Sunday, December 31, 2006

Beautiful Mansion - a Poem

Beautiful Mansion

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
December 31, 2006

O' Beautiful Mansion
glistened, moistened
under the elongated rainbow
afar waves of sea
floating seagulls, running beach goers
and tottering babies, whistling children
romantic men and women
in camouflaged melodrama
under meaningful umbrella
noosed in the ground
like a convicted hangman

O' Beautiful Mansion
windows made of sparkling glass
came from a third world nation
where only a few could afford sturdy homes,
only the rulers live in mansion like thee
the rest dwell in slums, huts made of straws or muds
children born, children dies
no register, no fanfare statistics

O' Beautiful Mansion
colorful rainbow over neatly trimmed trees
spluttering water drenching budding grass
one or two gardeners can be seen
planting seeds, mowing overgrown bushes
here and there scattering weeds, undesirables
plucked and cut in swift precision
Tis the season of fresh air
Tis the season of new beginning

O' Beautiful Mansion
away from dim lighted nightmare at dawn
where ghoulish scene of murder streamed from
into our dumbed down television screens or liquid crystals, endless times
as if it wasn't enough showing gassed and bombed body parts
of disfigured romantic men and women, babies and children
from another place, another world
where blood vengeance replaces glowing rainbow

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Clothes Aren't the Issue

Let's be frank. I am very much aware of the ongoing "malign" and "propaganda" against Islam and Muslims around the world. Muslims are justifiably hurt from various attacks on their religion. Prophets caricatured cartoon was a big issue only a few months ago, along with the Pope's comment on "violence" and Islam and its "history". And now in various European nations there are broiling controversies regarding hijab wearing women, whether they have rights or not covering their face. To me and to many others this is a human rights issue. But having said that we cannot ignore a few other issues that must be addressed. Asra Nomani's article "Clothes arent the Issue" published at the Washington Post portrays the disconnect between the 21st century reality and antiquated interpratation of "sacred verses".

Clothes Aren't the Issue

By Asra Q. Nomani
Sunday, October 22, 2006; B01

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. When dealing with a "disobedient wife," a Muslim man has a number of options. First, he should remind her of "the importance of following the instructions of the husband in Islam." If that doesn't work, he can "leave the wife's bed." Finally, he may "beat" her, though it must be without "hurting, breaking a bone, leaving blue or black marks on the body and avoiding hitting the face, at any cost."

Such appalling recommendations, drawn from the book "Woman in the Shade of Islam" by Saudi scholar Abdul Rahman al-Sheha, are inspired by as authoritative a source as any Muslim could hope to find: a literal reading of the 34th verse of the fourth chapter of the Koran, An-Nisa , or Women. "[A]nd (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them," reads one widely accepted translation.

The notion of using physical punishment as a "disciplinary action," as Sheha suggests, especially for "controlling or mastering women" or others who "enjoy being beaten," is common throughout the Muslim world. Indeed, I first encountered Sheha's work at my Morgantown mosque, where a Muslim student group handed it out to male worshipers after Friday prayers one day a few years ago.

Verse 4:34 retains a strong following, even among many who say that women must be treated as equals under Islam. Indeed, Muslim scholars and leaders have long been doing what I call "the 4:34 dance" -- they reject outright violence against women but accept a level of aggression that fits contemporary definitions of domestic violence.

Read Full Article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/20/AR2006102001261.html

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sorry, but we can't just pick and choose what to tolerate

We are slipping. And sleeping while the hard-fought personal freedom for all is slowly degrading into brazen selectivity in the guise of protecting (yeh, right!) "freedom". The mania and paranoia that have swept most of the Western world for the past few years are still rising, one step at a time, in calculative orchestration, seemingly. Where these fear and political exploitation could lead this world to be anyone's guess, however, that guess may genuinely frighten many.

Regards,
Sohel



Sorry, but we can't just pick and choose what to tolerate

The furore over the right to wear the veil has exposed the double standards of the liberal anti-Islam agenda

David Edgar
Wednesday October 11, 2006
The Guardian


Well, who would have thought a bit of black cloth could have provoked such anger and such anguish. The anger is part of a growing and alarming trend. The general consensus among the anguished (such as this newspaper) is that, in Jack Straw's words, "there is an issue here".

Certainly there is. The veil question has exposed a staggering level of thoughtless illiberalism, and not just where you'd expect to find it. Hot off the mark, the Express consults its readers about a ban on the veil: "An astounding 97% of Daily Express readers agreed a ban would help to safeguard racial harmony." It's not quite clear how this ban would be implemented. (Policemen ripping veils from women's faces? Asbos? Flinging wearers in jail?)

Clearly there are precedents: the Dutch parliament has voted for a ban on wearing burkas in public places, and three Flemish towns have actually instituted a ban. In this country, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown supports a burka ban on feminist grounds, and the "progressive nationalist" David Goodhart, who edits the left-leaning Prospect magazine, calls for a ban on the burka in schools and public offices (which, depending on where Jack Straw holds his surgeries, might solve his problem at a stroke). The problems attendant upon such a policy are demonstrated by the Belgian municipalities, which had to define burka-wearing in a way that didn't criminalise carnival masks (and it is very hard to see a way of defining the burka that wouldn't incriminate the niqab).

That liberalism can so easily collapse into nativism is clearly seen in Rotterdam, where designs for mosques are rejected as "too Islamic" and a citizenship code makes it compulsory to speak only Dutch in the street. That Muslims will not be the only victims of cultural proscriptions is seen in Flanders, where the bans on burkas in public places have been followed by one on speaking French in schools. That bans on veils don't end there is shown in Germany, where several states are seeking - pace David Goodhart - to ban civil servants from wearing the hijab, including Baden-Württemberg - the first German state to bar headscarf-wearing teachers from the classroom.

So this furore has exposed the double standards of the liberal anti-Islam agenda. Like the Behzti and Jerry Springer controversies, the Danish cartoon affair was spun as a contest between universal western liberal values of tolerance and particularist religious fundamentalists who wanted to impose their sensitivities on everybody else. Now many people who defend free expression to the death want to stop other people wearing what they want, in order to protect themselves from cultural offence.

Read the Full Article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1892543,00.html


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Are We Really So Fearful?

Are We Really So Fearful?

Yes, we are so fearful that our protesting words and sentences get curtailed and truncated before leaving our twisted tongue. Yes, we are so traumatized that seeing the brutish bullies and simple butcheries do not raise our humbled selves from cozy cushions to marching on the streets.

Torture under duress is useless. But torture used as deterrence for the rightful dissenting voice has proved to be useful to the torturers, fear and warmongers. From steep mountains of Uzbekistan to frigid Russian Siberia, from Chinese one-party thugs to highly lauded "democracy" of the so-called West, Middle-East's enraging inferno, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Burmese and Sri Lankan unchecked "rapid forces", everywhere you can see, torture is used in open or in disguise.

Ariel Dorfman writes, "it is not only the victim and the perpetrator who are corrupted, not only the "intelligence" that is contaminated, but also everyone who looked away and said they did not know, everyone who consented tacitly to that outrage so they could sleep a little safer at night, all the citizens who did not march in the streets by the millions to demand the resignation of whoever suggested, even whispered, that torture is inevitable in our day and age, that we must embrace its darkness?"

Ariel Dorfman pleads, "Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand this? Are we so fearful, so in love with our own security and steeped in our own pain, that we are really willing to let people be tortured in the name of America?"

In the name of a nation, God, political leader, fabricated crisis of various sorts, human beings had and have justified their inhumane treatments of fellow beings from time immemorial. Our open lynch pins, public displays of executions and merciless whippings of "undesirables" may have been put into darkest corner of world "civility", but the facts remain that these "instruments" are on their way to reestablishing themselves in the broad daylight.

We are so fearful!

Regards,
Sohel



Are We Really So Fearful?

By Ariel Dorfman
Sunday, September 24, 2006; B01

DURHAM, N.C.

It still haunts me, the first time -- it was in Chile, in October of 1973 -- that I met someone who had been tortured. To save my life, I had sought refuge in the Argentine Embassy some weeks after the coup that had toppled the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, a government for which I had worked. And then, suddenly, one afternoon, there he was. A large-boned man, gaunt and yet strangely flabby, with eyes like a child, eyes that could not stop blinking and a body that could not stop shivering.

That is what stays with me -- that he was cold under the balmy afternoon sun of Santiago de Chile, trembling as though he would never be warm again, as though the electric current was still coursing through him. Still possessed, somehow still inhabited by his captors, still imprisoned in that cell in the National Stadium, his hands disobeying the orders from his brain to quell the shuddering, his body unable to forget what had been done to it just as, nearly 33 years later, I, too, cannot banish that devastated life from my memory.

Read Full Article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/22/AR2006092201303.html

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The View From Guantánamo

Innocent man like Mr. Qassim is kept prisoner in cages of Guantanamo. Years after years. Mr. Qasim is from Uighur in China where he and his kinsmen are oppressed brutally by the Chinese government apparatus. Economically suppressed Uighur's citizens travel far, working menial and labor intensive jobs so that their family can survive. Here is an excerpt from Mr. Qassim's New York Time's Op-Ed: "Amnesty International reports that East Turkistan is the only province in China where people may face the death penalty for political offenses. Chinese leaders brag about the number of Uighur political prisoners shot in the head. I was punished for speaking against China’s unjust policies, and I left because of the threat to my life. My search for work and refuge took me from Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan and Pakistan."


Once upon a time America was the place that dissenters like Mr. Qasim look forward to gain moral support in their endless struggles against unjust domination and forced subjugation by the powerfuls around the world. Guantanamo and numerous other hidden places like that have changed that view for many. Despite the growing agitations America still has many friends, deeply wounded, but friends indeed. It would surely be interesting to see whether America regain back its lost reputation, its high regard in the humanitarian world.

Regards,

Sohel


The View From Guantánamo

Tirana, Albania

I HAVE been greatly saddened to hear that the Congress of the United States, a country I deeply admire, is considering new laws that would deny prisoners at Guantánamo Bay the right to challenge their detentions in federal court.

I learned my respect for American institutions the hard way. When I was growing up as a Uighur in China, there were no independent courts to review the imprisonment and oppression of people who, like me, peacefully opposed the Communists. But I learned my hardest lesson from the United States: I spent four long years behind the razor wire of its prison in Cuba.

I was locked up and mistreated for being in the wrong place at the wrong time during America’s war in Afghanistan. Like hundreds of Guantánamo detainees, I was never a terrorist or a soldier. I was never even on a battlefield. Pakistani bounty hunters sold me and 17 other Uighurs to the United States military like animals for $5,000 a head. The Americans made a terrible mistake.

It was only the country’s centuries-old commitment to allowing habeas corpus challenges that put that mistake right — or began to. In May, on the eve of a court hearing in my case, the military relented, and I was sent to Albania along with four other Uighurs. But 12 of my Uighur brothers remain in Guantánamo today. Will they be stranded there forever?

Read the Full Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/17/opinion/17qassim.html

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bush’s Useful Idiots

There is no doubt that Mr. Tony Judt is a prolific writer. Two long but moving articles he wrote for London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books this week. Both of these are must read in my humble opinion. I may write more on these two articles in the coming days if and when I have any spare time. Till then, happy reading!


Regards,

Sohel

Bush’s Useful Idiots

Tony Judt on the Strange Death of Liberal America

Why have American liberals acquiesced in President Bush’s catastrophic foreign policy? Why have they so little to say about Iraq, about Lebanon, or about reports of a planned attack on Iran? Why has the administration’s sustained attack on civil liberties and international law aroused so little opposition or anger from those who used to care most about these things? Why, in short, has the liberal intelligentsia of the United States in recent years kept its head safely below the parapet?

It wasn’t always so. On 26 October 1988, the New York Times carried a full-page advertisement for liberalism. Headed ‘A Reaffirmation of Principle’, it openly rebuked Ronald Reagan for deriding ‘the dreaded L-word’ and treating ‘liberals’ and ‘liberalism’ as terms of opprobrium. Liberal principles, the text affirmed, are ‘timeless. Extremists of the right and of the left have long attacked liberalism as their greatest enemy. In our own time liberal democracies have been crushed by such extremists. Against any encouragement of this tendency in our own country, intentional or not, we feel obliged to speak out.’

