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Philippine Congressman J. R. Nereus (Neric) Acosta wakes to the ringing of one of the four cell phones lined up on his bedside table. It’s 2 a.m. A villager in Acosta’s district in the southern Philippines has lost his water buffalo. Can Acosta help? Acosta is 12 time zones away, in bed in New Haven rather than where he belongs—at the House of Representatives in Manila, engaged in September’s budget hearings. Acosta, 38, has gambled that his burgeoning career in politics can survive a four-month stint as a World Fellow at Yale. But he isn’t foolhardy enough to ignore a constituent who has lost his carabao. He phones his staff in Mindanao Province and instructs them to help the village chief muster a search party.
Stepping onto a plane in Tbilisi last August was hard for Tinatin Khidasheli, a 31-year-old activist lawyer in the newly democratic country of Georgia. Khidasheli was not only leaving her husband behind for the fall; she was also leaving behind unfinished work. Nine months before, in November 2003, she had helped to orchestrate the massive street demonstrations of the Rose Revolution, which ousted Russian-backed president Eduard Shevardnadze. With a reform-minded administration finally in power, Khidasheli had drafted new legislation to strengthen a defendant’s right to due process—Georgian detainees had a recent history of “committing suicide” by falling out of windows—and she hated to leave Tbilisi while the fate of the bill remained uncertain. But a few days after she arrived in New Haven, a colleague e-mailed with good news: “It’s the law. Now calm down and enjoy the U.S.”
Red plastic pushpins secure newspaper articles in Arabic and French on the bulletin board above Aboubakr Jamai’s desk in the World Fellows office. From his computer in Betts House on Prospect Street, the 36-year-old Jamai is running two newspapers in Morocco, Le Journal Hebdomadaire and Assahifa al Ousbouiya. The weekly newspapers have been trailblazers in establishing an independent press in the country. They were shut down twice in 2000: once after Le Journal ran an interview with a rebel leader who advocates independence for Morocco’s Western Sahara region; the second time for publishing a letter implicating the former prime minister in a failed 1972 assassination plot against Hassan II, then the king. For Jamai’s role in confronting power in Morocco, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists chose him for its 2003 International Press Freedom Award.
Educated at Oxford, the grandson of a respected Islamic scholar, Jamai is elated to find himself striding across campus every day carrying a backpack loaded with books. “I am in the process of measuring my ignorance,” he says. “It’s very humbling.” Acosta, Khidasheli, and Jamai have come to New Haven as three of 17 World Fellows—“emerging leaders” chosen from among 350 applicants to spend a semester at Yale. The Fellows attend classes, give public talks, and take part in a Fellows-only seminar led by a roster of Yale superstars.
The 2004 group is the third “class” of Fellows. They come from Bolivia, South Africa, Malawi, Morocco, France, England, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Georgia, Russia, Iran, India, China, Myanmar (Burma), South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia. Their presence in Yale’s classrooms, lecture halls, and libraries manifests President Richard Levin’s goal for Yale as it enters its fourth century: that the face of the university increasingly reflect globalization.
Looking back, Peruvian lawyer Beatriz Boza '88LLM likens her four months as a 2002 Fellow to pausing on a stairway landing, halfway up. “It was a time of reflection and introspection, and it made me change my vision of myself. It made me challenge many things I had thought were fixed in stone. It made me reassess my own beliefs in what I stood for and how I wanted to spend the second half of my life.”
The map projected on the screen in the Betts House conference room shows official rates of HIV infection worldwide. Countries with the highest rates are black; those with fewer cases are shades of gray. For Myanmar, the slide is white, notes Yale epidemiologist Michael Merson, speaker at today’s Fellows seminar. White means zero cases. In reality, according to 2002 UN estimates, 330,000 Burmese carry the virus.
“One of my editors died of HIV/AIDS,” says Nay Win Maung, who publishes Myanmar’s leading news magazine. When Maung tried to run an article asserting that hundreds of thousands of Burmese were infected, the military government censored the story.
