Well, turns out that's exactly right, as Greg Mortenson, the supposed philanthropic Afghanistan school builder, has been exposed by 60 Minutes as the head of a very lucrative bogus charity enterprise.
Bruce Bawer over at Pajama's Media thought things were off from their first encounter:
"When I first heard Mortenson speak at a conference two years ago, I was unaware what a big deal he was. Indeed, as far as I can remember it was the first time I’d ever heard of him. I was immediately appalled. He was swaggering, slick, self-satisfied. These attributes especially stood out in contrast with the other speakers at the conference. For the occasion was the first annual Oslo Freedom Forum, at which many if not most of Mortenson’s fellow speakers were genuine heroes — men and women who’d stood up for freedom in autocratic countries and been punished for it with years of imprisonment and torture.Excellent piece. Read the whole thing here.
Those heroes had a right to swagger. Only they didn’t. On the contrary, most of them seemed embarrassed by the attention they were receiving. They weren’t comfortable in the limelight. They recounted their experiences in halting voices, their sincerity shining through. Plainly, they were telling their stories not to sell books or build a brand but because they knew that, for the sake of human justice, their stories desperately needed to be told. The focus of their testimony wasn’t on their own courageous endurance but on the cruelty of the tyrants who’d made them suffer — and on the need to free others who still chafed under the same yoke. Such was their humility that, to my shame, I came away not being able to remember most of their names.
But it was impossible to forget Greg Mortenson’s name. For he was the star of his own story. The whole point of his talk was how much one brave, selfless individual can accomplish in this world even against the most formidable of odds. And that individual was him. The premise of his spiel was that he’s a miracle worker, pacifying belligerent jihadist types by sitting down with them over three cups of tea and listening to their concerns. Yet the egomaniac I saw that day was somebody you couldn’t picture listening to anybody else for more than thirty seconds."
Update: May 1st, 2011
Well, April Gavaza has weighed in with her usual directness:
"... as much as I respect and admire Bruce Bawer for all of the amazing writing and investigative work he has done, (you must, must, must read While Europe Slept), my friend who conflates fiction and non doesn't even know he exists, let alone that he's exposed one of her favorite book circle books as complete horseshit peddled by a shady snake-oil salesman who pockets the charity money raised by school children."Go ahead, you know you want to read the whole thing.