Read the Full Article: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n18/judt01_.html
Also read Tony Judt's The New York Review of Books Article from the following link: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19302

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Music, Melodies and the Savior

Music, Melodies and the Savior

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)

August 15, 2006


Classical music has its dazzling charm. Piercing violin, up and down cello, and in only background the reflective organ mash the music in its virtuoso synthesis. A world of music, where new tunes defy the traditional vigor, frothing like dewy soap bubbles, harmonious beauty in soothing sound. You can hear distant tabla chatting with playful sitar while harmonica keeps tango with shifting piano and strumming guitar.

So many talented music composers contributed in the vastness of musical library around the world, generations after generations. All different kinds, different appeals to different people from varied background. Poor or rich, literati or illiterate, music can seep into everyone’s welcoming veins if given a chance, transfusing agonies into sweet melancholy.

In its elemental form music have no boundaries, no immigration laws could bound its soaring trebles, and no artificial barriers could stifle its flowing crescendos. In war and in peace, music can bring solace in grief and in meaningless triumph.

A mother’s lullaby, from Russia or Venezuela, or perhaps in American middle class suburb, has the similar effects on an infant or a child of innocence as it has on children of starving Africa or burning Middle-East. Music can pour love in hate-filled minds. Music can lift deadened boys or girls to lively lost childishness.

Even if you look closer into an apparently desolate vanishing summer like ours, where the jovial mood has gone sour witnessing distressing events surrounding our livelihood, remote but so close to the heart, day by day erosions of accumulated civility in the broaden world stage by masterful gory violence of deliberate randomness, where truth has sunk into the deepest level of Pacific or Atlantic ocean, buried into the darkened whiteness of blinding deserts, a simple melodious tune from stringy mandolin enmeshed in gentle tuba and mechanized harpsichord raise the level of awareness of cosmos and vast expanse of our singular universe.

We are all into it. Into romantic pop, ear splitting rocks or heavy metals, cool Jazz, Brazilian samba, poetic rap, Bangladeshi forgotten melodies, Arabic qanun dominated pleasing harmony, piety empowered Hebrew Nusach; our frazzled mind gets pacified in taking Buddhist and Hindu chant in variable raga and kirtan; even Muslim muezzin’s enchanting azaan, full of melodies, so similar to captivating hazzanut, Jewish equivalent of classical music, and then the spiritual gospels of Christianity, orchestrated in purified hymns of pacifist doves.

Perhaps the “saviors” of our humanity remain within our humane reach, not in some dismal mythical figures. Perhaps changing chords of guitar or piano aspire to replenish our severed but still repairable bonds.

When the choice comes, music will surely vanquish bombs and mindless destructions in a sweeping binding coda. At least that is the musical melodies yearn to accomplish in its variable beats amid shadows and clouds.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Cynicism

Cynicism

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)

August 11, 2006

You may call it whatever you like. You may just ignore it at your own peril or convenience. But the fact of the matter is that we are in the middle of a rupturing cynicism. Day by day our patience are thinning out, our tolerance level toward opposing views and culture are reaching threshold point, and sooner or later there will be commotion beyond our worst imaginable dream that can forewarn.

You may agree or not, there are clever methods in action, from groups of vehemence, who wants to create sharp and deep wedges between different ethnic groups and cultures. Palpable but quite not tangible essence of being caught up in a growing whirlwind that will surely suck in all the frivolity of life.

These are depressing words. These are depressing times.

A world where brute might and violence rule over peaceful means cannot be impressively positive.

A world where a mother has to prove that the milk of her baby will not blow up an airplane must be sickening.

A world where shredded bone fragments and dense red blood of innocence barely ruffle our sensitivity is sadistic.

You may call it whatever you like. You may just keep watching daytime soaps in the afternoon, jeopardy in the evening, and entertainment news at late night. But the fact remains that the spinning of truth, stretching of reality into favorable shape and form suitable for one’s own taste and benefits, are growing, fold by fold, diameter by diameter.

Who to believe? Who to trust?

You turn on the evening news. Parade of “evil doers” marching on, dancing on in their charismatic move while the commercial advertisements of various products showing off the goodness of buying into glum. Your head feels dizzy seeing and hearing the baloney punditry. Your yearns for simplicity of candor are easily depleted by repetitive bombardments of crafted fallacy.

You feel fear is gripping hold of your senses. Your heart is pumping fast and louder. The sharpened gaze of your friends bounces back from your warmed up skin.

You dwell in ensnared trepidation.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Tariq Ali: Toward A New Radical Politics

Dear Readers,

Mother Jones's interview with Tariq Ali, a prominent progressive writer, is a must read. Mr. Ali has that unique sense and sensibilities for our apparently maddening world of drunken stupor, he slices through all the calculated diversion, political fiasco, and aggrandized media bent to their knees kissing the lowest portion of neocon's shoe-soles.

Mr. Ali is not afraid to say what comes to his mind, about the opportunistic “liberals”, “seculars” in the Muslim world who are finding themselves propping up imperial agendas, by whim or force, and in many of these nations, Muslim conservatives are filling up the vacuums of showing resistance.

Here is a very interesting comment Mr. Ali made in this interview, “in many parts of the Islamic world, secular forces, where they exist, tend now to be so unsure of themselves, so lacking in self-confidence, that in many cases—not in all—they line themselves up fairly squarely behind the imperial project and that then creates a big vacuum in which the Islamists become the dominant power because they are the only ones then who are seen as resisting. And that I think has been a very, very dangerous development in the Islamic world. And when I go often I meet very, very good people—intellectuals, writers—just sitting completely despondent, trapped between the American hammer and the Islamist anvil, not knowing which way to turn.”

“Trapped between the American hammer and the Islamist anvil” – a dilemma indeed. For our world, seeing the red as red, blue as blue, black as black and white as white, saying out aloud what the realities indeed are shaping into, what these forces of imperialism and fundamentalism, not only in the Islamic world, also in the Western and the Eastern world, other fundamentalists from Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and also complete absolutism like opportunistic atheists are out in force, in various groups and shapes, seizing each other out, for their self-believed “superior ego” to become triumphant in that ultimate battle. Their complete disregards for the pain of “others”, the “enemies”, are enshrined in local nationalist or religious lore.

Some may call them insensate. But don’t make any mistake about them. They have selective love for friends, selective hatred for foes.

Hurray for selectivity! A world fragmenting into discriminatory pandemonium!

Regards,

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)

August 10, 2006

http://sohel.net

Tariq Ali: Toward A New Radical Politics
A lion of the literary left on the war in Lebanon, U.S. imperialism, and the prospects for reform in the Middle East.

Paige Austin

Tariq Ali's books garner wildly emphatic reviews on Amazon.com, alternately adoring and scathing--as one might expect of the work of an avowed Trotskyist and editor of The New Left Review.

Born and raised in pre-partition Pakistan, Ali studied at Oxford, where he became a fierce opponent of the Vietnam War; later, he broadened his critique to condemn what he saw as American imperialism in much of the world, especially the Middle East and Latin America. Along the way, he faced Henry Kissinger in debate and became a lifelong friend of Edward Said.

Though a committed leftist, Ali has never been narrowly political in his work. He has published dozens of books in a nearly 40-year career, ranging from historical fiction—early Islam is his most frequent topic—to political essay. His most recent work, Bush in Babylon, took aim at the American invasion of Iraq, a war which he might call a new chapter in the intertwined histories of Western imperialism and Muslim extremism chronicled in his previous work, Clash of Fundamentalisms.

It was hardly surprising, given this background, that Ali was among several writers—including Noam Chomsky, Jose Saramago and Howard Zinn—who recently signed two letters supporting Palestinians and Lebanese in the face of what they called Israel’s campaign of “deliberate and systematic destruction.”

“Each provocation and counter-provocation is contested and preached over,” they wrote in the first, dated July 19. “But the subsequent arguments, accusations and vows, all serve as a distraction in order to divert world attention from a long-term military, economic and geographic practice whose political aim is nothing less than the liquidation of the Palestinian nation.”

As well as an editor of the NLR Ali is editorial director of the leftist publishing house Verso, and he's a frequent contributor to The Guardian, Counterpunch, and The London Review of Books. He recently talked with Mother Jones about his views on the war in Lebanon, the need for an Islamic Reformation, and the rise of Latin America’s new left.

Mother Jones: In the letter that you and several other writers published on July 19, you said the “liquidation of the Palestinian nation” is proceeding more rapidly these days. How long have you felt that the possibility of Palestinian statehood is gone?

Tariq Ali: I have felt that for some years, even before these latest Israeli actions. Once it became clear to the Palestinians that the Oslo accords were a farce and that no Israeli government was prepared to implement even the limited concessions they had promised in them, then it was only a matter of time. My view has always been that either the Palestinians get a fair and just state or you have a single-state solution—there is no third way in between these two. Now, curiously, the Israelis by their own action have made a single state the only possible thing.

MJ: Some of the signatories are, like yourself, both fiction writers and activists. Do you think that writers have an obligation to use their fame as platforms for activism? Even if they are venturing out of their field?

TA: I think it depends on how they feel. You know in many parts of the world, including the Arab world, the Latin American world, and even parts of the Western world, there is a tradition of writers being quite engaged. Particularly in the Arab world you have had very, very strong traditions of literature and poetry and most of the writers have been deeply committed to the cause of the Arab nation. In Latin America likewise: they’re public intellectuals. And I think this is a good thing, especially in a world where the mainstream media offers very little diversity of opinion in its pages.

MJ: How do you think the current war in Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s apparent military successes, will change the equation in the Middle East?

TA: It has shaken the world, but it’s not shaken it enough to understand the root causes of this—[which is why] we have this grotesque situation where the Israelis, the United States and the French collaborate to try to push through a resolution which is so pro-Israel that even the tamest of Arab leaders can’t accept it.

But Hezbollah has changed things, there’s no doubt about that. Now even Lebanon’s Prime Minister, not known for being a particularly strong politician, has told Condoleezza Rice she shouldn’t bother visiting the country. Unheard of! And the other aspect of this of course is that there’ve been demonstrations, small but important demonstrations against the war, in Tel Aviv, in Haifa, in Jerusalem, and I think that these will grow in size as people see that this absurd and criminal war waged by the Israeli regime against Lebanon is making their lives unsafe.

MJ: Do you have the same hope for a movement demanding the end of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories?

TA: Yes, I think you will have within Israel a resistance, including many Jewish people who will see we can’t carry on in the same old way. And here I think the South African analogy is not so foolish: that many white South Africans finally realized that we can’t carry on in the same old way, we have to do a deal with the people we’ve been oppressing, and this is best for both communities. Maybe I’m being ultra-optimistic, but I think that before this century comes to an end something like that will emerge.

MJ: How can you support Hezbollah’s actions—or those of Hamas—given both groups’ adherence to a fundamentalist ideology that you make no secret of disliking?

TA: Well look, I don’t agree with their religious views, obviously. I’m not a believer. That’s hardly a secret: I state it in public. However when a country is invaded and attacked and people resist it’s important to speak up and to say they have the right to resist and to defend their right to resist. The whole history of the 20th century is a history of resistance groups which are either nationalist or, in large parts of the Muslim word, religious groups, including for instance in Libya and the Sudan. There, the groups resisting the Italian invasion were ones that [Europeans] couldn’t support politically—but nonetheless they defended them against attack. When Mussolini invaded Abyssinia and Albania in the name of European civilization and said he was going to wipe out these backward feudal despotisms, most people in the West defended the Ethiopians and the Albanians against the Italian onslaught and said they had the right to resist. So it’s on that principle—that when people, whoever they may be, you may not like them, but when they decide to resist, you have to defend their right to do so.

MJ: You've been writing about imperialism for decades. Do you think the current Bush administration is practicing a new form of imperialism?

TA: It’s different in the sense that the enemy has changed. It’s no longer Communism and it’s no longer nationalism but it is other movements who they feel have to be destroyed to bring the world totally under the sway of the hegemon. But here I think as I’ve been arguing since 9/11 they’ve made a big miscalculation in attacking Afghanistan and Iraq. And now even US commentators who were really sort of gung-ho for the war, like Tom Friedman, or Democrats, like Edwards, have said that it was a mistake to vote for the war and we need to discuss with the military the best way of withdrawing. The fact that some of these weasel politicians who didn’t have the nerve to oppose the war when they should’ve opposed it, are now jumping ship is an indication of how badly the war is going.