“There’s no AIDS in Georgia either,” adds Khidasheli. “No one is officially affected.”
“To my knowledge, Putin has never said the word 'AIDS' in public,” says Merson, the Anna M. R. Lauder Professor of Public Health.
“Politicians will not talk about prevention,” says Acosta, the Philippine congressman. “Politicians—”
“Like you are,” interjects Paul Kwengwere, policy director of an anti-poverty and public health program in Malawi.
“—are for the most part creatures of the short-term,” Acosta continues. “Looking down the road 20 years is inherently unattractive to many of them. The tyranny of the urgent is a reality.”
“How does a politician benefit from prevention? The results are going to come slowly,” says Nachiket Mor, an Indian banker with expertise in micro-credit. Mor notes that a politician has a single overriding concern: “How is he going to win the next election?”
“We need to figure out how to sell prevention, to convince political leaders,” says Merson.
“When you do prevention programs, you see nothing,” says Emran Razzaghi, a psychiatrist from Iran who writes government policy aimed at reducing the stigma and health risks of drug addiction. “There is nothing to show. No one will care about it.”
Mteto Nyati of South Africa disagrees. The IBM executive argues that in his country, voters follow the numbers to gauge the value of prevention programs. “The politicians are being judged on that,” says Nyati.
In China, the AIDS crisis has put pressure on the government to tolerate citizen advocacy groups, says Michael Ma, an environmentalist and journalist. “AIDS has facilitated the development of civil society. They realized there’s no way to contain this without civil society.”
The Moroccan response has been contradictory, says Jamai. Sex between men is taboo in the Middle East, yet Marrakech is known as one of the world’s gay capitals. Moroccan activist Hakima Himmich has managed to “raise hell” about AIDS, Jamai says, because she has the backing of nonprofit groups from abroad. “This is one of the good sides of globalization.” On the other hand, under pressure from the United States, Morocco has signed a trade agreement barring the generic AIDS drugs that had made treatment more affordable.
In Myanmar, Maung is unable to print the truth about AIDS because the military government regards the mere mention of the disease as criticism of the regime.
“What can he do?” Merson asks the group.
“Overthrow the junta,” suggests Acosta with mock naïvete. People laugh.
“That’s a different session,” says Merson.
One Saturday morning in Georgia about two years ago, Tinatin Khidasheli’s three-year-old son was watching Tom and Jerry in their Tbilisi apartment when the television screen went blank: the electricity had cut off again. Alexander was disgusted.
“Mommy, who is in charge of electricity?” Alex asked. “Is it the Minister of Electricity?”
Close enough, thought Khidasheli, and she said, “Yes.”
“Does the president choose him?” Alex asked.
“You might think about that when you vote,” Alex told his mother.
Time to think is precisely what attracted Khidasheli to the World Fellows Program. Alex’s savvy reflects life with a mother who has been consumed by politics. For a decade, as founder and head of the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association, she has been so well known in her country of 4.7 million that strangers recognize her on the street. She says she briefly became a national celebrity after she appeared on a talk show to discuss police brutality with Tbilisi’s chief of criminal police and he tried to punch her on national TV.
But her role must shift now: a former friend of hers, Mikheil Saakashvili, was elected president of Georgia in January 2004 at age 36. Khidasheli has declined his repeated offers to install her as a cabinet minister, because she prefers the role of critic. “Things never go the way I want them to go, because I’m too idealistic,” she says. And from now on, when she finds problems, she will be criticizing her former allies, those who fought beside her to get this very government into power. “We have our best friends in the government now. This is exactly the moment when I should have time off to think about everything I’ve worked for, everything I’ve fought for, and about what I’m going to do in the future.”
It took her a week after arriving to winnow the list of 3,000 Yale courses to 40, then to 15. She was frantically “shopping” the 15 at the beginning of the term when she discovered a Law School course called “Proportionality Balancing.” She calls the class her “wow experience.” Proportionality balancing is a method of deliberation that judges use to determine the relative weights of claims by two opposing sides—for instance, to weigh the rights of citizens against a government’s need to restrict citizens' rights in pursuit of a public policy. “I didn’t know it was something people were teaching,” says Khidasheli. Understanding how judges think is vital when crafting legislation like her defendants' rights bill, she says. “When a parliamentarian passes a law, the next thing on his mind is how judges will interpret this law.”
