Again No Visa for Tariq Ramadan

Here is a press release just in from PEN American Center concerning the Arab scholar Tariq Ramadan to whom the US Government has again refused to issue a visa to come to the U.S.:

New York, NY, September 26, 2006—The U.S. government has again blocked prominent Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan from visiting the United States, this time after being ordered by a Federal District Judge to act on a visa application the Swiss-born Oxford University professor submitted last September.

A widely recognized and influential writer, Ramadan was a frequent visitor and speaker in the United States until 2004, when he learned as he prepared to assume a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame that his visa had been canceled. At the time, government officials cited a provision of the Patriot Act that bars entry to those who “endorse or espouse terrorism” as the reason for the cancelation. PEN American Center, the ACLU, and two other organizations went to court to challenge that provision and Professor Ramadan’s exclusion, arguing that Ramadan, an outspoken critic of U.S. policies in the Middle East, was actually being denied entry to the United States under post-9/11 policies that amounted to Ideological Exclusion. Pressed by the court, the government abandoned its assertions that Ramadan’s visa had been canceled because he had endorsed or espoused terrorism, citing instead vague “national security concerns” as the reason for the cancellation and insisting that it needed more time to gather more information before deciding on Ramadan’s renewed application. The court rejected that position, saying that the government “may not invoke ‘national security’ as a protective shroud to justify the exclusion of aliens on the basis of their political beliefs,” and ordered the government to process the visa application by September 21, 2006.

In a letter dated September 16, 2006, the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland informed Tariq Ramadan that his pending visa application has been refused. The letter cites donations Ramadan made to French and Swiss organizations that provide social services for Palestinians as the basis for the denial under provisions barring “material support to a terrorist organization.” Ramadan had reported the donations, totaling about 600 Euros, during the application process. The recipient organizations operate openly as legitimate charities in Europe.

“PEN went to court to challenge the resurrection of the discredited practice of ideological exclusion—a practice that deliberately limits debate and inhibits the free exchange of information and ideas in the United States,” PEN American Center Freedom to Write and International Program Director Larry Siems said today in New York. “We were very pleased Judge Crotty affirmed our position that barring international scholars and writers because of their ideas and opinions violates the First Amendment rights of Americans.

“We are deeply disappointed that in light of that ruling the government has offered yet another pretext for denying Professor Ramadan a visa. The decision in effect denies Americans a right that citizens in every European democracy enjoy, the right to engage Professor Ramadan directly and debate his ideas face to face.

“We are also troubled by the basis of the denial.” Siems added. “We note that ‘material support’ provisions of the Patriot Act and other legislation are themselves the subject of First Amendment challenges, and we are concerned that the concept of ‘material support’ can be so distorted as to constitute a violation of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in itselfor that it can become, as appears to be the case here, a back-door route to ideological exclusion.”

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