MJ: You've written that the so-called war on terror requires a political not a military solution. Aside from ending the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine, what would that political solution entail?

TA: Well I think that because they’ve made war it makes a political solution much more difficult. I think the United States now and its British attack dog are not taken seriously anywhere in the world and can play no role in helping a political solution.

MJ: You've called for an Islamic Reformation. Where do you see the best prospects for such a movement?

TA: I used to hope—and I’ve still not given up on it—that a big reform movement could arise in Iran, which in some ways is one of the most cultured Islamic countries, with a very long pre-Islamic tradition as well which hasn’t been completely wiped out. But when the United States and Israel behave in the way they do, then that sets it back. So I’m quite despondent on that particular front at the moment. That’s one problem.

The second problem is that in many parts of the Islamic world, secular forces, where they exist, tend now to be so unsure of themselves, so lacking in self-confidence, that in many cases—not in all—they line themselves up fairly squarely behind the imperial project and that then creates a big vacuum in which the Islamists become the dominant power because they are the only ones then who are seen as resisting. And that I think has been a very, very dangerous development in the Islamic world. And when I go often I meet very, very good people—intellectuals, writers—just sitting completely despondent, trapped between the American hammer and the Islamist anvil, not knowing which way to turn.

MJ: Can you point to any leaders you’ve encountered in Muslim countries, Arab or otherwise, that might be a beacon of hope for religious reformation?

TA: There’s no movement as such, but you know if you look at Iran the bulk of the population—75% of the population—is under 30 years of age, and these are people who’ve grown up totally under clerical rule, and their first sort of gut instinct is to resent all the social codes which are imposed on them. I have been arguing that this is where you will probably have an upheaval in about ten years time. Currently that situation is on hold because of all the threats against Iran, which has united the country. Whatever you think about those threats or why they are made, certainly they have the effect of making the majority of people in Iran very angry with the West, and they see the Islamists as the only opposition, and the reason they see them as the only opposition is ‘cause there ain’t nobody else!

MJ: To judge from your writings you don’t appear to place much stock in the potential of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to effect change.

I don’t. In the first place, I don’t call them NGOs, I call them WGOs—Western Governmental Organizations. Some of them do decent work but by and large what they do is to buy up lots and lots of people in these countries who are not then engaged in any form of political activity or social movements, who basically pay themselves salaries, run small offices, and go on demonstrations chanting, “Another world is possible.” And I don’t think that’s particularly helpful, and I think increasingly now people are beginning to see through the NGO-ization process.

MJ: Like many on the far left, you link anti-imperialism to anti-capitalism. And you seem to discount the possibility of Islamic or other religious fundamentalisms providing a long-term basis for resistance. But capitalism and religious conservatism are quite broadly based and well entrenched. What alternate framework for resistance do you envision?

TA: I have been arguing in recent years that while what is happening in the Middle East is important in the sense that it prevents the imperial power from getting its way in whatever it wants. But in terms of offering a socio-political model for the world, it offers nothing, either to the world or to its own people. So from that point of view, the situation is grim.

Where there is a different model emerging is not in the Islamic World but in Latin America. This is a continent where you have had giant social movements from below pushing a whole range of politicians and political leaders to power through democratic elections and then putting pressure on them to fulfill their promises—and in Venezuela and Bolivia the leaders are beginning to do so. This is now creating a massive pole of attraction all over the world. When Hugo Chavez flies into an Arab country and is interviewed on Arab television, you have a phenomenal response from the Arabs, saying why can’t we have an Arab Chavez? And the reason is that he explains what he is doing in Venezuela, that they are using the oil money to build schools, to build hospitals, to build universities, to help the poor, who have never been helped, and from my point of view, this particular model, which I would describe as a left-social democratic model, is very important because it’s the only thing that challenges the neo-liberal strangle hold on the global economy.

MJ: You were in Bolivia decades ago during Che Guevara’s campaign there. Have you been since the election of Evo Morales in January?

TA: I’ve not been but I will go soon. It’s very, very heartening what’s happening there. Someone asked me the other day what I think of Bolivia and I described it as “Che’s revenge.” You have a government in power which has publicly paid homage to Che and his struggle and I said, he would’ve been so pleased by that if he’d been alive! It’s the only developments taking place in the world which one can identify with to a large extent and say, Great!

MJ: Do you see Morales potentially abandoning his promises to aid the poor now that he’s in office, as you have accused Lula of doing in Brazil?

TA: Not so far. You can’t exclude any possibility, but so far no. The first thing Morales did when he was elected was very interesting: a plane was sent for him, he got into it and flew to Havana and got a two-and-a-half-hour tutorial from the old man about what to do, how to proceed. And that’s a very public gesture. Most Europeans when they’re elected go to Washington and kiss ass in the White House.

MJ: You visited Cuba last year and met with writers and intellectuals there. How would you characterize their situation? You’ve always lauded the Cuban Revolution but certainly it has meant a lot of restrictions for Cubans.

TA: I haven’t defended those restrictions. I think the big tragedy of the Cuban Revolution was that it became dependent on the Soviet Union, and it became dependent on the Soviet Union under a very reactionary bureaucratic regime led by Leonid Brezhnev. I think that adversely affected Cuban culture and Cuban politics, [and it] made the Cuban press the most dull and dreary and predictable in the whole of Latin America. Writers were persecuted. I never defended any of that.

But at the same time I refused to back those who wanted to get rid of Fidel, who sent assassins to kill him, who want Miami to move to Havana, I’m not in favor of that. I think that the Cuban Revolution has made incredibly important gains—and you can see these when you go, despite the hardships. It’s the most educated country in the continent, probably in the whole of the third world. In a population of 12 million you have between 800,000 and a million graduates produced each year. You have human capital in the shape of doctors who are helping Africa, Latin America. I remember very vividly that when the earthquake happened in Pakistan, the Cubans sent 1,100 doctors, half of them women, which were more than the doctors sent by all the Western countries put together.

But I do think the Cubans have to change some of the political structures there and allow critical voices, for their own sakes, because unless there is accountability the revolution will totally atrophy. I said this very, very publicly to people of all sorts when I was in Havana and they took it on board I think. They have a very cultivated minister of culture, Abel Prieto, who certainly understands the problem. He is re-printing all the Cuban authors who were banned during the bad times: Cabrera Infante, Reinaldo Areinas, all these people are being re-printed now in Cuba. And these absurd, absurd and crazy restrictions on homosexuality have all gone: there is none of that left, which is a big leap forward.

MJ: So many movements you were once part of—from Marxists to the non-aligned camp to anti-Vietnam war activists—peter out. What has kept you on the same track, ideologically?

TA: I guess one of the thing that has kept me on the track is that I’ve worked very closely with a group of people, we have a magazine called The New Left Review, a publishing house called Verso. And we have maintained a collective intellectual identity, even in bad times. It’s not the case that The New Left Reviewhas been unaffected by the cataclysmic changes of the late 80s; many [of our former contributors] today are basically liberal war mongers or “laptop bombardiers.” So it’s not that we’ve been unaffected, it’s that the circle that actually produced the magazine and kept it going has kept going and this sort of solidarity within a small group of intellectuals has been important.

In my own case, in the 1980s I stopped being active politically in a direct sense and did lot of film work, documentaries, cinema, theatre, wrote plays, wrote scripts, produced a great deal of stuff, and wrote a lot of fiction—and that move sideways I feel was quite beneficial, in the sense that I cut myself off from dominant political trends of the time which were triumphalist and celebratory and everything was over and nothing was to be done. I just kept aloof from all that. And so when I got re-engaged after 9/11, I came to it fresh, I hadn’t been touched by some of these anti-Communist and anti-political and pro-capitalist currents that were sweeping the world.

MJ: So you’d say you are applying the same principles to conflicts today that you were decades ago?

TA: No, not exactly, because the world is very different now. The world which existed when I was young was a world in which all the European empires had collapsed; the United States had suffered a horrendous defeat in Vietnam; many, many countries of the world were asserting their rights and their sovereignties and resisting the big powers and so it was a very different world. There was a lot of space in that world for radical politics to function in. That world has gone, completely, destroyed, wrecked, gone. And so a new form of politics has to be built and how you fight, politically, becomes extremely important. And that is why, as I was saying earlier, what is happening in Latin America I think offers great hope for the 21st century.

Source Link:

http://www.motherjones.com/interview/2006/08/tariq_ali.html

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Review of "A New Hub for Terrorism?"

Dear Readers,

I haven’t read any of Mr. Selig S. Harrison’s writings before, at least not that I remember at this moment. His credentials seem quite impressive. He is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centers for Scholars, written five books on South Asia, and was the chief of The Washington Post’s South Asia bureau. His recent article on Bangladesh that the Post published today delineates a very grim image. He was antagonistic in describing Bangladesh as “A New Hub for Terrorism”, though there was a questioning mark at the end of his article’s title, but the claim that he made using some well-known facts and some ostensibly “inside knowledge”, did not have any irrefutable substantiation to back up.

Like many other parts of our world, there are radical elements in Bangladesh too, especially the ones with religious zealotry ingrained and some others who use religious fervor for their political gains, but Bangladesh is still a moderate nation, where the poetic liberal cultural, historical and social aspects have made the radical elements getting upper hand quite a formidable tasks, though perhaps not impossible in some distant future if the ongoing world violence directly propagating from American aggressive invasion of Iraq, Israel’s brutal mishandling of Palestinians and Lebanese civilians, and other regional and global injustices through economic and/or “shock and awe” punishment especially reserved for the “foes” continue and grow, additional polarization events like these may put more ammunition in the hands of the radicals around the world, including in Bangladesh.

Mr. Harrison elaborated some issues that are indeed true and are facts like the current broiling controversies regarding preparation of voter lists for the next election in January of next year, where the ruling BNP government is allegedly trying to manipulate the list so that the opposition cannot regain power. BNP’s shameful utilization of religious bigots as its partner in political scene should be condemned, though one may certainly dispute on how to define “religious bigots”, but the fact of the matter is that some of these shadowy and some quite very dashing Jamaat figures in public and underworld places are increasingly wielding ruthless power creating more social disturbances and despairs, including but not limited to minority oppressions.

What is more alarming than Mr. Harrison’s claim is that he tacitly approved U.S. complicity in backing up an undemocratic government in Pakistan lead by General Musharraf “because it needs the limited but significant support he is giving against al-Qaeda and fears what might come after him”. What a convenient but despicable notion. Support the thugs and dictators if the thugs and dictators support your every imperial ambition while keep a hostile approach toward the democratic aspirations of the civilian population if their popular demands and democratic dreams become thorny in your onslaughts. And oh yeah, don’t forget to use the magic word of our time: “Al-Qaeda”, that will surely cleanse out all war crimes.

Mr. Harrison has so much impressive credentials, and he is such a high level scholar in his South Asian field, but why didn’t he treat the issue in broader light? Does he opine that wars and more wars where innocent children, women and men are bombed to bones and splattered flesh could ever bring peace in our world? Why is Bush and his fundamentalist, oil soaked buddies stoking and inciting more violence through their continuing devastated saga in Iraq, Afghanistan, and their implicit pampering of Israel’s deliberate war crimes in Lebanon and Palestine?

A scholar is someone who has achieved mastery in his chosen subject. A scholar is someone who does not keep a blind eye to more dynamically complex issues such as the one under discussion in the depth of Mr. Harrison’s article for the apparent purpose of uplifting a not so disguised and debase agenda.

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
August 2nd, 2006
http://sohel.net



A New Hub for Terrorism?
In Bangladesh, an Islamic Movement With Al-Qaeda Ties Is on the Rise

By Selig S. Harrison
Wednesday, August 2, 2006; A15

While the United States dithers, a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement linked to al-Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence agencies is steadily converting the strategically located nation of Bangladesh into a new regional hub for terrorist operations that reach into India and Southeast Asia.

With 147 million people, largely Muslim Bangladesh has substantial Hindu and Christian minorities and is nominally a secular democracy. But the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) struck a Faustian bargain with the fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami five years ago in order to win power.

