Ramadan Controversy Continues
Claire Heininger | Friday, August 27, 2004
As the University grabs headlines in his defense and the Kroc Institute for Peace Studies grapples with his loss, Tariq Ramadan still doesn’t know why a revoked visa stands between his family and Notre Dame.
“It’s very difficult for the kids. We are here in Geneva [Switzerland] waiting for a decision, without knowing why we were denied the right of entering the United States,” said Ramadan, in comments provided by Julie Titone, director of communications at the Institute.
Ramadan, an eminent Muslim scholar who had been scheduled to teach at the Kroc this fall, unexpectedly lost his work visa July 28 when the State Department banned him under immigration restrictions mandated by the Patriot Act. The Department of Homeland Security, which requested the State Department’s action, cited parts of the legislation that suggested Ramadan could be a national security risk.
Notre Dame immediately rebuffed all allegations against Ramadan, who contested any extremist associations.
“I don’t understand why this decision was taken,” he said. “I have been trying to promote freedom and more democracy. All of my work has involved writing and speaking out against all kinds of violence, extremism and literalism.
“We applied for a visa three months ago,” he continued. “Everything was transparent. We were preparing ourselves to come to the States and to settle.”
Instead, Ramadan and the University find their plans on hold, their defenses up and their names in the news as speculation continues about the scholar, whose controversial writings and lectures – as well as his grandfather’s alleged terrorist ties – have led to charges of anti-Semitism and militant Islam.
The Kroc Institute remained firmly planted behind its hire, praising Ramadan as a luminary intellectual and a distinct, essential voice.
“It’s a real pity for the United States to be afraid of alternative voices,” said Cynthia Mahmood, director of graduate studies at the Kroc. “Unless we engage in discussion with them, it becomes an echo chamber where we talk to each other constantly. … Places like the Kroc Institute have to push the envelope a bit.”
Although the Institute experienced a lesser uproar immediately after Ramadan was hired, Mahmood and Titone agreed that the irate phone calls and questioning e-mails were outweighed by the anticipation of such a prominent arrival.
“He’s a star in that way,” Mahmood said.
Titone also offered “a special note of praise” for Rashied Omar, Ramadan’s temporary replacement in his Islamic ethics course.
Omar, who was unavailable for comment due to travel in Florida, has already promised his students he will “keep the spirit of Ramadan alive,” said Anne Kroeger, a sophomore in the course who learned her professor’s fate Tuesday when Kroc director Scott Appleby spoke to the class.
Kroger said her classmates were surprised and upset by the news, but understood that “it’s not the University’s fault.”
“I really wish the government would let us know what’s going on,” she said.
The government hasn’t told the University either, according to Notre Dame spokesman Matt Storin. After speaking Thursday with Carol Kaesebier, the University’s General Counsel who has handled communication with Washington, Storin could provide no updates for Ramadan’s status.
While they waited for the specifics, members of the campus community voiced their concerns about the implications.
“Parts of the Patriot Act passed up quickly that were suspicious with regards to human rights made it much more difficult for lots of immigration issues,” said Terriss Conterato, former co-president of the Notre Dame chapter of Amnesty International. “The fact that [the visa] was revoked so late creates much more suspicion.”
The Notre Dame chapter plans to contact the regional office of the organization for its official position before taking any action on behalf of Ramadan, Conterato said, but added the group “would like to do something to help out.”
Disappointment circulated in the classics department, which – in addition to his chaired, tenured position at the Kroc – had also given Ramadan a partial appointment.
Classics chair Keith Bradley said the Arabic branch of the department particularly questioned the government’s actions.
“It’s generally been regarded as an unfortunate and unexpected development,” he said, adding that his department fully supported the Kroc’s initial efforts to pursue and hire Ramadan. “As far as we know, everything was above the board and uncontroversial.”
When ambiguity and controversy arrived, however, the Kroc made its stance – and its sympathy – clear.
“It’s a major point of concern,” Titone said. “We’re sending support to the Ramadan family and hoping that this will be resolved very soon.”