• October 26, 2007

Civil liberties group challenges US visa ban for Muslim intellectual

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged in federal court Thursday the US government”s refusal to grant a travel visa to Swiss-based Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan.

Ramadan, one of the world”s leading scholars on Islam, was forced to turn down a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame when the US government revoked his visa in late 2004 on the basis of the so-called “ideological exclusion” provision of the Patriot Act.

Washington later dropped its claim, unable to prove that Ramadan had endorsed terrorism.

But it banned the academic in September 2006 on grounds he made donations between 1998 and 2002 to a Swiss-based charity that provides aid to Palestinians. The charity was included in a US list of terrorist organizations in 2003.

“The government is barring Professor Ramadan not because of his actions but because of his ideas,” ACLU”s National Security Project Director Jameel Jaffer told the court in New York.

“Ideological exclusion is a form of censorship and it should not be tolerated in a country committed to democratic values,” he added.

The ACLU sued the US government in 2006 on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and PEN American Center — all of which had invited Ramadan as a guest speaker.

“The ideological exclusion of scholars like Tariq Ramadan impoverishes political and academic debate inside the United States and violates the (US Constitution”s) First Amendment rights of those who seek to meet with foreign scholars, hear their views, and engage them in debate,” Jaffer said.

The ACLU on Thursday repeated the arguments it made when it first filed its lawsuit against Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“Although the so-called ideological exclusion provision is ostensibly aimed at those who “endorse terrorism,” its terms are vague and subject to political manipulation,” said Arthur Eisenberg, legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“Professor Ramadan”s small humanitarian donations were completely permissible at the time he made them, and he had no reason to know that the charity was supporting Hamas, if indeed it was,” said Melissa Goodman, a staff attorney with the ACLU”s National Security Project.

A controversial intellectual, Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political and social movement founded in Egypt in the 1920s. He lives in Geneva and teaches at Britain”s Oxford University.