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US revokes visa for Ramadan

Claire Heininger | Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Drawing a national spotlight to the University and dealing a painful blow to the Kroc Institute for Peace Studies, the State Department has revoked the visa of Tariq Ramadan, a prominent but controversial Muslim scholar scheduled to begin teaching at Notre Dame Tuesday.

Hired last spring to raise the profile and diversify the curriculum of the Kroc Institute, Ramadan was initially granted a visa after passing a thorough investigation by both the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. However, his permission to work in the United States was revoked July 28 for reasons not revealed to the University.

Homeland Security spokesman Dean Boyd would not comment on the specifics of the decision to bar Ramadan, a Swiss citizen who had been scheduled to teach Islamic philosophy and ethics beginning this fall at Notre Dame. But Boyd said visas are typically revoked when a noncitizen poses a potential national security threat or a public safety risk- two suggestions that the University immediately denied.

“We know of no reason why he shouldn’t be allowed in,” Notre Dame spokesman Matt Storin said. “If we did, we wouldn’t have hired him.”

According to State Department, the Department of Homeland Security asked officials to “invalidate the petition on which [Ramadan’s] visa was based,” said State Department press officer Darla Johnson. Johnson cited Section 221 (a) (3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which includes tightened immigration restrictions under the post-September 11 USA Patriot Act, but would not provide any additional information.

Ramadan’s situation was kept silent from the public while Notre Dame worked to resolve it, University spokesman Matt Storin said. Ramadan previously taught at the College of Geneva and the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.

While Storin said the University did anticipate possible delays in Ramadan’s approval due to increased security measures nationwide – especially as pre-election buzz has centered on terrorism alerts – the scholar’s previous visits to the country, including four visits to Notre Dame for lectures and job interviews, had been without incident. As a European citizen, Ramadan travels freely across the Atlantic, but has now been forbidden from accepting an appointment to work in the United States. His tenured, chaired position at Notre Dame was to have formally begun in mid-August, Storin said.

“The fact that it was revoked at the 11th hour seems like a calculated political move by his opponents,” Kroc director Scott Appleby said.

Ramadan’s opponents are in no short supply. Accused by Jewish groups in France and the United States of spreading anti-Sematic and Islamic militant ideas, Ramadan stirred further debate following the news of his appointment at Notre Dame. With a reputation for engaging in intellectual discourse with Muslim groups that “aren’t sold on the idea that democratic societies that value freedom are consistent with Islam,” Appleby said his new hire raised eyebrows – but never suspicions.

“Some people think he’s insincere and he’s trying to import militant Islam into American society, but obviously those of us on the faculty who supported his appointment do not feel this way,” Appleby said. “We certainly knew that he is a controversial figure, but that in itself didn’t deter us because we judged him on the basis of his ideas.”

These ideas, while not always popular among Ramadan’s peers, were always “within range of reasonable academic discourse,” Appleby said, praising Ramadan’s appetite for open dialogue between faiths.

“He encourages [Muslim groups] to enter into and help shape democratic society,” Appleby said. “He also wants ‘Western’ societies to … make room for and respect religious practices and religious beliefs that are not secular, are not Christian, are not Jewish.”

While Kroc Islamic scholar Rasheed Omar serves as his immediate replacement in Islamic Ethics, a sophomore seminar that was the sole course he was scheduled to teach this semester, Ramadan remains in limbo in Geneva, Switzerland, Storin said. He added that while the University has made inquiries in Washington since the visa was invalidated, there has been no indication of when or how the situation will be resolved.

However, Boyd noted that Ramadan has the option to reapply and argue his case with State Department officials.

Appleby, who spoke with Ramadan Tuesday but could not provide an official comment from the scholar, remained hopeful that he would eventually arrive at Notre Dame.

“We ultimately have to have some faith in the fairness of our system,” Appleby said. “At this point we’re holding out for that.”

The Observer was unable to contact Ramadan.

Teresa Fralish contributed to this report.