In return for the votes in Parliament needed to form a coalition government, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has looked the other way as the Jamaat has systematically filled sensitive civil service, police, intelligence and military posts with its sympathizers, who have in turn looked the other way as Jamaat-sponsored guerrilla squads patterned after the Taliban have operated with increasing impunity in many rural and urban areas.

To the dismay of her business supporters, the prime minister gave the coveted post of industries minister to Matiur Rahman Nizami, a high-ranking Jamaat official who has helped promote the growth of a Jamaat economic empire that embraces banking, insurance, trucking, pharmaceutical manufacturing, department stores, newspapers and TV stations. A study last year by a leading Bangladeshi economist showed that the "fundamentalist sector of the economy" earns annual profits of some $1.2 billion.

Now the BNP-Jamaat alliance is rigging the next national elections, scheduled for January, to prevent the return of the opposition Awami League to power. Voter lists are being manipulated, and the supposedly neutral caretaker government and the commission that will run the election are being turned into puppets.

The BNP argues that coalition rule helps moderates in the Jamaat to combat Islamic extremist factions. But the reality is that Jamaat inroads in the government security machinery at all levels, starting with Home Secretary Muhammad Omar Farooq, widely regarded as close to the Jamaat, have opened the way for suicide bombings, political assassinations, harassment of the Hindu minority, and an unchecked influx of funds from Islamic charities in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf to Jamaat-oriented madrassas (religious schools) that in some cases are fronts for terrorist activity.

With some 15,000 hard-core fighters operating out of 19 known base camps, guerrilla groups sponsored by the Jamaat and its allies were able to paralyze the country last Aug. 17 by staging 459 closely synchronized explosions in all but one of the country's administrative districts. When the key leaders of these groups were captured, they were kept by the police in a comfortable apartment, where they were free to receive visitors. A cartoon in the Daily Star of Dhaka on July 24 showed them lounging on a rug, conducting classes in bombmaking. Their fate and present place of confinement is uncertain, and all of the major guerrilla groups are back to business as usual.

The bitterness of Bangladeshi politics is often attributed to a personal vendetta between two strong women, Prime Minister Zia and the Awami League leader, Sheikh Hasina Wajed. But the roots of the current struggle go back to 1971, when Bengali East Pakistan, led by the Awami League, broke away from Punjabi-dominated West Pakistan to form the nation of Bangladesh. The Jamaat, which originated in the western wing, opposed the independence movement and fought side by side with Pakistani forces against both fellow Bengalis and the Indian troops who intervened in the decisive final phase of the conflict.

For Pakistan's intelligence agencies, especially Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the legacy of the independence war has been a built-in network of agents within the Jamaat and its affiliates who can be utilized to harass India along its 2,500-mile border with Bangladesh. In addition to supporting tribal separatist groups in northeast India, the ISI uses Bangladesh as a base for helping Islamic extremists inside India. After the July 11 train bombings in Bombay, a top Indian police official, K.P. Raghuvanshi, said that his key suspects "have connections with groups in Nepal and Bangladesh, which are directly or indirectly connected to Pakistan."

A State Department report cited evidence that one of the Jamaat's main allies, the Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami, also headquartered in Pakistan, "maintains contact with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan." Bangladesh Harakat leader Fazlul Rahman was one of the six signatories of Osama bin Laden's first declaration of holy war against the United States, on Feb. 23, 1998. Since the October 2002 Bali bombings led to repression of al-Qaeda, some of its Indonesian and Malaysian cells have shifted their operations to Bangladesh.

What makes future prospects in Bangladesh especially alarming is that the Jamaat and its allies appear to be penetrating the higher ranks of the armed forces. Among many examples, informed journalists in Dhaka attribute Jamaat sympathies to Maj. Gen. Mohammed Aminul Karim, recently appointed as military secretary to President Iajuddin Ahmed, and to Brig. Gen. A.T.M. Amin, director of the Armed Forces Intelligence anti-terrorism bureau.

The respected journalists in question cannot write freely about the Jamaat without facing death threats or assassination attempts. The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists has published extensive dossiers documenting 68 death threats and dozens of bombing attacks that have injured at least eight journalists. "We are alarmed by the growing pattern of intimidation of journalists by Islamic groups in Bangladesh," the committee said recently. "As a result of its alliance with the Jamaat-Islamiyah, the government appears to lack the ability or will to protect journalists from this new and grave threat."

The Bush administration has yet to speak with comparable candor. The latest State Department annual report on terrorism mentioned only one of the three Jamaat militias as a terrorist group and avoided direct criticism of the BNP for its coalition with the Jamaat, referring only to the "serious political constraints" that explain the government's "limited success" in countering "escalating" terrorist violence. On July 13 the U.S. ambassador called Bangladesh "an exceptional moderate Muslim state."

The United States and other donors gave Bangladesh $1.4 billion in aid last year. There is still time for the administration to use aid leverage and trade concessions to promote a fair election by calling openly and forcefully for nonpartisan control of the Election Commission and the caretaker government. In addition to implicitly threatening an aid cutoff if it is rebuffed, the administration should offer the powerful incentive of duty-free textile imports from Bangladesh if Prime Minister Zia cooperates.

In Pakistan, the United States has been gingerly pushing Gen. Pervez Musharraf for democratic elections because it needs the limited but significant support he is giving against al-Qaeda and fears what might come after him. But what is the excuse for inaction in Bangladesh, where the incumbent government coddles Islamic extremists and a strong secular party is ready to govern?

The writer, a former South Asia bureau chief of The Post and the author of five books on South Asia, has covered Bangladesh since 1951. He is the director of the Asia program at the Center for International Policy and a senior scholar of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Source Link:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/01/AR2006080101118.html


Monday, July 31, 2006

Bouquets of Flowers

Bouquets of Flowers

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)

July 30, 2006

There was a time when words just poured through the black nib of my pen. Frenzied typing in the middle of a night, essays after essays, poems after poems, as if I was intoxicated. Minutes went by. Hours vanished like a heartbeat. Words still flowed through my thumbs, pinky and middle fingers. Now only the middle finger rises up. Instead of beauty of poetry, I see mud and more mud in our decorated world living room. Uttering “F” word is crass and classless. But there is a time, a moment when the unbearable feeling of helplessness becomes too loud to muffle anymore.

They look like bouquets of flowers. Wrapped up in shiny silvery wrap. Dozens of red roses for a beloved. Not one, but many of these “bouquets of flowers” were lying on the cold floor in Qana. The youngest was 10 months old. The oldest 95 years. If these were indeed flowers, they surely could have been the ignored ones that could be easily mangled and rooted out from their cores without the slightest bit of mourning. What a difference between weeds and the decorated roses. What a difference between the bombarded Lebanese civilians and the uplifted soldiers in the south.

If the world affairs would have been just a play on a robust stage, it surely is a badly directed one. The anguish of victims can easily be overwhelmed by the obnoxious crocodile melancholy of suppressors and predators.

“They are terrorists!”

“We are liberating Lebanon!”

Liberating from what and into what? From peaceful sleep into wrapped up “bouquets of flowers” lying neatly in the morgue to be buried in an unmarked mass grave?

Bad hair day? Perhaps, a liar’s Pinocchio nose was itching. You purported to be bringing in peace just a day before the children were bombed to dust and splattered bones. I wonder what was in your mind. Staple food? Your meeting with murderous planners and politicians were done, you got the whiff of what was coming indeed for those mangled children, women and men, fleeing from bombardment, seeking refuge in that “safe building”. Perhaps, they were also the “terrorists”, even the 10 month and 95 year old ones.

Terrorists!

Terrorists!

Terrorists!

War on terror!

War on terror!

War on terror!

Anyone opposes your plundering march and inquisition, are the terrorists?

How forgetful we are. Only in last century we had one of the most atrocious warfare engulfing our world. Then the fascist was coloring the communists; the left and the Jews were the bad guys and gals. Here is a quote from “The Anatomy of Fascism” by Robert O. Paxton:

“Fascist violence was neither random nor indiscriminate. It carried a well-calculated set of coded messages: that communist violence was rising, that the democratic state was responding to it ineptly, and that only the fascists were tough enough to save the nation from antinational terrorism. An essential step in the fascist march to acceptance and power was to persuade law-and-order conservatives and members of the middle class to tolerate fascist violence as a harsh necessity in the face of Left provocation. It helped, of course, that many ordinary citizens never feared fascist violence against themselves, because they were reassured that it was reserved for national enemies and “terrorists” who deserved it. Fascists encouraged a distinction between members of the nation who merited protection and outsiders who deserved rough handling”.

Many may feel dizzy seeing all the bloodshed, clueless how and where all these crazy violence leading us to. They arrested a Muslim man in Seattle for shooting in a Jewish Federation office the other day. Innocent civilians got hurt, one was dead, several wounded. A synagogue in Australia were attacked and the rabbi there said that a dozen of middle-eastern men were running away were laughing, as if they were in a boys day out. You can forget about Iraq. Shia and Sunni are at each other’s throat, with bombs, knives and bullets. Hundred a day civilians are getting killed in Iraq. For what? “Freedom”? Just a few weeks ago Mumbai got a jolt, several crowded trains were bombed, first class passengers were murdered in cold blood. For what? “Freedom”?

Are these incidents separate from each other? Or are there any synchronized orchestra playing its vigorous tune behind the deafening sound of bombs and sobs of tears?

Our innocence has disappeared. Our love poems have desiccated into wordless obituaries.

What is left?

Thorny weeds and roses? Bouquets of flowers?

A jungle?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Global Warming's Real Inconvenient Truth

Mr. Samuelson's following article is informative and to the point. Global Warming is an engineering problem to be solved. However, for engineers finding solution to this increasingly disastrous problem requires social and political backing from the societies, not from any individual nation, but a cohesive and uniform approach taken by the world nations could propel engineers finding the right solution. Otherwise, all the talks are quite fruitless.

Regards,

Sohel



Global Warming's Real Inconvenient Truth

By Robert J. Samuelson

"Global warming may or may not be the great environmental crisis of the next century, but -- regardless of whether it is or isn't -- we won't do much about it. We will (I am sure) argue ferociously over it and may even, as a nation, make some fairly solemn-sounding commitments to avoid it. But the more dramatic and meaningful these commitments seem, the less likely they are to be observed. Little will be done. . . . Global warming promises to become a gushing source of national hypocrisy.''

-- This column, July 1997

Well, so it has. In three decades of columns, I've never quoted myself at length, but here it's necessary. Al Gore calls global warming an "inconvenient truth," as if merely recognizing it could put us on a path to a solution. That's an illusion. The real truth is that we don't know enough to relieve global warming, and -- barring major technological breakthroughs -- we can't do much about it. This was obvious nine years ago; it's still obvious. Let me explain.

From 2003 to 2050, the world's population is projected to grow from 6.4 billion people to 9.1 billion, a 42 percent increase. If energy use per person and technology remain the same, total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions (mainly, carbon dioxide) will be 42 percent higher in 2050. But that's too low, because societies that grow richer use more energy. Unless we condemn the world's poor to their present poverty -- and freeze everyone else's living standards -- we need economic growth. With modest growth, energy use and greenhouse emissions more than double by 2050.

Just keeping annual greenhouse gas emissions constant means that the world must somehow offset these huge increases. There are two ways: Improve energy efficiency, or shift to energy sources with lower (or no) greenhouse emissions. Intuitively, you sense this is tough. China, for example, builds about one coal-fired power plant a week. Now a new report from the International Energy Agency in Paris shows all the difficulties (the population, economic growth and energy projections cited above come from the report).

The IEA report assumes that existing technologies are rapidly improved and deployed. Vehicle fuel efficiency increases by 40 percent. In electricity generation, the share for coal (the fuel with the most greenhouse gases) shrinks from about 40 percent to about 25 percent -- and much carbon dioxide is captured before going into the atmosphere. Little is captured today. Nuclear energy increases. So do "renewables" (wind, solar, biomass, geothermal); their share of global electricity output rises from 2 percent now to about 15 percent.

Some of these changes seem heroic. They would require tough government regulation, continued technological gains and public acceptance of higher fuel prices. Never mind. Having postulated a crash energy diet, the IEA simulates five scenarios with differing rates of technological change. In each, greenhouse emissions in 2050 are higher than today. The increases vary from 6 percent to 27 percent.