For Khidasheli, studying at Yale also provides a respite. During the past few years she spent 18-hour days holding press conferences, answering phone calls from imprisoned dissidents, and leading rallies (sometimes with Alex in her arms). For now, the pressure is off: she can simply go to class and listen.
Neric Acosta is both intrigued and disturbed by Shakespeare’s portraits of the powerful. Sitting at one end of a long banquet table in Betts House, he stirs his after-dinner tea and considers what he’s just heard from English professor David Bromwich '73, '77PhD, speaker at tonight’s weekly Fellows dinner. Acosta has spent nine years in politics, fighting for bills in the Philippine Congress, enduring tedious committee meetings, sponsoring weddings, traveling from village to village in his four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi to campaign for re-election. As a politician in a country known for corruption, he finds issues of power and its costs compelling. “I like what he said about Shakespeare being sensitive to the complexity and the very humanity of those who are thrust into power or who wish to hold onto power,” he says. “For me as a politician, it resonates quite resoundingly.”
Bromwich began by describing George W. Bush’s tailhook landing on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in May 2003 and his announcement that the United States had reached the “turning of the tide” in the war on terror. The pageantry “was effective Machiavellian politics, whether it was true or not,” said Bromwich. “The idea of ambition in Machiavelli is unambiguously good.” But for Shakespeare, he said, ambition involves a diminishment, especially in the later plays. Henry V is “halfway Machiavellian,” but gradually Shakespeare develops “doubts and almost desperation about the possibility of a good use for that human appetite. His great subject becomes, I think, a fearful one.”
The talk makes Acosta uneasy. He has made his name writing environmental laws. Will political life erode his ideals? He tries to protect himself from his own ambition by remaining connected to things other than politics—to literature, sports, music, the arts—pursuits “that will make you see that power should not consume you.” But politics turns up in surprising places: his spectacular salsa-dancing skills are reputed to win him female votes. And he must often compromise, oversimplifying his message while campaigning, for instance.
“How do you know when you’ve crossed the line, the line that you thought was rather clear when you began, with some of the idealism of youth?” he asks. “You’re walking in a field that you know has a lot of land mines. One wrong step can blow you up.”
Osama Bin Laden is quite popular in Morocco, Aboubakr Jamai tells the audience at a World Fellows panel discussion, “America in the Muslim World.” About 140 people, mostly undergraduates, listen silently in the Sterling library lecture hall as Jamai reads the numbers from a Pew Research Center poll—45 percent of Moroccans admire bin Laden; 74 percent justify Palestinian suicide bombings against Israelis.
“These are facts we should face,” says Jamai. “We cannot turn a blind eye to them.”
He argues that anti-Americanism in the Middle East stems partly from the sanctions imposed on Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, which led to the deaths of an estimated 170,000 children, according to a study by a Columbia University researcher. Jamai also cites the bitter memory of the 1982 massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, where hundreds or thousands of Palestinians (the figures are disputed) died at the hands of a Lebanese militia protected by Israel.
Later, Jamai comments—half in earnest—that he may as well be Palestinian, not Moroccan, because people at Yale so often turn to him to explain the Arab-Israeli conflict. In class and on the street, he says, he often encounters “badly informed arguments” about the Arab world. Jamai says he’s met few Americans who have done the work required to understand its complexities. He struggles not to attribute that lack of effort to anti-Arab racism, “because once I decide you’re a racist, I stop thinking, you stop thinking, and the dialogue is over. It’s easy to go from that position to this: ‘We shouldn’t discuss with them; we should bomb them.’”
He recalls a classroom discussion in which the professor asked whether Israel can be simultaneously a Jewish state and a democracy; that is, can Israel define its demos as Jewish and still call itself a democracy? As Jamai describes it, he was outraged when a student responded that Israel could define itself as it wished, because the Jewish state had defeated its Arab enemies on the battlefield.
