences and ulterior motives that a text never means what it appears to mean. "The relationship between truth and error that prevails in literature cannot be represented genetically," de Man wrote. "Truth and error exist simultaneously, thus preventing the favoring of one over the other." Since words are always shifting their meaning, no interpretation of them is more correct than any other. To paraphrase Henry Ford, literature and history are therefore bunk. Many critics thought deconstructionism a joke, describing de Man and his disciples as an insular literary Mafia that was "trying to make people an offer they couldn't understand." But others believed that purposefully viewing texts as not inherently worthy allowed them to be twisted to serve an individual professor's personal agenda. David Lehman, the editor of the Oxford Book of American Poetry and the author of the leading biography of de Man, regards deconstructionism as "a program that promotes a reckless disregard of the truth and a propensity for hero worship." Roger Kimball, once a graduate student at Yale and now the publisher of Encounter Books, notes that stripping texts of their meaning reminds him of George Orwell's warning that the debasement of speech can provide a veneer of justification for any behavior: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it." Yale was stunned in 1983, when de Man died at 64. Two months after his death, the New York Times ran a piece headlined "Yale Still Feeling Loss of Revered Professor." But the university was even more stunned in the fall of 1987, when a Belgian graduate student uncovered evidence that de Man had written nearly 200 articles for Nazi-controlled newspapers between 1940 and 1942.To those who believe words do have meaning, these articles had a very clear one. John Brenkman, a professor of English as Northwestern University, concluded they showed de Man to be "a fascist, an anti-Semite and an active collaborator with the Nazis." In one article, de Man proclaimed that "the future of Europe can be envisioned only within the framework of the possibilities and needs of the German spirit." In his most infamous piece, de Man said a "solution to the Jewish problem that envisions the creation of a Jewish colony isolated from Europe would not have, for the literary life of the West, regrettable consequences." The article was surrounded by caricatures of hook-nosed Jews and a spurious quotation from Benjamin Franklin that referred to Jews as "Asiatics" who were "a menace to the nation that admits them." The Franklin hoax has gained new life in recent years, propagated by both Islamist and neo-Nazi Web sites. In early 2002 the Middle East Media Research Institute reported that an Egyptian government newspaper had published it.De Man had landed his gig as "literary critic" for Le Soir, Belgium's leading daily paper, in his early 20s through the intervention of Hendrik de Man, his uncle, who was head of the country's Socialist Party. When Germany invaded in 1940, the elder de Man was King Leopold's closest political confidant and the only one of his advisers to support the king's decision to surrender to the Germans and remain in the country. Hendrik de Man infamously issued a manifesto to his party's members telling them the German conquest was welcome: "For the working classes and for socialism, this collapse of a decrepit world, far from being a disaster, is a deliverance." Convicted of treason in absentia after the war, Hendrik de Man committed suicide in exile in 1953. Paul de Man's collaborationist articles landed him a spot in a Belgian Resistance photo montage of 44 journalists called the "gallery of traitors." Ironically, after the war de Man himself at least once claimed to have been part of the Resistance, and he never corrected those who formed that impression. In 1946, 26 employees of Le Soir were put on trial for collaboration, but since de Man had not officially been on the newspaper's payroll (a result of Belgium's restrictive labor laws) and had stopped writing in 1942 he wasn't included. But all journalists who had worked during the war were barred from media employment. The next year, de Man left for America to reinvent himself and fashion a glittering career in academia."Anyone who thinks that he left this all behind him, that it did not motivate the life and career that followed, is crazy," Frank Lentricchia, an English professor at Duke University, told The Nation, a left-wing magazine, in 1988. "Then you come to deconstruction: a philosophy that says you can never trust language to anchor you into anything; that every linguistic act is duplicitous; that every insight you have is beset by blindness you can't predict. . . . [De Man] didn't just say "forget history'; he wanted to paralyze the move to history."Peter Brooks, a Yale French professor who was a colleague of de Man, told me the reaction at Yale to his wartime