Since 1800 there's been modest global warming. I'm unqualified to judge between those scientists (the majority) who blame man-made greenhouse gases and those (a small minority) who finger natural variations in the global weather system. But if the majority are correct, the IEA report indicates we're now powerless. We can't end annual greenhouse emissions, and once in the atmosphere, the gases seem to linger for decades. So concentration levels rise. They're the villains; they presumably trap the world's heat. They're already about 36 percent higher than in 1800. Even with its program, the IEA says another 45 percent rise may be unavoidable. How much warming this might create is uncertain; so are the consequences.

I draw two conclusions -- one political, one practical.

No government will adopt the draconian restrictions on economic growth and personal freedom (limits on electricity usage, driving and travel) that might curb global warming. Still, politicians want to show they're "doing something." The result is grandstanding. Consider the Kyoto Protocol. It allowed countries that joined to castigate those that didn't. But it hasn't reduced carbon dioxide emissions (up about 25 percent since 1990), and many signatories didn't adopt tough enough policies to hit their 2008-2012 targets. By some estimates, Europe may overshoot by 15 percent and Japan by 25 percent.

Ambitious U.S. politicians also practice this self-serving hypocrisy. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a global warming program. Gore counts 221 cities that have "ratified" Kyoto. Some pledge to curb their greenhouse emissions. None of these programs will reduce global warming. They're public relations exercises and -- if they impose costs -- are undesirable. (Note: on national security grounds, I favor taxing oil, but the global warming effect would be trivial.) The practical conclusion is that if global warming is a potential calamity, the only salvation is new technology. I once received an e-mail from an engineer. Thorium, he said. I had never heard of thorium. It is, he argued, a nuclear fuel that is more plentiful and safer than uranium without waste disposal problems. It's an exit from the global warming trap. After reading many articles, I gave up trying to decide whether he is correct. But his larger point is correct: Only an aggressive research and development program might find ways of breaking our dependence on fossil fuels or dealing with it. Perhaps some system could purge the atmosphere of surplus greenhouse gases?

The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it's really an engineering problem. The inconvenient truth is that if we don't solve the engineering problem, we're helpless.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

No Tolls on The Internet

Since U.S. servers, cable and other telecommunication companies still dominate the Internet world by one means or another, the future of Internet hinges on this coming historic vote in U.S. Congress.

The "coin-operated think tanks" and "high priced lobbyists" are employed by goliath companies for the intention of shattering net neutrality so that their already inflated coffers can get huge boost from Internet toll ways preserved for the privileged.

The stake is high. On one side the net neutrality gives hope to the new innovators, regular folks with no behemoth corporate blessings to have equal access to network regardless of their views, opinions or wallet weight, on the other side the network owners "itching to become content gatekeepers", "extorting protection money from every web sites", from puny bloggers to any aspiring writers, independent film producers, small business owners, hobbyists and freethinkers. The choices are clear. Read the following to know why net neutrality is necessary for more innovations and progresses of Internet:

"Most of the great innovators in the history of the Internet started out in their garages with great ideas and little capital. This is no accident. Network neutrality protections minimized control by the network owners, maximized competition and invited outsiders in to innovate. Net neutrality guaranteed a free and competitive market for Internet content. The benefits are extraordinary and undeniable."

Raise your voice for your basic rights.

Regards,
Sohel



No Tolls on The Internet

By Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney

Congress is about to cast a historic vote on the future of the Internet. It will decide whether the Internet remains a free and open technology fostering innovation, economic growth and democratic communication, or instead becomes the property of cable and phone companies that can put toll booths at every on-ramp and exit on the information superhighway.

At the center of the debate is the most important public policy you've probably never heard of: "network neutrality." Net neutrality means simply that all like Internet content must be treated alike and move at the same speed over the network. The owners of the Internet's wires cannot discriminate. This is the simple but brilliant "end-to-end" design of the Internet that has made it such a powerful force for economic and social good: All of the intelligence and control is held by producers and users, not the networks that connect them.

The protections that guaranteed network neutrality have been law since the birth of the Internet -- right up until last year, when the Federal Communications Commission eliminated the rules that kept cable and phone companies from discriminating against content providers. This triggered a wave of announcements from phone company chief executives that they plan to do exactly that.

Now Congress faces a legislative decision. Will we reinstate net neutrality and keep the Internet free? Or will we let it die at the hands of network owners itching to become content gatekeepers? The implications of permanently losing network neutrality could not be more serious. The current legislation, backed by companies such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, would allow the firms to create different tiers of online service. They would be able to sell access to the express lane to deep-pocketed corporations and relegate everyone else to the digital equivalent of a winding dirt road. Worse still, these gatekeepers would determine who gets premium treatment and who doesn't.

Their idea is to stand between the content provider and the consumer, demanding a toll to guarantee quality delivery. It's what Timothy Wu, an Internet policy expert at Columbia University, calls "the Tony Soprano business model": By extorting protection money from every Web site -- from the smallest blogger to Google -- network owners would earn huge profits. Meanwhile, they could slow or even block the Web sites and services of their competitors or those who refuse to pay up. They'd like Congress to "trust them" to behave.

Without net neutrality, the Internet would start to look like cable TV. A handful of massive companies would control access and distribution of content, deciding what you get to see and how much it costs. Major industries such as health care, finance, retailing and gambling would face huge tariffs for fast, secure Internet use -- all subject to discriminatory and exclusive dealmaking with telephone and cable giants.

We would lose the opportunity to vastly expand access and distribution of independent news and community information through broadband television. More than 60 percent of Web content is created by regular people, not corporations. How will this innovation and production thrive if creators must seek permission from a cartel of network owners?

The smell of windfall profits is in the air in Washington. The phone companies are pulling out all the stops to legislate themselves monopoly power. They're spending tens of millions of dollars on inside-the-Beltway print, radio and TV ads; high-priced lobbyists; coin-operated think tanks; and sham "Astroturf" groups -- fake grass-roots operations with such Orwellian names as Hands Off the Internet and NetCompetition.org.

They're opposed by a real grass-roots coalition of more than 700 groups, 5,000 bloggers and 750,000 individual Americans who have rallied in support of net neutrality at http://www.savetheinternet.com/ . The coalition is left and right, commercial and noncommercial, public and private. Supporters include the Christian Coalition of America, MoveOn.org, National Religious Broadcasters, the Service Employees International Union, the American Library Association, AARP and nearly every consumer group. It includes the founders of the Internet, the brand names of Silicon Valley, and a bloc of retailers, innovators and entrepreneurs. Coalitions of such breadth, depth and purpose are rare in contemporary politics.

Most of the great innovators in the history of the Internet started out in their garages with great ideas and little capital. This is no accident. Network neutrality protections minimized control by the network owners, maximized competition and invited outsiders in to innovate. Net neutrality guaranteed a free and competitive market for Internet content. The benefits are extraordinary and undeniable.

Congress is deciding on the fate of the Internet. The question before it is simple: Should the Internet be handed over to the handful of cable and telephone companies that control online access for 98 percent of the broadband market? Only a Congress besieged by high-priced telecom lobbyists and stuffed with campaign contributions could possibly even consider such an absurd act.

People are waking up to what's at stake, and their voices are growing louder by the day. As millions of citizens learn the facts, the message to Congress is clear: Save the Internet.

Lawrence Lessig is a law professor at Stanford University and founder of the Center for Internet and Society. Robert W. McChesney is a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and co-founder of the media reform group Free Press.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/07/AR2006060702108.html

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Freshman - A Talib at Yale

He "could have ended up in Guantánamo Bay. Instead" he "ended up at Yale."

This is the fascinating real life story of Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, the very famous face of Taliban, the "roving ambassador" of Afghanistan in the time of one-eyed Mullah Omar.

A Talib at Yale. Like all the other of his classmates, he is learning critical reasoning, arguments, political science, philosophy, etc. Here is a memorable sentence from this article attached below: "He had been raised in a faith, buoyed at every turn by the certainty of a higher order, a purposeful universe, and now here in this shrine of critical thinking he was learning to doubt, not to believe."

Doesn't it show that changing circumstances, devoid of visible destructive wars, bombs and violence, can present a man, even with a clear Taliban background new hope in life? A peaceful environment where mind can soar, heart can flutter with every new steps toward broadening one's horizon.

Afghans were mercilessly put into bloody wars, deaths and sheer agonies by uncontrollable international and regional geopolitics, and when their usefulness ended, they were discarded to rot. Years later, they were invaded once again. This time to fight the fighters who were once on the same side in the war against the "Commies". Shakespeare would have been ecstatic living in our century! A world full of ironies and tragedies, better story plot than witches, merchants, Kings, Romeo and Hamlet.

Rahmatullah is "lucky", indeed. He is away from all the chaos and bloodsheds still raging in his native land. Perhaps, one day he and others like him can step forward in bringing non-fictitious peace to his oppressed nation.

Regards,
Sohel

The Freshman

Talib in Luce Hall

Sometimes walking up College Street, when the bells were ringing in Harkness Tower and the light on the gabled dorms and leafy quads made the whole campus seem part of some Platonic dream, he could almost forget that there were people back home who would be happy to kill him.

His formal introduction to the terrain of the Western mind came in July at the start of the summer term; most of the class of '09 would not arrive until the fall term. He was glad for the chance to get his bearings. The direction of Mecca he knew from the compass on his watch. For local attractions he had a map of the campus; he got a cellphone, a Yale e-mail account. His student ID card admitted him to lots of campus dining halls, where at first it seemed he was free to choose anything he liked as long as it was pasta. He took to drinking milk with the pasta, but milk didn't agree with him any more than pasta did, and he dropped 15 pounds over the summer. It wasn't until the fall that one of his new friends, Fahad, a Pakistani, tipped him off to the kosher meat at Slifka, the Jewish dining hall.

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?

During the summer, he made some friends, including a nice guy from Texas, but it was not until the fall that he fell in with a bunch of foreign-born undergraduates and expats with whom he could speak Pashto and Urdu. They took him to the Harvard-Yale game; he clapped, he cheered, he had a great time, albeit without any idea what was going on. His friends taught him how to play cricket. They introduced him to weight lifting at the Payne Whitney gym. When he turned 27 in November, they gave a party, only the second time in his life anyone had ever celebrated his birthday. Friendships helped assuage the ache he felt for his wife, Asyah, and their daughter, Suraya, who was 5, and their 4-year-old son, Suleman, who was born the day after 9/11. They were all living in the Pakistan border city of Quetta with his parents. His parents fled Afghanistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion and then became refugees again when the United States began bombing in October 2001. He telephoned his family at least once a week, but the pictures he sent of himself at college seemed to have gotten lost, as did the toys he had mailed, a Thomas the Tank Engine for Suleman, a fluffy stuffed dog for Suraya. Suleman couldn't understand why his father, with a single-entry United States visa, couldn't come home for a visit during the semester break.

"Daddy," he said, "tell your teacher to close his shop and let you go!"

It was largely for his children's sake that he was pursuing an education on the other side of the earth — for their future and, in some inchoate hope-filled way, for his country's future too. What he often said was that he wanted to be a bridge between the Islamic world and the West. None of the summer students in New Haven knew much about his personal circumstances; of his history they knew nothing at all. He had discussed it with the Yale admissions office, and with an administrator in the provost's office who during a dinner with him seemed concerned that he might be a spy.

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. At the start of the fall semester, he made his way to the Henry R. Luce Hall at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies. He had a 1 o'clock class — PLSC 145, Terrorism: Past, Present and Future, with Prof. Douglas Woodwell. It was a popular new offering; hardly a seat was open. As he stood in the back hunting for a place to sit, he realized that he had been in Luce Hall before. Four years earlier. March 2001. The university saved a seat for him that afternoon, down on the stage. He was the featured speaker, a "roving ambassador" from the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan. He was 22 years old. The newspapers said 24, but he had been misrepresenting his age for a long time. Twenty-two years old and a member of the Taliban — at that moment, in fact, the very face and voice of the regime in America. Per decree, his beard was full, his head swaddled in a turban. He was dressed in an Afghan tunic and loose-fitting pants. Neither he nor anyone else in Luce Hall that day could have foreseen the catastrophe approaching or what peculiar fate was in store for him. He could remember looking out at the faces of the Yale students in the audience. They were his age, his generation — after a fashion they were taliban, too, talib being the Arabic word for seeker or student — but they sat on the far side of an abyss, and not in his wildest dreams could he have imagined himself as one of them.

