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ND, Ramadan still in the dark

Beth Erickson | Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Although professor Tariq Ramadan was refused entry into the United States – and therefore barred from teaching at Notre Dame – almost two months ago, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security have yet to furnish either Ramadan or the University with any allegations against the professor. “We have not received any specific information on why the visa was revoked beyond the general references that have been issued by Homeland Security to the press,” University spokesperson Matthew Storin said Sunday. “We are satisfied that the government knows of our concerns and has listened to them.”Russ Knocke, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, told the Associated Press Aug. 24 that the work visa had been revoked July 28 because of a section in federal law applying to aliens who have used a “position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity.” The revocation was based on “public safety or national security interests,” Knocke said.Ramadan was interviewed by University officials prior to his appointment, and has had no trouble visiting the U.S. in the past.”[Ramadan] had regularly come back and forth to the US – he came over and visited with myself and other members of the administration, and we had a very good conversation,” University President Father Edward Malloy said in an interview earlier this month. “We presumed, because he had already traveled here, that once we hired him he would be able to come without any difficulty, and the visa was cleared, and it was out of the blue that he was prohibited from coming here.”Many at the University feel that students have a right to know why a professor so carefully selected by the administration has been denied entry into the country.”I believe [students], as thinking individuals, should seek a reason for the cancellation of his visa; as Americans, they have the right to an explanation,” said Joseph Amar, director of the Department of Arabic Studies. “It is a very serious situation when a government agency can make decisions of this sort without being required to give reasons why.” Several professors have suggested that the last-minute revocation of the professor’s visa was politically motivated.”Given the fact that Professor Ramadan was initially granted a visa after a thorough investigation by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, [it] suggests some last-minute Machiavellian maneuvering on the part of some vested groups to have it rescinded,” said Professor of Middle East Studies Asma Afsaruddin.Students who registered for Ramadan’s class have expressed frustration and confusion at the situation.”With the government’s revocation of the visa, they were interrupting academic freedom, but there must have been a cause, and I feel that we have a right to know the cause,” said sophomore Anne Kroeger, a double major in Arabic and Political Science. “Maybe not even [students], but at least Ramadan – how is the man supposed to defend himself against a general accusation?” Although she and her classmates feel they must question the government’s actions, they are also remaining cautious, Kroeger said.”I think that [students] still have the fear that there is a possibility of him being dangerous, which is why they are not entirely behind him,” she said. Not all students believe the U.S. should accommodate Ramadan.”[Informing Ramadan of charges against him] would be detrimental because then [terrorists] would know what we’re looking for, and I believe this would help them plot against the U.S.,” senior Chris Heck said. “The government can make their operations more covert this way.”The University has said that, without evidence, the reasons for the government’s decision cannot be determined. “The last thing we want to do is favor somebody who would be a threat to the well-being of the country,” Malloy said. “But it’s a question of fact and interpretation, and unless he has a chance to react to his detractors and find out who has been barring him from coming in, what can we do?”As for any future actions, the Department of Homeland Security has the final say over the matter.”If a bureaucracy doesn’t want to face an issue, it can just disappear,” said Malloy. “So that’s what’s happened up to now.”

Claire Heininger, Angela Saoud, Kate Gales and Kate Antonacci contributed to this report

Contact Beth Erickson at [email protected]