“I never heard such a pro-bin Laden argument in my life,” Jamai says. “If you base power on winning a war—on force—then you exist on the same moral ground as bin Laden.” Dogma is an equally dangerous foundation for justifying power, says Jamai. When President Bush locates his political convictions in biblical truth, then, Jamai says, Islamists feel justified in asking, “ 'Why shouldn’t we be allowed to read literally the Koran as well?' And then we have these extremes reinforcing each other. … Maybe I can argue that what we need is the real fundamentalism: maybe fundamentalism is to go back to the ideas of justice that are in all the holy books.”
Despite his criticisms, Jamai is comfortable with his own ties to the United States. He is grateful for the support provided by the journalism watchdog group that honored him. “The award is welcome not only because it’s good for my ego but because it gives me protection. They [the Moroccan government] can’t really mess with us—of course they can, but the cost of it will be really high because of our international exposure.”
But he adds, “How can you do this without being considered the lackey of the Americans?” Some Moroccans consider any external influence to be “a return of colonialism.” Jamai argues that it’s not true. “People in this country, or France, or elsewhere, won’t take you seriously if you have no constituency in your own country. So you can see that the very most important relationship in these very multi-layered relationships is the relationship between the two public opinions in the two countries.”
Jamai wishes he had time to study public opinion polling, the topic he'd first planned to study at Yale. Instead, he has decided to take courses that will help him press for constitutional reform in Morocco, where the government is “an absolute monarchy consecrated by its constitution.” His courses include comparative constitutionalism, constitutional change in the Muslim world, and comparative political economy. Part-way into the semester, he has added a fourth, his favorite: a tutorial on Islamic law with a Yale doctoral student who teaches law at Fordham. “It’s one-on-one,” says Jamai with delight. “It’s like the ancient way of teaching. Can you imagine the luxury of it?”
Political Scientist Ian Shapiro '83PhD, '87JD, says the World Fellows Program fills a gap. “A common critique of Yale is it’s one of the more inward-looking universities,” notes Shapiro, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor and the director of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies. “Rick Levin has identified a useful way of compensating for the fact that Yale does not have a Kennedy School [Harvard’s school of government]. That is to say, there’s no vehicle at Yale for the kind of interchange between the academy and the world of politics that a professional school devoted to government and public affairs would provide.”
John Wesley Cook, a retired Divinity School professor, recalls trying to convince Yale president A. Bartlett Giamatti '60, '64PhD, to expand Yale’s international focus in the early 1980s. Giamatti, he says, didn’t show much interest. By 1997, when then-Law School dean Anthony Kronman '72PhD, '75JD, floated a similar idea to President Richard Levin, the time was right. Kronman and other scholars met several times with Levin to hammer the notion into shape.
At first, they expected to invite Fellows for a full academic year; in the fall the Fellows would take classes, and in the spring they would complete a writing project. This model is similar to that of the Mason Fellows Program at the Kennedy School, which Kronman calls the “closest cousin” of the World Fellows Program. The 200 mid-career, tuition-paying Mason Fellows, 50 to 60 of whom come from developing and transitional economies, spend a year completing a master’s degree in public administration.
But granting a degree would entail setting course requirements. “We wanted to leave things looser, so Fellows could find their own way—off the main path, if that seemed most appropriate and useful,” Kronman explains. Ultimately, the planners settled on a one-semester program, because the up-and-coming leaders they hoped to attract would have “major real-world responsibilities. It’s very difficult at that stage of a person’s career to uproot yourself for a full year.” (Some former Fellows have spoken in favor of a full academic year; Kronman says Yale may revisit the issue.)
In November 2000, Levin announced the advent of the World Fellows Program as one part of a four-pronged globalization initiative. (The other parts: offering full need-based financial aid for international undergraduates; establishing the Center for the Study of Globalization, now headed by former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo '81PhD; and adding faculty positions—three so far—in interdisciplinary study of international issues.) The first class of Fellows moved into Betts in fall 2002, and so far, 52 young (and youngish) leaders from 42 countries have spent a semester at Yale. (There have been 31 men and 21 women.)