Bagori From Kohak: 1978-1994

Before Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi opened the Yale course catalog last summer, his education had been painfully unacademic; his reading list mixed the Koran and Persian poets with the grimmest primers of poverty and war. He was the sixth of seven children, born in 1978 in the Arghandab River valley village of Kohak, where his parents were born. They were Pashtuns — the dominant ethnic group of southern Afghanistan and parts of western Pakistan. For centuries the Arghandab valley had been the breadbasket of Afghanistan, famous for its grapes and pomegranates as well as for the fierce Pashtun clans that bloodied the armies of Alexander the Great and a litany of subsequent invaders. Rahmatullah arrived the year before the Soviet invasion, the most savage conflict of all. Many of the mud-brick homes and orchards of the family's village were obliterated by napalm; the whole region was salted with small, beguilingly shaped "bat mines" designed to blow the hands off children. Two of Rahmatullah's sisters were pulled alive from bomb rubble; an aunt was not so lucky, another of the estimated 1.5 million people killed during the 10-year Soviet occupation.

Rahmatullah's father, Mohammad Fazal Hashemi, had been educated in Germany. He worked as a high-ranking policeman in Kabul, the capital, and came home to Kohak during the winter. He resigned his post and, eventually, fearing for his life, fled with his family to Pakistan in the fall of 1982; Rahmatullah was almost 4.

"I still remember the trip," he told me one afternoon last fall in the Yale Commons dining hall. He had a close-cropped beard and was dressed in sneakers, khakis and a wide-collared striped shirt; the only thing that set him apart from the hundreds of other students in the dining hall was a missing lunch tray. It was the second week of Ramadan, and he was fasting.

"We were lucky to be able to run away. It's a short trip from Kandahar to Quetta in Pakistan, but the border was sealed, and we had to go the long way around, through Kabul. We weren't told where we were going because the Russians would ask the children. We changed trucks and rode with different families. In some areas it was really cold. After three or four nights we ended up on the Pakistan side. The land was very green. We went to a refugee camp in Quetta near the border called the Jungle Camp — it was the biggest in Baluchistan. One of my uncles was already there. It was terrible. The dust went up to your ankles, like snow."

By 1984, the family had found quarters in a slum of Quetta, a city with a Pashtun culture similar to Kandahar's. Mohammad Fazal Hashemi worked with one of the seven Afghan mujahedeen parties that were fighting the Soviets with the help of billions of dollars of covert American aid. When he turned 6, Rahmatullah was enrolled in a Pakistani primary school — three rooms on the ground floor of a dark brick building. He was placed in second grade in a class with about 30 other kids. The school day ran from 8 to 1. There was a blackboard and one teacher, who often left the kids alone. Fights broke out frequently.

"Many of the Pakistani Pashtuns in Quetta were Communists, and they hated the Afghan refugees. They called us bagori, which means 'escapees.' I remember in school they'd call us puppets of the Americans. I got into a lot of fights with these people. They'd say things like, 'The Russians have a missile that can hit the White House,' and I'd say, 'The Americans have a missile that can hit a dot on the back of a cow standing in the Kremlin!"'

He learned to write in Pashto, Urdu and Persian and picked up some English words. Early each morning before school, and every evening before sunset, he went to a madrassa in Quetta to receive lessons from an imam in the basics of Islam: how to pray, how to wash, how to eat. As he got older, the emphasis shifted from injunctions on manners to features of Islamic history and jurisprudence. Five times a day he broke for prayer. He tried dutifully to comply with the precepts of Islam: respecting elders, honoring parents, speaking truthfully. "Religion was a part of your life," he said. "You never thought about it."

In 1989, the Soviets withdrew in defeat from Afghanistan. Mohammad Fazal Hashemi, weary of holy-warrior politics and hypocrisy, opened a shoe shop on the outskirts of Quetta. Shortly before the end of the school year, he told his 10-year-old son that his school days were over — he needed Rahmatullah to mind the store while he worshipped at the mosque.

"Why didn't your older brothers help out?" I asked.

"That's a good question," Rahmatullah said. He was silent for a while, as if 16 years later the blow were still fresh. "Those were the best years of my life," he said at last. "When I dropped out that day, I was crying all the time. I thought I would never see school again. We were in a constant economic crisis, moving from one house to another."

At the shop he cleaned windows, brushed the shoes and battled the dust. To guard the stock against thieves during the night, his younger brother, Asadullah, would lock Rahmatullah inside behind a steel shutter. There was no electricity. He read the Persian poets Sa'di Shirazi and Rumi by candlelight, and the Pashtun Shakespeare, Rahman Baba: "An ignorant man is like a corpse." One night he woke to the sound of hammering and spied on the other side of the shutter a pair of busy legs and feet in plastic sandals. "Who is it?" he shouted, grabbing his father's knife. The sandals scrammed; Rahmatullah sat up the rest of the night, too frightened to sleep.

In 1992, Rahmatullah's father sold the shoe shop to take a job working for a United Nations demining program in Afghanistan. He reported back that Kandahar, then the country's second-largest city, had become "a city of dogs." Rahmatullah, who was now 13, enrolled in an English-language training school established for Afghan refugees by the International Rescue Committee, an American charity. He wanted to return to his old school, but the prospect of being placed in fourth grade, as administrators insisted, was too humiliating, so he stayed where he was. Learning English was considered as valuable as a high-school degree anyway. He graduated second in his class and stayed on for another year working as a substitute English-language teacher. But he was restless to see the country he had left more than a decade before. After the Soviets limped home in 1989, Afghan Communists hung on to power until April 1992, when the mujahedeen finally captured Kabul. The victory of the holy warriors quickly devolved into a civil war as brutal and unholy as anything under the Soviet occupation. From 1992 until 1995, internecine fighting killed more than 40,000 people in Kabul alone.

In the fall of 1994, a group of mullahs and madrassa students emerged in the Kandahar region as yet another of the seemingly numberless factions vying for control of Afghanistan. They were called the Taliban; they were led by an obscure one-eyed mullah and veteran jihadi who knew little about the world beyond his village. On Nov. 5, they captured the city of Kandahar, the spiritual center of the Pashtuns. Within months, they took control of roughly one-third of Afghanistan's provinces and pacified a large swath of a nation that had been convulsed by violence for nearly two decades. To one young Afghan exile, following the news from Quetta on BBC radio broadcasts, the Taliban looked like the saviors of his homeland; like thousands of other Afghan refugees hungry for a future in their own country, he was eager to be one of them.

Black Turbans in Kandahar: 1994-2000

When Rahmatullah turned 16, two weeks after the Taliban took Kandahar, thousands of Pashtuns were having a coming-out party. The buzz of liberation was in the air; suddenly it was safe to go home.

"I went with my father to see Kandahar and our village," he recalled in the late-afternoon hush of the Commons dining hall. "The reason why the Taliban were so successful at first was they were seen as the ultimate good guys. They stabilized the country. The areas they controlled were unique for peace and security. I said to my father, 'I really want to join them."'

Four months later, Rahmatullah visited a Taliban office in Kandahar. Discouraged from military service by his parents, he offered his skills as a computer operator highly proficient in English. He was turned away: "They said I was too young." But his father had some contacts in the Taliban, and when Rahmatullah reapplied in September, adding a couple of years to his age, he was accepted. There was hardly any paperwork and no membership card. What signaled his new status was an expensive black turban bought for him by his father.

In August 1996, he took a paying job at Unicef — $130 a month, most of which he gave to his parents. He worked at Unicef until 4 p.m. and then reported to the Taliban's Office of Foreign Affairs. The work at the foreign office increased after Kabul fell to the Taliban in late September, and eventually Rahmatullah got a full-time job translating.

"There were about 35 people in the foreign office, which was in Shahre Naw, the 'new city' area of Kandahar. At first for dinner we were eating only bread. Groups of Taliban would collect rations from houses, and sometimes some of the U.N. agencies would give us rice. Everything was so informal and raw. I was excited, but I did find it difficult to adjust to the rules and to Afghan culture, especially wearing a turban. Wrapping it around your head is easy, but it's hard to wear it all the time, and I didn't like somebody imposing the requirement on me. I didn't see any religious reason for it. In the beginning I said, No, I'm not going to wear it, but one of the more senior people said, 'It's a good idea to get used to it."'

The Taliban might still be in power today but for the hospitality they extended to Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in May 1996 as the guest of Jalalabad warlords who were not members of the Taliban but quickly ingratiated himself with Mullah Omar. "I saw bin Laden after he was brought to Kandahar in 1997," Rahmatullah recalled. "He came to the foreign office with some people. He was a very tall guy. I knew him as a rich man, an Arab, but there was no reason at the time to remember his name. I heard about him again when I was taking notes during a meeting, I think it was in 1997, with the U.S. chargé d'affairs in Kandahar. U.S. officials had O.K. relations with the Taliban at that time, and they wanted to talk about four issues. The first was stopping the fighting with the Northern Alliance. The second was drugs and opium growing. The third was human rights. The fourth was Osama bin Laden. I said, 'Who?' I had to have one of the Americans repeat the name for me."

Rahmatullah heard bin Laden speak at a house in Kandahar in 1998, not long after Qaeda agents financed by bin Laden blew up two U.S. embassies, in Kenya and Tanzania, and President Clinton retaliated by launching 75 cruise missiles at what were thought to be four terrorist training camps near the eastern Afghanistan town of Khost. "He spoke against the U.S. presence in the Holy Land, and amazingly, he spoke against Saddam Hussein that day," Rahmatullah recalled.

In November 1998, bin Laden was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York for the embassy bombings. The job of translating the indictment into Pashto fell to Rahmatullah. "Many words and phrases were difficult — 'grand jury,' for example. 'Confederated.' 'Vanguard.' 'Heretics."'

As American diplomats pressed the case for extradition, the Taliban's often-invoked reason for not turning over bin Laden was that he was a guest, and under the ancient code of Pashtunwali, few responsibilities were more important than a host's obligation to his guest. Bin Laden was also reported to have curried the favor of Mullah Omar with a $3 million donation. Another factor may have been the possibility that the deaths of 224 people in far-off American embassies wouldn't seem all that notable in a country in which 40,000 people had already been killed in the rocket-riddled capital, and where war was still raging in the north and you could die if you stepped in the wrong place. Afghanistan was then, and remains today, one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. It is also one of the poorest, and has one of the lowest rates of life expectancy. The average Afghan is dead at 43.

Truth be told, Rahmatullah was beginning to wonder about some aspects of life with the Taliban. He was appointed to the position of diplomat in the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad in 1998, and when Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil became foreign minister in 2000, he made Rahmatullah a "roving ambassador." The international image of the Taliban was increasingly dominated by the Vice and Virtue busybodies who were checking the lengths of beards and thrashing women with leather straps and herding crowds into the Kabul soccer stadium to witness lashings amputations and executions. Even among ordinary people, he was increasingly reluctant to appear in his black turban. Before long he found himself wrapping on turbans of a less controversial color.

"I felt better not being distinguished," he said.

He was not a soldier, but danger was never far away. Once during Ramadan, before the Taliban took Kabul, he was on his way back to Kandahar from Herat, where he had gone to help organize the foreign office. Needing to urinate, he pulled the car to the side of the highway. He walked 30 or so paces into the bush. In Afghan fashion, he squatted in the privacy of his tunic. Between his feet he saw the urine rinsing dust off a drab metal disk. He was hunkered inches above a mine.

"That wasn't the one I was worried about," he said. "It was all the other ones I couldn't see between me and the car that I had missed walking in."

Another time, a week after he was married in August 1999, he got a ride home from the foreign office with a friend. He and his wife, Asyah, lived with Rahmatullah's parents in a four-bedroom government house with a garden out back where his father grew tomatoes and okra. Over the walkie-talkie came a report of an unknown truck parked in front of Mullah Omar's compound, about half a mile from Rahmatullah's house. A voice on the radio asked Rahmatullah and his fellow Taliban official to check it out.

"Let's go," his friend said.

