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Tariq Ramadan: Banned in the USA

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    Why I m Banned in the USA By Tariq Ramadan Sunday, October 1, 2006 LONDON For more than two years now, the U.S. government has barred me from entering the
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 3, 2006
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      Why I'm Banned in the USA
      By Tariq Ramadan
      Sunday, October 1, 2006


      LONDON

      For more than two years now, the U.S. government has barred me from
      entering the United States to pursue an academic career. The reasons
      have changed over time, and have evolved from defamatory to absurd,
      but the effect has remained the same: I've been kept out.

      First, I was told that I could not enter the country because I had
      endorsed terrorism and violated the USA Patriot Act. It took a lawsuit
      for the government eventually to abandon this baseless accusation.
      Later, I reapplied for a visa, twice, only to hear nothing for more
      than a year. Finally, just 10 days ago, after a federal judge forced
      the State Department to reconsider my application, U.S. authorities
      offered a new rationale for turning me away: Between 1998 and 2002, I
      had contributed small sums of money to a French charity supporting
      humanitarian work in the Palestinian territories.

      I am increasingly convinced that the Bush administration has barred me
      for a much simpler reason: It doesn't care for my political views. In
      recent years, I have publicly criticized U.S. policy in the Middle
      East, the war in Iraq, the use of torture, secret CIA prisons and
      other government actions that undermine fundamental civil liberties.
      And for many years, through my research and writing and speeches, I
      have called upon Muslims to better understand the principles of their
      own faith, and have sought to show that one can be Muslim and Western
      at the same time.

      My experience reveals how U.S. authorities seek to suppress dissenting
      voices and -- by excluding people such as me from their country --
      manipulate political debate in America. Unfortunately, the U.S.
      government's paranoia has evolved far beyond a fear of particular
      individuals and taken on a much more insidious form: the fear of ideas.

      In January 2004, I was offered a job at the University of Notre Dame,
      as a professor of Islamic studies and as Luce professor of religion,
      conflict and peace-building. I accepted the tenured position
      enthusiastically and looked forward to joining the academic community
      in the United States. After the government granted me a work visa, I
      rented a home in South Bend, Ind., enrolled my children in school
      there and shipped all of my household belongings. Then, in July, the
      government notified me that my visa had been revoked. It did not offer
      a specific explanation, but pointed to a provision of the Patriot Act
      that applies to people who have "endorsed or espoused" terrorist activity.

      The revocation shocked me. I had consistently opposed terrorism in all
      of its forms, and still do. And, before 2004, I had visited the United
      States frequently to lecture, attend conferences and meet with other
      scholars. I had been an invited speaker at conferences or lectures
      sponsored by Harvard University, Stanford, Princeton and the William
      Jefferson Clinton Presidential Foundation. None of these institutions
      seemed to consider me a threat to national security.

      The U.S. government invited me to apply for a new visa and, with Notre
      Dame's help, I did so in October 2004. But after three months passed
      without a response, I felt I had little choice but to give up my new
      position and resume my life in Europe. Even so, I never abandoned the
      effort to clear my name. At the urging of American academic and civic
      groups, I reapplied for a visa one last time in September 2005, hoping
      that the government would retract its accusation. Once again, I
      encountered only silence.

      Finally, in January, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American
      Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors
      and PEN American Center filed a lawsuit on my behalf, challenging the
      government's actions. In court, the government's lawyers admitted that
      they could establish no connection between me and any terrorist group;
      the government had merely taken a "prudential" measure by revoking my
      visa. Even then, the government maintained that the process of
      reconsidering my visa could take years. The federal court -- which
      issued a ruling recognizing that I have been a vocal critic of
      terrorism -- rejected the indefinite delay. In June, it ordered the
      government to grant me a visa or explain why it would not do so.

      On Sept. 21, the long-awaited explanation arrived. The letter from the
      U.S. Embassy informed me that my visa application had been denied, and
      it put an end to the rumors that had circulated since my original visa
      was revoked. After a lengthy investigation, the State Department cited
      no evidence of suspicious relationships, no meetings with terrorists,
      no encouraging or advocacy of terrorism. Instead, the department cited
      my donation of $940 to two humanitarian organizations (a French group
      and its Swiss chapter) serving the Palestinian people. I should note
      that the investigation did not reveal these contributions. As the
      department acknowledges, I had brought this information to their
      attention myself, two years earlier, when I had reapplied for a visa.

      In its letter, the U.S. Embassy claims that I "reasonably should have
      known" that the charities in question provided money to Hamas. 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? I donated to these organizations for the same reason that
      countless Europeans -- and Americans, for that matter -- donate to
      Palestinian causes: not to help fund terrorism, but because I wanted
      to provide humanitarian aid to people who desperately need it. Yet
      after two years of investigation, this was the only explanation
      offered for the denial of my visa. I still find it hard to believe.

      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?

      I have called upon Western societies to be more open toward Muslims
      and to regard them as a source of richness, not just of violence or
      conflict. I have called upon Muslims in the West to reconcile and
      embrace both their Islamic and Western identities. I have called for
      the creation of a "New We" based on common citizenship within which
      Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Muslims and people with no religion can
      build a pluralistic society. And yes, I believe we all have a right to
      dissent, to criticize governments and protest undemocratic decisions.
      It is certainly legitimate for European Muslims and American Muslims
      to criticize their governments if they find them unjust -- and I will
      continue to do so.

      At the same time, I do not stop short of criticizing regimes from
      Muslim countries. Indeed, the United States is not the only country
      that rejects me; I am also barred from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and even
      my native Egypt. Last month, after a few sentences in a speech by Pope
      Benedict XVI elicited protests and violence, I published an article
      noting how some governments in the Muslim world manipulate these
      imagined crises to suit their political agendas. "When the people are
      deprived of their basic rights and of their freedom of expression," I
      argued, "it costs nothing to allow them to vent their anger over
      Danish cartoons or the words of the Pontiff." I was immediately
      accused of appeasing the enemies of Islam, of being more Western than
      Muslim.

      Today, I live and work in London. From my posts at Oxford University
      and the Lokahi Foundation, I try to promote cultural understanding and
      to prevent radicalization within Muslim communities here. Along with
      many British citizens, I have criticized the country's new security
      laws and its support for the war in Iraq. Yet I have never been asked
      to remain silent as a condition to live or work here. I can express
      myself freely.

      I fear that the United States has grown fearful of ideas. I have
      learned firsthand that the Bush administration reacts to its critics
      not by engaging them, but by stigmatizing and excluding them. Will
      foreign scholars be permitted to enter the United States only if they
      promise to mute their criticisms of U.S. policy? It saddens me to
      think of the effect this will have on the free exchange of ideas, on
      political debate within America, and on our ability to bridge
      differences across cultures.


      web @ tariqramadan.com

      Tariq Ramadan, a fellow at Oxford University, is author of "Western
      Muslims and the Future of Islam."

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