US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has apologized for asking a professor of Indian heritage if he was a member of the Taliban.
The incident occurred at the University of Nebraska on Wednesday during a Q&A session. Chuck Hagel represented Nebraska in the US Senate for two terms. In January, he was nominated as Defense Secretary by President Obama and was confirmed in February although the nomination was initially subject to a Senate filibuster, the first time in American history that a nominee for Secretary of Defense was held up in that manner.
Following his speech at the university, the secretary had just answered a question about the planned US-Taliban peace talks when Prof. Robin Ghandi rose to ask Hagel a question.
When Hagel lamely asked, “you’re not a member of the Taliban, are you?”, the response was awkward silence in the room.
A Pentagon spokesman subsequently issued this statement: “Absolutely no slight toward any individual in the audience was intended. That’s the last thing the Secretary would do under any circumstance, in this or any other setting. He didn’t know who would be called next to pose a question.”
Hagel subsequently called the professor directly to apologize, the London Telegraph reports. “Secretary Hagel did reach out to the professor a few hours after the speech and had a very good discussion. He wanted to leave no impression that this joke was directed at anyone in particular, including the professor… He expressed regret for any trouble that this caused to the professor.”
Professor Ghandi apparently took no offense to the remark and issued a statement that “I was honored to attend Secretary of Defense Hagel’s speech on Wednesday. I was able to ask a question and thoroughly enjoyed his answer. Before I rose to ask a question, there was apparently some confusion that did not involve me.”
According to the Times of India, “Gandhi is an assistant professor of information assurance at the University of Nebraska’s College of Information Science and Technology. A university spokesman said Gandhi was born in India.”
Was Hagel’s joke inappropriate or just not funny? Watch the video and decide for yourself.