A staff of five at Betts House arranges programs for the Fellows, whose offices in the grand Mansard-style mansion look down from the Prospect Street hilltop. The program’s annual $2 million budget provides each Fellow with furnished housing, health care, travel to New Haven, a $30,000 stipend, and funding to attend a reunion every two years. A $5 million grant from the Starr Foundation is now paying most of the program’s costs while the university seeks to raise a $40 million endowment.
Environmental policy professor Daniel C. Esty '86JD, the director of the World Fellows Program, believes the Fellows have helped undergraduates to develop a more nuanced view of global issues. For Esty, the most memorable event of the fall was the symposium on America in the Muslim world, the same one in which Jamai read out Osama bin Laden’s favorable poll numbers in Morocco. At that discussion, one of seven Thursday presentations by groups of World Fellows, three Muslims from three different parts of the world—Morocco, Iran, and Kosovo—described three very different views of U.S. foreign policy. “I think that was the most stunning example of how the World Fellows are opening a window on the world for the Yale community,” says Esty.
Levin expects that the Fellows' influence will extend far beyond the campus. “I think we’re going to see alumni of this program become important world leaders,” he says. He is amused by the myth circulating among the Fellows that he and Yale historian Paul Kennedy cooked up the idea for the program while driving through the Alps to the World Economic Forum (the annual gathering of heads of state and corporate leaders in Davos, Switzerland). That’s not the case, says Levin. But speaking of Davos, he makes a half-serious prediction: “In 30 years, no one will want to go to Davos any more. It will be preferable to go to the World Fellows reunion.”
When there’s any kind of election in Georgia, says Khidasheli, “you feel the pressure: this is the one that’s deciding: it’s a vote for a failed state or a developing state. Of course that’s not true, but every election is deciding which way you go—closer to a failed state or to a developing state.”
Because of this sense that every step counts—and because she finds it difficult to sit still—when Khidasheli is in Georgia, she can rarely be found at home. So for her and her son, the stay in New Haven constitutes a kind of homecoming. They saw The Lion King together in New York, she is teaching him to Rollerblade, and she plays with him, “which I never do back home, because I just don’t see him.” When a giraffe peeked into their car at Six Flags Great Adventure Safari Park in New Jersey, Khidasheli says, Alex “almost died from happiness.”
Khidasheli has been surprised to find so much commonality with the other Fellows. Most Fellows—though not all—oppose the war in Iraq and American exceptionalism. They generally agree on many issues: that the international community should work harder to eradicate poverty; that corporate and government transparency provide the foundation for economic growth; and that multinational institutions like the United Nations, and perhaps a global environmental organization, can work. As Khidasheli puts it, the Fellows generally share “blue-state ideas.” “Regardless of the countries and such diverse geography in the group, it was really fascinating that on the basic issues, values issues, we don’t have disagreements,” she says.
Law School dean Harold Hongju Koh suggests, one fall afternoon during a Fellows' seminar, that a group like the Fellows can change the world. Koh begins by telling the story of the greatest disappointment of his career. He was an assistant secretary of state in November 2000 when he and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited North Korea. Their visit came not long after a historic meeting between the presidents of the two Koreas. “This was one of those incredible moments of hope,” says Koh. He remembers thinking, “Korea could be unified in my lifetime.” But soon afterward, the United States broke off its dialogue with North Korea, and in January 2002, President Bush included the country in his “axis of evil.”
“We live our lives seeing moments of opportunity, and then they disappear,” Koh says. But he believes that transnational alliances can work for the larger public good where governments cannot. He cites the nineteenth-century anti-slavery movement and, in our own era, the anti-land mines campaign and the environmental movement. “We cannot leave this just to governments,” Koh tells the group. “They’re worried about their own futures, their own politics and legacies, their own wealth. That’s why transnational private networks are all the more important. And that’s what you all are.”