"Oh, man, I'm really tired, I just want to go home," Rahmatullah said. His friend dropped him off.

"I opened the door, I said hi to my wife and then suddenly the ground shook, the lights went off, all the windows blew out. Outside I could see a giant Hiroshima-like mushroom cloud." The truck was a bomb. The explosion, believed to be the work of Iranian-backed agents, killed 40 people, including two of Mullah Omar's stepbrothers. "There were limbs all over the place, hanging from trees. Compared to this bomb, bunker busters were nothing. Some people died just from the shock wave. If we had driven over there, you wouldn't even have found pieces of us."

At the start of 1999, Rahmatullah's translation work increasingly took him abroad. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recognized the Taliban; United Nations sanctions were looming (and were implemented that fall). The foreign office hoped to improve the Taliban's dismal international reputation. Trips to the gulf states, Switzerland, France, Holland and Denmark exposed Rahmatullah to new ways of thinking. Once in Germany, he saw the extremes to which Western companies will go to boost sales. Along the road from the Hamburg airport, he saw a giant blonde on a billboard advertising some product that was shockingly upstaged by her uncovered breasts. He and another diplomat craned for a glimpse.

At one conference he attended, the emir of Qatar surprised Rahmatullah with the gift of a brown leather Pierre Cardin attaché case. When the Taliban fell, he had to abandon much of what he owned, but he held on to the case; it was among the little huddle of luggage he took to Yale. It contained all his important papers — passport, visa, college correspondence, his English-language training institute diploma with a head shot of him as a hopeful young man. Even now, with its crisp latches and precise stitching, it gleamed in his humble room like a talisman of life beyond the village.

"Who is Pierre Cardin?" he said.

The Camel: May 2000 to October 2001

Midday on May 21, 2000, Rahmatullah was holding a sign at the airport in Quetta, Pakistan: "Mr. Mick Hoober." Mick Hoober never showed up, but in his place came a hale, rangy, black-haired 56-year-old American named Mike Hoover. Close enough. Mountaineer, cameraman, filmmaker, Hoover was possibly the only member of the American news media whose life was as eventful as Rahmatullah's. He had been to both poles, all seven continents and, during the making of "The Eiger Sanction," served as Clint Eastwood's stunt double. He had one Academy Award, three wives, four children and 14 Emmys and had had many brushes with oblivion. In 1994, he was the only survivor of a ski-helicopter crash in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada that killed four people, including his second wife, Beverly Johnson (at one time the best female rock climber in the world), and Frank Wells, president of the Walt Disney Company.

In the 1980's, Hoover slipped into Afghanistan for CBS News and filmed mujahedeen battles against the Red Army. The Afghans dubbed him Shutur, or "the Camel," because he insisted on lugging his heavy camera equipment up trails in the Hindu Kush. Now, in May 2000, he was one of the few American news cameramen who had been given Taliban permission to visit Afghanistan since Clinton's attempt to kill bin Laden with cruise missiles in August 1998. Rahmatullah had been assigned to take him around as a guide and translator and show him whatever he wanted to see.

Rahmatullah had a driver, and Hoover was traveling with another filmmaker, Cindy Carpenter Spies, who was working on a documentary about Afghan women. The party set off around noon for Kandahar in an old station wagon. After they had been going for a while, the driver pulled to the side of the road. He and Rahmatullah got out. They were in the middle of nowhere, and no one was around. "I thought this was it," Spies recalls. "I thought, They're probably going to kill us right here." Hoover wasn't sure what the two Taliban were up to until they faced southeast and got down on their knees to pray.

Over the next three weeks, 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."


When he came to the United States nine months later, Rahmatullah was no longer a translator in the narrow sense of the word. He was a diplomat, an envoy, a spokesman hoping to translate the conditions of his country into terms Americans could understand.

The trip had been Hoover's idea. He put up a lot of the money for the travel expenses and called people who could help arrange places for Rahmatullah to sleep and set up speaking gigs and interviews.

"The way to break down cultural barriers is exchange," Hoover says. "The reason Rahmatullah was called a 'roving ambassador' is because nobody would have him. Why not let him talk, let him explain, let him have his say?"

Under the United Nations sanctions at the time, high-level Taliban officials were barred from traveling abroad, but Rahmatullah was apparently a small-enough potato to get a visa. The idea that he could help improve the Taliban's public image was probably doomed from the start. As he was preparing to leave, the Taliban were resolving to blow up the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan — priceless 1,500-year-old archaeological treasures that predated Islam. The foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, thought there was no point in having Rahmatullah go, but Rahmatullah had his heart set. And plans had been made, speaking engagements booked, meetings arranged at the State Department.

He flew economy class dressed in a newly purchased coat and a new pair of baggy Afghan pants. He wore a turban — taupe, not black. He carried a letter for President Bush with a message from Mullah Omar and also a gift, a small Afghan rug of bright yellows, oranges and reds.

Hoover picked him up at Los Angeles International Airport and took him to his oceanside house in Palos Verdes. Later Rahmatullah played basketball in the driveway with Hoover's wife, Amber, an experience nearly as remarkable as the Hamburg billboard.

At his first speech at Town Hall Los Angeles he was very nervous. "You don't want to make a mistake, especially if you represent the Taliban," he told me. But the West Coast swing proved to be a warm-up for the chillier reception he got in the East. At the University of Southern California, there were some softball questions and supportive audience members shouting "Allahu akbar!"

Five years later, his U.S.C. talk seems both shrewd and naïve — in some places well informed and rhetorically effective; in others disingenuous or just plain ignorant. Walking the party line on the destruction of the Buddhist statues, he allowed that the vandalism wasn't logical but that the fit of fundamentalist pique had to be seen in context. If "the world is destroying our future with economic sanctions," Rahmatullah said, "then they have no right to worry about our past." Citing the Taliban revocation of ancient tribal practices like honor killing, exchanging women as gifts and arranging marriages without a bride's permission, he insisted that the Taliban had actually enhanced the lot of women by giving them the right of "self-determination." On the question of bin Laden, he submitted that the Taliban were "confused as to what is the definition of terrorism," especially given the U.S. cruise-missile attack on Afghanistan in 1998 that missed bin Laden but killed 21 people. Was that not terrorism? "We didn't know Osama bin Laden then," he said at U.S.C. "I didn't know him; he was just a simple man." In fact, even if Rahmatullah did not "know" bin Laden, he certainly knew of him, having seen him in Kandahar in early 1997. If part of being a good Muslim means always telling the truth, as he was raised to believe, he was learning how hard it is to be virtuous and a government spokesman at the same time.

"On the East Coast the questions were much harder, especially about bin Laden and the Buddhist statues," he recalls. "The statues had just been blown up. I tried to distance myself from it, but inside I was dying. If I said I had nothing to do with it and didn't support it, I would have been in trouble back home."

In Washington he met with State Department officials. He presented the Afghan rug and Mullah Omar's message. American spokesmen dismissed the proposals in the letter as nothing new. He met with Senator Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican, who was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee. He gave interviews to The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The New York Times and appeared on "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" and "Talk of the Nation" on NPR.

When he rose to speak on "Prospects for Afghanistan" at the Atlantic Council, hecklers in the audience shouted. A gray-haired woman in the audience stood and lifted the burka she was wearing over her head. "You have imprisoned the women — it's a horror, let me tell you," she cried. Rahmatullah was caught on videotape responding: "I'm really sorry to your husband. He might have a very difficult time with you."

Unfortunately for him the exchange surfaced in Michael Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11." He appeared for about 30 seconds in the film, and it sealed his notoriety as the face of what many Americans considered to be an odious regime of terrorist-enabling male chauvinists.

Looking back, sitting in the Commons after his class on terrorism, he said that were he to do the trip over, he would be less antagonistic. "I regret the way I spoke sometimes. Now I would try to be softer. A little bit."

The most substantive debate took place at Yale on March 27, 2001. "The Taliban: Pros and Cons" was arranged and moderated by Prof. Gustav Ranis, then at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies. Ranis had recruited Prof. Harold Hongju Koh to argue the con side of the debate. Rahmatullah did not know who Koh was, and he was not impressed by what the professor had to say.

"He said, 'Women under the Taliban cannot go to doctors,' and I said, 'Do you think I cannot take my daughter to a doctor?' He said, 'Women can't walk outside without a male relative.' I said, 'My wife walks outside."'

At one point, Rahmatullah asked, "Have you ever been to Afghanistan?"

"No," Koh said.

"Well, if you were my only source of information about the Taliban, I'd hate them too!" It was a line he also used during his "Talk of the Nation" interview.

But it might have been wise to recall the words of Rahman Baba: "An ignorant man is like a corpse." What Koh may have lacked in personal experience of Afghanistan he had offset with time in the library. He had just finished serving more than two years in the Clinton administration as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. He arrived at Luce Hall with a five-inch stack of documents and reports.

In the audience that afternoon was Gardner Bovingdon, now a professor at Indiana University. "I remember three moments," he says. "The first was when Rahmatullah was talking about girls' education under the Taliban. He said, 'It's not that we refuse to let the girls study in school, it's that we haven't prepared the materials yet.' In other words, it was just a bureaucratic problem. The entire auditorium looked at him beady-eyed. The second was when he was talking about the abridgment of women's rights under the Taliban, and he said something like, 'American women don't have the right not to find images of themselves in swimsuits on the side of a bus.' Some people in the auditorium hissed. And the third one was when Rahmatullah got to the topic of the Buddhas and said, 'You people in the West, you don't care about people, you only care about statues.' Harold replied, 'What you're hearing this afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, is the sound of a diplomat hung out to dry.' My real feeling was that however clever Rahmatullah was, he had not been charged to intellectually engage what Harold Koh was saying but had been told to stay on his points and not look like a fool."

After the debate Rahmatullah offered his hand. Koh, who is now dean of Yale Law School, shook it "reluctantly," he says, though he managed a smile for a photographer from The New Haven Register.

On the flight home, Rahmatullah was optimistic that relations with the United States could be improved and that the United Nations sanctions that were punishing the people of Afghanistan could be lifted. In Kandahar, he presented what he had gleaned from his trip to Mullah Omar and a group of senior advisers. It was quickly evident that they weren't interested in his ideas.

"I nearly got into a fight with the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Mullah Saqib, who had verified the edict to demolish the Bamiyan Buddhas," he recalls. "I said, 'Why can't we have women's education?' And he said, 'We'll have it later.' I said: 'There isn't any time. Why are we waiting?' He said to me, 'I think you were really indoctrinated by America.' That really ticked me off. I wanted something good for Afghanistan. I was saying what I was saying because it was for the good of Afghanistan, not because I was being paid by the C.I.A. He was a sycophant — he didn't want to upset the conservatives."

The ensuing months did not dispel Rahmatullah's disillusionment. He seriously considered quitting the Taliban and taking up a friend's offer to work part time for CNN.

That spring and summer of 2001, from a Western perspective at least, Mullah Omar and the hard-line Taliban seemed driven by a perverse desire to pile folly upon folly. In May, having blown up the Buddhas, hounded girls from school and implemented laws and practices that in some cases violated the principles of Islam, they took a page from the Nazis and proposed that non-Muslims wear identity labels on their clothes. In July, they banished women from recreation areas, banned the use of the Internet and forbade the importation of chessboards, playing cards, musical instruments, nail polish and neckties, among other items. In August, they arrested 24 Western and Afghan aid workers on charges of "spreading Christianity" — a crime punishable by death. They continued to balk at demands to turn over Osama bin Laden. On Sept. 11, their see-no-evil charade regarding bin Laden collapsed in the inferno of the World Trade Center. Foreign Minister Muttawakil called a hasty news conference to condemn the attacks in New York and Washington, but he knew the Taliban were probably finished.

"He told us in the foreign office, 'That's it, you must go your own way now,"' Rahmatullah recalls. "We were told to fend for ourselves."

Worried that American bombing was imminent, Rahmatullah's father gathered his family together and they left Afghanistan on Sept. 22. Rahmatullah's new son, Suleman, was 10 days old. The weather was bitterly cold, and he got sick. "We arrived in Pakistan late at night," Rahmatullah recalls. "We took Suleman to the hospital in Quetta. Then I returned to Kandahar. No one knew what was happening. I felt I had to be there, but I wanted to make sure my family got out."

