U.S. Again Denies a Visa to Swiss Muslim Scholar Who Was Barred in 2004

From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)

ANNIE SHUPPY | The Chronicle of Higher Education | 26 September 2006

The U.S. State Department has again denied a visa to Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss Muslim scholar who gave up a teaching appointment at the University of Notre Dame two years ago after he was first barred from residing and working in the country, the American Civil Liberties Union announced on Monday.
The ACLU and several other groups that are parties to a lawsuit on Mr. Ramadan’s behalf condemned the decision as political censorship.
Faced with a federal court’s deadline to issue Mr. Ramadan a visa or explain why it would not, the State Department pointed in its latest decision to donations he had made to French and Swiss organizations that provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians, the ACLU said in a written statement. Those donations, made between 2000 and 2004, totaled about 600 euros, which would be worth about $765 today.
The Bush administration contended that the groups Mr. Ramadan supported gave money to the radical Islamist group Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization, and applied a law that allows the government to exclude individuals whom it believes have provided “material support” for terrorism, the statement said.
Mr. Ramadan, a professor of Islamic studies and philosophy, has been a vocal critic of terrorism, Islamism, and U.S. policies in the Middle East. He accepted a position as a visiting fellow at the University of Oxford after the U.S. government’s first denial of his visa application, in 2004, and was later named by Prime Minister Tony Blair to serve on a British commission to combat terrorism. He reapplied for a U.S. visa last September, and received word in December that it could take as long as two years to consider that application.
Soon afterward, the ACLU, acting on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors, the PEN American Center, and Mr. Ramadan, sued the government, alleging that the provision of the USA Patriot Act it had used to exclude him was unconstitutional.
In June, a federal court rejected the government’s attempt to delay a judgment on Mr. Ramadan’s visa application, and ordered the government to grant the visa or explain why it would not do so. The scholar was informed of the State Department’s latest decision in a letter he received on Thursday, the deadline set by the court.
In the statement released on Monday, Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU lawyer and lead counsel in the case, said that “although the U.S. government has found a new pretext for denying Professor Ramadan’s visa, the history of this case makes clear that the government’s real concern is not with Professor Ramadan but with his ideas.”
“The government is using the immigration laws to silence an articulate critic and to censor political debate inside the United States,” he said.
Janelle Hironimus, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said Mr. Ramadan was denied a visa “for providing material support to a terrorist organization,” but she could not elaborate on the specifics of his visa application. She said 36,000 students, scholars, and academic figures from the Muslim world have come to the United States this year alone to visit, teach, and study. “The U.S. welcomes culture and exchange with the Islamic world,” Ms. Hironimus read from a prepared statement.
In a written statement on his Web site, Mr. Ramadan said that the organizations to which he donated were humanitarian groups devoted to the health and welfare of Palestinians and were not deemed suspect in Europe.
“I donated to these organizations for the same reason that countless Europeans — and Americans, for that matter — donate to Palestinian causes: not to provide funding for terrorism, but because I wanted to provide humanitarian aid to people who are desperately in need of it,” he said in the statement.
Mr. Ramadan wrote that while he was glad the State Department has abandoned the allegation that he endorses terrorism, he thinks he is being excluded because of his criticism of American foreign policy in the Middle East, including opposition to the Iraq war.
“While the State Department has found a new reason to deny my visa application, I think it clear from the history of this case that the U.S. government’s real fear is of my ideas.”