collaboration was "much puzzlement and deep sadness, but there was sober discussion and no rush to judgment." He confirmed to me that at least one senior faculty member at Yale had known of de Man's past but said nothing about it. Another professor told me that several of his colleagues knew, but because de Man was "a star member of the club" they kept their silence. Questions about how de Man came to be hired (his collaborationist past was known to his former colleagues at Harvard) were swept aside. By 1995, Carra Leah Hood, a graduate student in comparative literature, would write in the Yale Daily News that on campus the name of Paul de Man is "a curse or else it is enshrouded in a don't-ask-don't-tell mutism. . . . His silence [about his past] produced even more silence."While most people at Yale are similarly responding with silence to questions about the Rahmatullah case, there are exceptions. One is Amy Aaland, executive director of the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, where Mr. Rahmatullah takes his meals. (Kosher food also complies with Islamic dietary laws.) Slifka, which has a $1.5 million annual budget, focuses on social and religious programs along with efforts to promote coexistence between Arabs and Israelis. Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Yale graduate, and his wife, Hadassah, are honorary trustees.Ms. Aaland was friendly and engaging as she told me that when she learned that a former Taliban official was having meals at Slifka, she was surprised but not displeased: "It's a chance to learn about him and his culture. Dialogue starts at a table. You have to share a meal together." When I asked her if any of the revelations about Mr. Rahmatullah's past disturb her, she said that "while he has made some mistakes," she trusts that university officials had "investigated things" and satisfied themselves about him. She noted that Mr. Rahmatullah was "very, very young" when he had been a Taliban official, and said that "it's not like the Taliban attacked this country."As for Mr. Rahmatullah's recently calling Israel "an American Al Qaeda," Ms. Aaland said there were many other people on Yale's campus who felt the same way. "He's been at Yale less than a year, and an undergraduate education is four years," she told me. "Just living here he can learn values and ideals from our society." Ms. Aaland draws her belief in reconciliation from the Jewish concept of teshuvah, which means "repentance" or "returning to God." One way to do that is to reach out to others with kindness, empathy and generosity. When I pointed out that Mr. Rahmatullah has proved in the past that he is a skilled liar, Ms. Aaland said there are dangers in any contact with others. "But why not come from a place of trust, break out of old molds and consider him innocent until proven guilty?" she asked. As for his work as an apologist for the Taliban's human rights abuses, she told me that all spokesmen in his position are "performers in a sense, actors." She told me he would learn new things at Yale. Yes, but might that not include learning to simply become a better actor? I finished my chat with Ms. Aaland by asking her about one of the Taliban's most infamous fatwas. In May 2001, the Taliban announced that all non-Muslims--chiefly Hindus, who numbered between 500 and 2,000--would have to wear yellow badges on their clothing. The order was met with instant censure around the world. A German diplomat recalled that "the visible marking of people was the beginning of the Holocaust." U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the policy "recalls some of the most deplorable acts of discrimination in history." The U.S. House voted unanimously to condemn a policy it said was eerily similar "to the yellow Star of David that Jews were forced to wear" by the Nazis. The Taliban justified the measure by claiming it was designed to end harassment of minority groups by the infamous religious police. Westerners who were in Afghanistan at the time tell me that Mr. Rahmatullah was among those offering this explanation. One reporter told me he recalled a conversation with Mr. Rahmatullah in which it was quite clear he'd been well briefed on the policy. "He had no trouble defending the decree until I pointed out it also required non-Muslims to move out of housing they shared with Muslims within three days," the reporter recalled. "He didn't have a coherent response to that." After the international outcry, the Taliban relaxed the fatwa so that non-Muslims were only required to carry identification cards. Ms. Aaland absorbed all that I told her, and then said she understood the parallels involved between the Holocaust and the Taliban's badge edict. "I don't expect learning to happen overnight," she told me. "As much as possible we should approach these matters with the concept of teshuvah in mind." Asked if she will welcome Mr. Rahmatullah