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Silencing Ramadan stunts progress

Will McAuliffe | Monday, February 12, 2007

With all the recent excitement over this year’s top-10 recruiting class (kudos to Coach Weis) and the talent that it brings to our football program, many couldn’t help to still discuss the one (or three) that got away. However, I’d like to shift focus away from football for just a couple of minutes and talk about the one that really got away, the one that would undoubtedly make waves at Notre Dame like never before.

Scrolling through the New York Times magazine online last Sunday, I felt intense frustration as I read one particular article. This article wasn’t about American and Iraqi deaths incurred in Iraq by roadside bombing, the Iranian nuclear program, or the recent arrest of several Muslims in Britain accused of plotting to kill an Islamic member of the British armed forces. The article was about Tariq Ramadan, a man who could certainly shed light on these aforementioned, all too commonplace, topics. Reading through the article one gets a great sense of admiration for his eloquence and his constant efforts to “bridge a divide and bring together people of diverse backgrounds and world views.” Although Ramadan comes from a genealogical tree that has its fair share of Muslim extremists (his grandfather founded the Muslim Brotherhood) he has chosen a different route: moderation and practical application of Islamic faith to the world we live in. While he decries neoliberal economics as inherently unjust and states that global capitalism is the “abode of war,” these inflammatory statements aren’t simple empty statements tailored for the FOX news ticker but rather a provocative means of entering into a dialogue. As opposed to Ann Coulter, Tariq Ramadan doesn’t exude controversy as a means of being controversial; he simply has strong, meaningful opinions that warrant intense scrutiny and discussion in today’s social and political climates.

These meaningful, well-articulated opinions are now discussed at Oxford where he is a research fellow.

He was supposed to be here.

However, this wasn’t a case of his reneging on signing day. Quite to the contrary, his children were enrolled in South Bend schools, his furniture had all been shipped here, his visa was in order and he was fully prepared to begin teaching at the Kroc Institute. However, as the New York Times magazine article articulates, about $900 that he donated to charities led to the revocation of his visa. Nine-hundred measly dollars which he had donated to two different aid organizations that help Palestinians are, according to the U.S. State Department, the reason that he’s not here. This money was given to charities that, at the time, were not on any blacklist and continue to run legitimately and without scrutiny in Europe. However, at some point after his donation, the United States decided that it was giving money to Hamas, the radical and violent Palestinian group. Despite the ex-post facto nature of the blacklisting, the present administration, in its infinite wisdom, decided to bar this valuable and much-needed voice from entering our country and teaching at our University.

Really? Nine-hundred dollars donated to two legitimate charities whose activities weren’t yet called in to question is enough to keep Tariq Ramadan away from America and its students?

I don’t buy it.

What we have here is yet another iteration of the U.S. administration’s desire to ignore and obstruct voices of dissent, even if that dissent is entirely well-founded and academic. Tariq Ramadan has an important place in American society and an invaluable role to play in this country’s academic institutions. Due to the heroic and insightful efforts of those at the Kroc Institute such as Professor Scott Appleby, we almost had one of the most prominent Islamic voices right here on our campus. We almost had the opportunity as students to be consistently challenged in our world views and our view of Islam in modern society. We were a simple visa away from being able to comprehend the issues that plague Muslims in Europe and the Middle East as well as, at an ever-increasing rate, those who reside in the United States. The Bush administration will have none of it.

Barring one prominent and controversial scholar from entering our country isn’t the cause of our issues; it’s a symptom. It shows us that the level of education, the prevalence of discourse, and the tenet of free speech that millions have fought for and sworn to protect, both in the courts and on the field of battle, aren’t as high of a priority to this administration as we’d like them to be. As the next generation of leaders, we must be vigilant of those who would limit our access to controversy and attempt to curtail any serious discussion of issues which divide societies across the globe.

We deserve better and we must demand better.

Will McAuliffe is a senior Political Science major with a serious love for the Colbert Report and Fox News. All letters of support, disdain or funny Backer experiences should be forwarded to his personal assistant at mcauliffe.4@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.