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Judge dismisses Ramadan lawsuit

Karen Langley | Wednesday, January 23, 2008

More than three years after prominent Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan was barred from entering the United States to take up a tenured teaching position at Notre Dame, a federal judge in New York has ruled that the government had legitimate reasons to deny Ramadan’s visa.

The judge, Paul A. Crotty of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, dismissed a lawsuit in December filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that claimed the government used an unconstitutional portion of the Patriot Act to deny Ramadan a work visa in July 2004, when he attempted to enter the United States from his home in Switzerland, The New York Times reported in December.

The ACLU suit claimed the portion of the Patriot Act denying visa to people who “endorse or espouse terrorist activity” was unconstitutional.

Crotty ruled the government had revoked Ramadan’s visa because the scholar had, over the course of four years, given $1,336 to a Swiss charity later designated as a terrorist group, the Times reported. He did not address the Patriot Act’s constitutionality.

Ramadan has publicly argued he was unaware of any terrorist ties and had made contributions solely as humanitarian aid.

“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 in a letter published in The Washington Post in October 2006. “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?”

Ramadan had sought in 2004 to move with his family to South Bend, where he had been made the Luce professor of religion, conflict and peace-building at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Before the revocation, he had been granted a visa after passing background checks by the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. The government refused to explain why it had revoked Ramadan’s visa until September 2006, more than a year after he had applied a second time for a temporary business and tourism visa.

Ramadan resigned his position on the Notre Dame faculty in December 2004. He is now teaching a course on Islam in the modern world at the University of Oxford in England. He is also a visiting professor at Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

R. Scott Appleby, director of the Kroc Institute, called the episode of the visa revocation and the government’s subsequent silence “unfortunate in every respect.”

“It implied that the United States government feels itself to be in a position of weakness, not strength – so much so, that it felt vulnerable to the presence of a Muslim intellectual whose every utterance and movement has been thoroughly scrutinized,” Appleby said in an e-mail Tuesday.

Appleby said he was deeply disappointed by the “pusillanimous behavior” of President Bush’s administration during this time.

“We Americans are quite capable of interacting with such a person and not becoming overwhelmed, threatened or ‘corrupted’ by challenging ideas, provocative criticisms and controversial opinions,” he said.

Appleby praised the University’s “courageous” support of Ramadan, a decision that stirred debate even before the visa revocation because of controversy over the scholar’s views.

Ramadan is known as a liberal Muslim scholar who has spoken for religious tolerance and added to debate on issues of Muslims in the Western and democratic world. He has also been accused by some groups of spreading Islamic militant ideas.

The Luce professorship has remained unfilled since Ramadan resigned in December 2004. The University plans to search for a suitable candidate this year, Appleby said.

Appleby said he does not expect Ramadan will teach at Notre Dame in the future.

“It seems unlikely that Professor Ramadan will be re-appointed to Notre Dame, given his current position at Oxford and the fact that he still does not have a visa permitting him permanent residence in the U.S.,” he said.

The addition of Ramadan to the University’s teaching faculty would have made a particular impact on the mission of the Kroc Institute, he said.

“Ramadan is influential with millions of people whom we seek better to understand and engage in a constructive way,” he said. “As a person of faith, he welcomed a chance to interact with Catholics and other Christians, as well as Muslim and Jewish students and faculty.”