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Controversial Visa Bans Lifted

January 21, 2010

Adam Habib and Tariq Ramadan should soon be able to enter the United States once again, ending years in which the Bush administration kept out the two prominent scholars, infuriating many academic groups.

Several academic groups have been in a protracted legal battle with the government over the visa denials to Habib, the deputy vice chancellor of research, innovation and advancement at the University of Johannesburg, and Ramadan, a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at the University of Oxford. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday lifted the orders denying visas to the two scholars. While they must now re-apply for visas, the past rationales for rejecting them can't be used, and they are expected to receive speedy approval.

Both Habib and Ramadan are highly respected scholars who -- prior to the Bush administration -- had traveled without incident in the United States. Many scholars viewed their exclusion as punishment for their having spoken out against U.S. foreign policy. Among the groups that joined the American Civil Liberties Union in suing the government over the visa denials were the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and the American Sociological Association.

Cary Nelson, national president of the AAUP, issued a statement praising Clinton's "welcome decision," which he said "puts an end to one of the more shameful episodes in recent American history -- the practice of preventing invited foreign scholars from meeting with American faculty and students on the basis of their political beliefs."

Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, had visited the United States many times prior to 2004, when he accepted the position to teach at the University of Notre Dame. Ramadan is known as a leading Muslim scholar who advocates peaceful coexistence for Muslims and non-Muslims in ways that preserve Islamic ideals and Western democracy. While he has criticized U.S. policies many times, he has also criticized violence by Muslim groups. In 2004, he was denied a visa to take the Notre Dame job, and he was subsequently blocked from coming to the United States to address the AAUP.

While the government refused for a long time to say why Ramadan was excluded, it eventually cited his donations, between 1998 and 2002, to Association de Secours Palestinien (ASP), a charity that has provided some support to Hamas. While the Bush administration barred support for the charity after the period in which Ramadan donated, the organization was (and is) completely legal in Switzerland. Ramadan has testified that he did not know that any of the donation could have been used inappropriately, and that he thought he was providing funds to help Palestinian refugees.

Ramadan issued a statement that he was "delighted" by the news. "After more than six years, my exclusion from the United States has come to an end," he said. "At no time did I equate the American government (and particularly the Bush administration) with American civil society, its academic institutions and intellectuals. I am duty bound to thank all those institutions and individuals that rallied to my support and worked to end unconstitutional ideological exclusion over the years. I am very happy and hopeful that I will be able to visit the United States very soon and to once again engage in an open, critical and constructive dialogue with American scholars and intellectuals."

Habib is a leading sociologist in South Africa and he has been denied visas that would have been needed for him to accept invitations to speak at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association and to other groups.

The idea that Habib is a terrorist is absurd to the academics who know him, who note that he previously visited the United States many times without incident, earned his Ph.D. at the City University of New York, and is respected by scholars around the world. The reason for the unexplained exclusion, many scholars believe, is that Habib is a Muslim who has criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq and other policies of the Bush administration.

Through the ACLU, Habib released this statement: "My family and I are thrilled by Secretary Clinton's decision, and we are thankful to the many organizations that put pressure on the Obama administration to stop excluding people from the United States on the basis of their political views. This is not only a personal victory but also a victory for democracy around the world, and we hope this signals a move by the administration to begin restoring the liberties and freedoms that have been so badly eroded in recent times."

 

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