Two weeks later, on Oct. 7, the bombs finally came whistling out of the night sky above Kandahar. Thinking it was safer, Rahmatullah slept outdoors in a trench. The foreign office was hit. He went to survey the damage and found the place crawling with looters.

"I saw people taking away the carpets and the washing machines and the air-conditioners we had installed for guests in the guest house. I thought, Wow, I should stop them, but there was no meaning in stopping them. The whole place was looted in one day. It had taken us six years to build up the foreign office. We demined it, we cleaned it, we put in windows and rugs, we planted trees and bushes. I watered the trees. And then in one night it was bombed, and the next it was looted, and everything we did to build it up was gone."

He drove back to his family in Quetta and took up life in exile once again.

Limbo: 2001-2004

For months on end he moped around, without direction or plans. Worried for his safety, his parents didn't want him to leave the house. He followed the news from Afghanistan on the BBC for a while but then gave his radio away, discouraged, he says, that the Americans seemed to be reinstalling the warlords whose abuses had given rise to the Taliban in the first place. Rahmatullah thought that if he could live his life over, he would steer clear of politics. He would be a scientist. His main consolation was playing with his children. And books. Every day he read for hours. Curious about orbital dynamics and moon capture, he worked out a theory to explain the retrograde spin of Venus and Pluto and wrote a paper complete with pencil diagrams.

In the fall of 2003, he took a high-school equivalency exam in Quetta and was awarded a degree. In February 2004, he got a call from his old boss, the former foreign minister Mullah Muttawakil. He had been released from the American prison at Bagram Air Base and was now under house arrest in Kabul. He asked if Rahmatullah would like to return to Kabul and clear his name with the American authorities. Yes, he would, he said, and a week later in Kabul, Rahmatullah saw Muttawakil for the first time in two years.

"He was fed up with politics," he says. "He was translating Arabic. He'd lost a lot of hair."

An American woman who identified herself only as Michelle showed up at the house, along with a man who smiled a lot but didn't give his name. They all had tea together. Rahmatullah had been nervous about getting an adversarial debriefer. Somebody could put whatever he felt like in his file, and he would be on a transport to Guantánamo Bay with his head in a sack. He was thankful that Michelle seemed thoughtful and not arrogant at all. She asked if he had seen Mullah Omar recently. He had not. She asked if he knew of anyone who would pose a threat to Muttawakil, who as a moderate ex-Taliban might be in the cross hairs of extremists on both sides. He said he didn't know of anyone.

Michelle and the man returned for a second interview a few days later. Rahmatullah had no idea how much time or how many interviews it would take to "clear" his name. He passed the hours in limbo reading the Hadith, the sayings of the prophet Muhammad, and playing "chinny chockers" with Muttawakil. After 40 days, Michelle appeared for the third time. "You can go," she said.

The Karzai administration invited Rahmatullah to work for the government, but with the Northern Alliance now controlling the Afghan military, he feared for his safety in Kabul. Since the regime's collapse, Rahmatullah had stayed in touch with Mike Hoover. In the spring of 2004, he jumped when Hoover proposed the possibility of Rahmatullah's attending college in the United States. "I thought he could do a lot as a student/teacher," Hoover says. He had broached the idea with a friend, Bob Schuster, an attorney in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where Hoover lived most of the year. Schuster, who had earned his undergraduate degree at Yale in 1967, said Yale was the place they ought to try first. Schuster called the provost's office to ask how an ex-Taliban envoy with a fourth-grade education and a high-school equivalency degree might go about applying to one of the world's top universities. Yale had a nondegree program for special students. Rahmatullah should send a short bio to Richard Shaw, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid at Yale. When it arrived, Shaw was intrigued and suggested that Rahmatullah come to New Haven for an interview.

Rahmatullah applied for a visa at the United States Consulate in Peshawar in July 2004. With his Taliban-era paperwork, he was referred to the embassy in Islamabad, but within a couple of weeks he received a B2 prospective-student visa. At the end of October he flew to New York. Not knowing how long he would have to wait for the Yale interview, he had arranged to stay with an Afghan family on Long Island. Finally the call came. On Dec. 11, he presented himself to Dean Shaw.

"When I first met him I was a little anxious," recalls Shaw, who last year became dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid at Stanford. "My perception was, 'It's the enemy!' But the interview with him was one of the most interesting I've ever had. I walked away with a sense: Whoa! This is a person to be reckoned with and who could educate us about the world."

Waiting to hear from Yale, Rahmatullah spent the holidays in Jackson Hole with Hoover. He met Bob Schuster and spoke to students at several local schools. The talks reprised the form if not the content of his lectures in America in 2001. After a talk to the young teenagers at the Jackson Hole Middle School, two boys approached Rahmatullah.

"Can we ask you a question? Have you ever been in a war?"

"Yes."

"Can you tell us about it? We want to be Army Rangers."

He thought for a second. "Do you guys play video games?"

"Yeah," they said, looking at him as if he had rocks for brains.

"I thought so," he said. "Let me ask you, have either of you ever killed a chicken?"

They shook their heads. They didn't know anyone who even had chickens.

"When was the last time you had to kill anything to eat?"

They were confused.

"I killed a goat before I came here," Rahmatullah said. "I hated doing it. Go kill a chicken, and pluck it, and eat it," he said softly. "And then maybe you will know a little bit about war."

A Time to Be Young: 2005-2006

The letter came in January 2005. He was in, admitted to Yale as a nondegree student, with the understanding that if he did well after a summer term and two regular freshman terms; if he could get the grades, improve his math, refine his writing, prepare for the science; if he could figure out how to pay for tuition, room, board and books; if he could endure the cultural dislocation, the difficulty of visa restrictions, the plaintive voice of his wife on the far side of the world, his little boy, Suleman, telling him to slip out of class when the teacher wasn't looking and come home; well, then he would be welcome to apply for regular degree status in the spring of 2006.

Richard Shaw said the admissions office had once had another foreigner of Rahmatullah's caliber apply for special-student status. "We lost him to Harvard," he says. "I didn't want that to happen again."

Rahmatullah returned home for a few months and then flew back to the States in June. During the break between the summer term and the start of the fall semester, he went out to Jackson Hole and visited Hoover and his new friends Paul and Tatiana Maxwell. They, with Schuster, and some other Jackson residents, had started a foundation to raise money for the cost of his education, but it was a hard sell, getting people to donate to the education of a former member of the Taliban.

When the fall term started, he made a lot of new friends. He spoke Urdu to Fahad Khan, a Pakistani junior, and Pashto with two sophomores, Ahmed Khattak, who grew up in Pakistan, and Hyder Akbar, who was born in Afghanistan but raised in the U.S. Rahmatullah didn't mention his background, but his friends put two and two together.

"Talk about a eureka moment," Fahad says. "I Googled him in late September and spent the whole night reading about him. I was shocked. I remembered him from the Michael Moore movie. When you see him, you wouldn't believe he's the same guy. He chills with us, he cracks jokes with us. He's a fundamentalist in the way he believes in the essence of religion, but he's not an extremist at all. He gives you intellectual answers versus dogmatic answers. He's very serious and disciplined about his education. He missed a class once and was horror-struck. I said, 'Dude, we miss classes all the time!' You can tell he's seen a lot just by the aura around him. But even though he's seen a lifetime of experience already, he's young. He's thirsty for the innocence of life without war, emigration, bombs, politics, danger. Everyone needs a time to be young."

Hyder and Ahmed were busy with their search engines too. Ahmed had read Rahmatullah's U.S.C. speech online in 2001, and after he met him he Googled him and turned up a transcript and Rahmatullah's picture.

"God, it's you!" he shouted when he saw Rahmatullah again.

"Shut up," Rahmatullah said. Pashtun friendships are often characterized by a certain brusqueness.

"Fahad, Hyder, Rahmatullah, me — we fight every day," Ahmed says. "We have lunch together. At 6 o'clock we meet for dinner at the Slifka Center. We sit together and eat food off one plate and talk about things. Sometimes we make fun of the Taliban. Every day we come up with something to fight about. We pretend to be only mocking, but we're genuinely angry. Friendship to a Pashtun means you have exclusive rights to abuse each other. After dinner we go back to my suite in Davenport and play foosball or stay up late playing Civilization. Rahmatullah loves the equality of how people are over here. He's very down to earth. He gets a lot of respect at Yale. If you want to test a man's character, either give him power or take it away — and see how he responds. I'm proud to be his friend."

On Craig's List, Ahmed found Rahmatullah a new room off campus, where he prefers to study. It's quieter than the library. He salvaged a desk from a pile of garbage on the sidewalk. His printer is a castoff from the Office of International Students and Scholars. He invited me over one afternoon, apologizing for not having more to offer than a handful of raisins and almonds.

"Some of what I am studying at Yale in theory I think I have already learned in practice. Theory is always distant. Theory and experience hardly ever meet. I was more confident in 2001 than I am now. I was probably a better speaker then, because everything was so new to me. Before I was meeting high-ranking people — learning how to interact, how to argue, how to make points, how to write letters. I think I'm forgetting it now. I see myself not being focused enough. It's easier to learn in practice than in theory."

He follows the news from Afghanistan every day — increasingly dismayed, as are many, by the return of the warlords, the rise of opium trafficking, the lawlessness and violence that have plagued his country all his life. Would things be better if the Taliban were still in power?

"Economically, no. In terms of security, yes. In terms of general happiness, no. In the long-term interests of the country? I don't think so. I think the radicals were taking over and doing crazy stuff. I regret when people think of the Taliban and then think of me — that feeling people have after they know I was affiliated with them is painful to me. When I read that the neo-Taliban are burning girls' schools, I am ashamed."

Many distinctions could be drawn between his old life and his life at Yale. But he had seized on one.

"You have to be reasonable to live in America," he said. "Everything here is based on reason. Even the essays you write for class. Back home you have to talk about religion and culture, and you can win any argument if you bring up the Islamic argument. You can't reason against religion. But you cannot change Afghanistan overnight. You can't bring the Enlightenment overnight."

A few weeks after our visit, aching for his family, Rahmatullah hit a low point. The semester was ending. Everyone was heading home to see his family but him. He could not leave the country on his visa with any assurance of its being renewed in time for class. The future, his vague hopes of returning to Afghanistan to work in education, seemed remote. He said to Ahmed one day, "What is the meaning of life?" and answered for himself: "Family." And then out poured reasons that he should abandon his education and go home. He was neglecting his duties as a father and husband. His children were pining for him; his wife was upset. He missed his parents. And all the young minds around him were so fresh, it was daunting sometimes, people who looked as if they were hardly paying attention in class blazed through their exams. What was he really learning? When you studied political science, you were always focused on how messed up the world was. He wished he could study the stars, but as Hoover had sensibly said, "The world doesn't need an Afghan astrophysicist." He had been raised in a faith, buoyed at every turn by the certainty of a higher order, a purposeful universe, and now here in this shrine of critical thinking he was learning to doubt, not to believe.

Everyone needs a time to be young. He spent the holidays with Hoover and the Maxwells in Jackson Hole. He ventured into the town pool. When he was 19, he nearly drowned in the Arghandab River. He had never learned how to swim, and he always wanted to. And now in landlocked Wyoming, he was getting the hang of it.

By January the crisis had ebbed. He was happy about his grades after the fall-term finals. He had a 3.33 G.P.A. He had done better than he thought in Managing the Global City and worse than he expected in Terrorism: Past, Present and Future. Make what you will of that. He felt more at ease on College Street and was really enjoying his spring courses: Reading and Writing the Modern Essay (ENGL 120), International Dimensions of Democratization (PLSC 151) and Introduction to International Relations (PLSC 111). And the toys he had sent his kids had arrived in Quetta at long last — Suleman's train and Suraya's stuffed dog. And the pictures of Dad the Talib at Yale. So they could see where he was. He had a direction and plans, and it helped to remember how fortunate he was. "In some ways I'm the luckiest person in the world," he says. "I could have ended up in Guantánamo Bay. Instead I ended up at Yale."

He planned to apply for admission as a degree-status sophomore in March or April. And in May, in'shallah, he would go home.

Chip Brown is the author, most recently, of "Good Morning Midnight." He last wrote for the magazine about the dancer Wendy Whelan.