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Scholar’s visa again denied

Maddie Hanna | Thursday, October 5, 2006

Prominent Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, hired by Notre Dame in 2004 but unable to teach after his visa was revoked a few months later, has once again been banned from entering the country.

Ramadan had been “providing material support to a terrorist organization,” said Laura Tischler, spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Tischler would not describe the support or organization in question, simply citing Section 212 (a)(3)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a law that included tighter immigration restrictions under the post-Sept. 11 USA Patriot Act.

However, Ramadan – who was offered a tenured position by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in spring 2004 as an Islamic studies professor – explained the contents of the letter he received from the State Department on Sept. 21 through a piece that appeared in the Oct. 1 edition of The Washington Post.

The only reason the government gave for the denial, he said, was a $940 donation he made to “two humanitarian organizations (a French group and a Swiss group) serving the Palestinian people” – a donation he said he freely acknowledged when he applied for the visa.

“In its letter, the U.S. Embassy claims that I ‘reasonably should have known’ that the charities in question provided money to Hamas,” Ramadan said. “But my donations were made between December 1998 and July 2002, and the United States did not blacklist the charities until 2003. How should I reasonably have known of their activities before the U.S. government itself knew?”

The donation, he said, was made for the same reason that “countless” Europeans and Americans donate to Palestinian causes – “not to help fund terrorism, but because I wanted to provide humanitarian aid to people who desperately need it.”

When Ramadan’s visa was revoked in summer 2004 for reasons not revealed by the U.S. government, the University helped him reapply in October 2004.

But he never received a response and reapplied for a temporary business and tourism visa on Sept. 15, 2005.

The most recent decision, issued by a U.S. consular officer on Sept. 19, came more than a year after that reapplication.

The University is not currently pursuing Ramadan as a professor, so it is not involved now in his attempts to get a visa, Associate Vice President for News and Information Don Wycliff said Wednesday.

“At a minimum, we were gratified that the government [decided to] give a reason – whether or not it’s a reason we can expect or like, I don’t know,” Wycliff said.

He called the government’s refusal to explain why Ramadan’s visa was revoked in 2004 “absurd” – a situation the University grappled with for months after.

R. Scott Appleby, director of the Kroc Institute, said he was “dismayed” by the government’s “flimsy pretense” for denying Ramadan’s application.

“I am embarrassed that the Bush administration abrogates cherished principles such as free speech in a clumsy and ill-considered attempt to control access to a range of ideas and opinions bearing on the formulation of U.S. foreign and domestic policy,” Appleby said in an e-mail to The Observer.

Ramadan, who is a native of Egypt currently teaching in London, said he is “increasingly convinced” the reason for his visa problems is because the Bush administration “doesn’t care for my political views” – views that include pointed criticism of the U.S. policy in the Middle East and the war in Iraq.

“What words do I utter and what views do I hold that are dangerous to American ears, so dangerous, in fact, that I should not be allowed to express them on U.S. soil?” he said.

Although both Wycliff and Appleby said the University is in the middle of a search for Ramadan’s successor as Luce professor of religion, conflict and peace-building, Appleby said there is “more than one way Professor Ramadan might participate in the academic life of Notre Dame.”

And potentially controversial views like Ramadan’s, Wycliff said, are not something the University avoids.

“If there’s someone out there who’s a first rate scholar, I know Notre Dame will be interested in that person, whether or not he or she is labeled controversial by someone else,” he said.

The Observer was unable to reach Ramadan Thursday.