From the start, the Fellows hear from both liberals and conservatives at Yale. Leading the first few seminars—on “grand strategy” from the Peloponnesian War to the present—are liberal historian Paul Kennedy and two political conservatives, international affairs lecturer Charles Hill and history professor John Gaddis. (Gaddis argues in a recent book that President Bush’s post-9/11 security strategy, while still unproven, is a sweeping, innovative, and optimistic rethinking of U.S. security.) The same week, the speaker at the weekly Fellows dinner is Jonathan Schell, the peace and disarmament correspondent for The Nation.
Ma, the Chinese environmentalist, points out, “it’s not like we take whatever we receive. We filter it. So we welcome this opportunity to be exposed to a variety of speakers.” Just before the presidential election, Ma and five other Fellows spend four days on a cattle ranch in Custer County, Nebraska—a place profiled by National Public Radio as quintessential red-state territory—where they help brand calves by day and meet neighborhood Republicans over dinner. “We had dinners with those huge T-bones and we did meet many Republicans,” recalls Ma. “It made our views more balanced. The most important thing I learned from this experience in America is all about checks and balances. Let people express different ideas freely, and this can insure that you always go a kind of middle way, not too far on the right and not too far on the left.”
Jamai, like Khidasheli, thought the diverse political, geographic, material, and cultural influences of the Fellows' home countries would produce very different sets of problems. On the contrary. “The problematics, the frameworks, are all similar: how do you balance individual rights with solidarity in a country? Questions of redistribution of wealth and taxation, and the big themes of developing countries: what do you mean by democracy? What is the causality of economic liberalization and political liberalization? We have struggled a lot with these questions.
“Discussions are really open. No one tries to force his opinion on the other. I’ve never sensed anger at any point, which is amazing, and it is not for lack of debate. If I want to say something, I say it. I’ve never felt so much synchrony with a group.
“I’m a journalist. I’m inclined to search for problems, but my problem is that I can’t find any problems.” He laughs. “I’m really happy here.”
By the end of the Fellows Program in early December, Khidasheli is champing at the bit: she wants to be in Kiev, where tens of thousands of Ukrainians are in the streets, protesting a rigged presidential election and fomenting a peaceful revolution—modeled, she says, after that of her own country. “All my friends are there,” she says wistfully.
Khidasheli says she will take practical knowledge back to Georgia. “Everything I did, every single piece I read, every lecture I attended, had a purpose, a purpose of concrete things happening back home. Everything I did here I will use, starting from January, when debates will start about judicial reform, about introducing the jury system. I am much stronger about my arguments than I was before.”
Jamai has extended his stay into the spring semester, so he can take two courses and complete a journal article in which he will make the case that economic and political trends in Morocco will lead to “a social explosion” if power is not more equitably distributed through constitutional change. The father of two boys, he is also enjoying domestic life: “In Morocco my job cannibalized my family life. Here I am obliged to wash the dishes, to Hoover, to change diapers from time to time. It reinforces your bond with your kids.”
Jamai thinks of his academic work at Yale partly as preparation for the weekly editorials he writes for Le Journal. “When you write editorials, you’re judging, sentencing,” he says. “It’s very important to take a step back.” In some ways, he has become less confident of his judgment. “It’s the Socratic thing. The more you learn, the more you know how little you know.”
Acosta describes his stay at Yale as “one of the most fascinating and needed periods in terms of intellectual refinement for me—ever. This is the first time in all of these nine years that I have really had a larger opportunity to reflect, to think, to read.”
He worries that Americans are responding to the complexities of terrorism and globalization by retrenching, telling themselves: “‘It’s too confusing, too complicated, too dizzying. Let me get back to what I am sure of, what I’m safe with.’ I think there is a lot of retreating into the more comfortable zones of religion, of tradition, of small-community identifications.”
He wishes Americans would broaden their outlooks. “The best way you can translate your responsibilities as the world’s most influential country is to be curious. To be more curious about the world.”
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