What was real reason for banning Tariq Ramadan from U.S.?
A group of academic and civil rights organisations has written to the Obama administration asking it to end U.S. visa refusals to foreign scholars apparently because of their political leanings. Probably the best known of these cases is that of Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss-born Islamic scholar who was just about to take up a chair at the University of Notre Dame in 2004 when a visa already issued to him was suddenly revoked. Ramadan is a leading Muslim intellectual in Europe with a strong following among young Muslims who like his message that they can be good European and good Muslims at the same time.
(Photo: Ramadan at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome during a Muslim-Catholic Forum, 6 Nov 2008/Alessandro Bianchi)
Currently teaching Islamic theology at Oxford University, he is viewed with deep suspicion in France but well received in Britain (see, for example, the cover of Prospect magazine pictured below). Pope Benedict received him at the Vatican last November as part of a delegation of Muslim scholars to a Muslim-Catholic dialogue. No matter what one thinks of his views, he is an active figure in the debate about Islam and the West and deserves to be heard in serious discussions on the topic.
The American Civil Liberties Union will plead his case for lifting the ban before the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York on March 24. Given the way President Barack Obama has rolled back several policies of the preceding Bush administration, there could now be a chance that Washington will simply lift the ban and let Ramadan take up the many invitations to speak that he would probably get from U.S. universities and think tanks. That would be a victory for academic freedom, but it still leaves one question unanswered.
When a U.S. federal judge upheld the ban in 2007, Ramadan was told he had been barred because he gave 1,670 Swiss Francs ($1,487) to the Association de Secours Palestinien (Palestinian Aid Association — ASP) from 1998 to 2002. Washington banned ASP in 2003, saying it supports terrorism and had contributed funds to Hamas, and the government has argued Ramadan should have known he was giving to a group that supported terrorism. He has replied that he could not have known that before the U.S. government did.
This official explanation has never sounded convincing and it always seemed Ramadan was being punished for his political views, which are left-wing, pro-Palestinian and critical of the Bush administration. I suspect there was something else going on behind the scenes, either a political decision made by administration officials or a direct intervention by someone or some body outside the administration who was opposed to letting him speak freely in the U.S. Ramadan himself has blamed Daniel Pipes, a controversial U.S. commentator on Islam who welcomed the ban. Other suggestions are French government officials or intellectuals who dislike the way he promotes a kind of Muslim pride and ensures religion remains a public issue.
If the Obama administration does lift the ban, let’s hope it goes all the way and publishes any Bush administration paperwork explaining it, so we can see a more convincing explanation for keeping him out of the United States.