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Ramadan loss unfortunate

Staff Editorial | Friday, January 25, 2008

Four years after it was created, the teaching position meant for Tariq Ramadan is still unfilled. The Muslim scholar, hired by Notre Dame in spring of 2004 to teach Islamic ethics and fill a new tenured position at the Kroc Institute, had his visa revoked that fall for reasons initially unreleased by the U.S. government. Barred from entering the country, the Swiss citizen resigned his position at Notre Dame. So Oxford promptly took him.

In fall of 2006, the government finally explained the problem: Ramadan had given money to a Swiss charity later classified as a terrorist group. The ACLU took up his case. This December, a federal court dealt Ramadan another blow, dismissing his lawsuit and upholding the government’s decision.

It is a long-awaited disappointment.

Ramadan is a complex figure. His criticism of certain French Jewish intellectuals has drawn accusations of anti-Semitism. But he has also called for religious tolerance. His writings and lectures and his family history – his grandfather founded the Muslim Brotherhood – have elicited warnings from critics, who call him insincere and accuse him of backing oppressive, militant Islam. But he is also known as a reformer, strongly opposed to extremism.

That complexity is what makes Ramadan fascinating – and unique. Whatever his critics say, Ramadan is an academic whose charisma and message propelled him to prominence, an Islamic intellectual with a reputation both good and bad. It would have been a distinctive background for a professor at Notre Dame.

It also would have been a distinctive experience for students. Ramadan “is influential with millions of people whom we seek better to understand and engage in a constructive way,” R. Scott Appleby, director of the Kroc Institute, told The Observer earlier this week. That perspective is unparalleled.

At a Catholic university that emphasizes the importance of dialogue, Ramadan would have added an important voice. The Kroc Institute would have gained an invaluable dimension. Notre Dame would have gained additional prominence.

A controversial professor should not be hired for controversy’s sake; a professor – controversial or not – should be hired for the value he presents to the University. The Kroc Institute pursued Ramadan for the contribution he could have made to Notre Dame and defended its choice to critics. Notre Dame cannot shy away from controversy in the future.