back to her dining hall as classes begin today, she said "Yes, so long as he's not disruptive."Since I began writing about Yale's admission of Mr. Rahmatullah, I have been accused of launching a vendetta against the school. In truth, as I wrote three weeks ago, my initial interest in the case stemmed from a memorable 90-minute meeting I had with the Taliban diplomat in the spring of 2001 at The Wall Street Journal's offices, just across the street from the World Trade Center. Yale is one of our country's great institutions of higher learning, and it is the fear that it is now foolishly sacrificing its credibility that has compelled nearly a dozen former and current officials to contact me privately about their concerns. I also know something about the nature of officials in totalitarian regimes, having interviewed several, ranging from an East German finance minister to the deputy head of the secret police in communist Albania. As the late Nazi architect Albert Speer once observed, "Officials in the secret-police atmosphere of a totalitarian regime become skillful liars to survive. I know, I was one of them." And Speer's deception did not end with the war. During his trial for war crimes and after his release from prison in 1966, he carefully cultivated an image as the only "decent" member of Hitler's inner circle. This turned out to be a further lie. Six months after Speer's death in 1981, it was revealed he had concealed incriminating passages from his wartime diary. They convinced even Gitta Sereny, Speer's sympathetic biographer, that he had known about the Holocaust by 1943.In light of this history, and given Mr. Rahmatullah's service to one of the most brutal regimes since the Nazis, why should anyone--especially at Yale--give him the benefit of the doubt, especially when he has not publicly renounced the Taliban? Late last year he wrote an essay in which he said that the regime "honestly practiced what they had learned in their religious schools. They did what they had been taught to do. Whether what they had been taught was good or bad is another subject." When a Times of London reporter asked Mr. Rahmatullah this month about the Taliban's public executions in a Kabul soccer stadium, he quipped, "There were also executions happening in Texas."Yale refuses to defend its position, but others are talking. Afghan exiles are appalled that Mr. Rahmatuallah was given a coveted place that could have gone to an Afghan man or woman who had been oppressed by the Taliban. Author Sebastian Junger reports from Afghanistan in the current Vanity Fair on the atrocities the Taliban are committing today. They include skinning a man alive and leaving him to die in the sun. Another man was forced to watch as his wife was gang-raped. Then his eyes were put out, so that the horrific crime would be the last image he would ever see. The relatives of U.S. soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan are likewise appalled. "It's not like the Taliban ever signed a peace treaty," Natalie Healy, the mother of a Navy SEAL killed by a Taliban rocket last year, told me. "They're still killing Americans." Yale's silence is disconcerting to Hanna Holborn Gray, a former Yale provost who also served as its acting president for 14 months before heading the University of Chicago. She told me that while she had no specific views on the Taliban student, in general she didn't buy the argument that one should invite the enemy to teach or study on campus. "There are so many ways to get that point of view, through lectures by them on campus, through the Internet, through study by students abroad that I don't see the need to accord them special status," she told me. Malalai Joya, a 27-year-old member of Afghanistan's parliament, is coming to Yale this Thursday to speak about women's rights and the growing power of both the Northern Alliance warlords and the Taliban in her country. She is harshly critical of President Hamid Karzai's government, which she says is infiltrated by warlords, and of the U.S. for supporting it. But she is also appalled that many people have forgotten the crimes of the Taliban. She was surprised to hear that Mr. Rahmatullah was attending Yale. "He should apologize to my people and expose what he and others did under the Taliban," she told me. "He knew very well what criminal acts they committed; he was not too young to know. He should give interviews so we know what he thinks now. It would be better if he faced a court of justice than be a student at Yale University." Somehow I doubt Mr. Rahmatullah will be attending her lecture on Thursday. Here's hoping that Ms. Joya's visit to Yale will touch off a full-fledged debate about the Taliban propagandist. At the same time it might be useful for Yalies to discuss how his case is both different from and similar to those of Vladimir Sokolov and Paul de Man, the Nazi propagandists in Yale's past.