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Do American Scholarships for Foreigners Matter?

Last week, I lauded Rafiullah Kakar, Baluchistan’s first Rhodes Scholar in 40 years, and argued that his trajectory shows the value of offering deserving students from the developing world the opportunity to study in the United States. Indeed, such programs tend to pay higher dividends than many of the multi-billion dollar follies in which the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) engage.

One commenter disagreed, noting that Muslim Brother Sayyid Qutb, Egyptian dictator Mohamed Morsi, Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh, and Cambodian madman Pol Pot had each studied in the West. One could also add Bashar al-Assad to the list.

In response, Joe Dondelinger, Rafi’s adviser in South Dakota and his recommender for the Rhodes, writes in:

What prompted my attempt to reach you was first of all the surprise to see reference to Rafi’s award in “Commentary” blog (which I follow almost daily) and secondly, my reaction to the skeptical comments on the piece regarding the experience of Muslims in the West (reference to Sayyid Qutb etc.). I do not believe there is a need to write more at this time. In response to the skeptics, I am very familiar with Islamism, and, as a former student of the Soviet Union, the son of (non-Jewish) parents who barely escaped Hitler tender mercies in Luxembourg, I am very familiar with various manifestations of totalitarianism of which Islamism is but the latest. Thus I mentored Rafi without illusions. I found him to be an extraordinary individual who consciously chose to leave the mental world of the extremism he witnessed in his immediate environment.

I agree. It is both dangerous and wrong to assume that most Muslims adhere to radicalism and dismiss the freedoms which Western liberals (at least traditional liberals, as opposed to today’s progressives) espouse. Those who suffer most at the hands of radical Islamists are the moderates. True, the likes of Qutb and Morsi and, for that matter, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Ahmet Davutoğlu, and Egemen Bağış are irreconcilable. The exception does not disprove the rule, however. Those consumed with hatred of the West will remain so. But those whose distrust of the United States is shaped largely by lack of opportunity to experience Western freedoms can seize opportunities, and that can pay long-term dividends.

One of the nicer things about Yale University, at least when I was a student, were the open stacks in the library. I might look in the computer system for one book and, when I went up to retrieve it, find even better works that had never made it into the card catalogue or computer system. I found a cache of old doctoral dissertations written by Iranians in the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s at various universities in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Some of these Iranians became well-known statesmen and academics. Into the 1940s and 1950s, most assumed the political leanings of the countries in which they studied, and fought to implement what they had learned in Iran. Such a pattern should not surprise.

It is long past time that the United States do more to promote visas for Iraqis, Afghans, Iranians, Pakistanis, and others—at least those who wish to study the humanities and social sciences. True, those who study at places like Columbia University, UC-Irvine, or the University of Michigan may have their worst biases affirmed. But that’s a different issue, one that goes to the political corruption of higher education in America.

Every Rafiullah, however, shows the wisdom of the investment, especially when the right person gets paired with the right adviser in the right institution.



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