One of South Africa's top social scientists was unable to give a scheduled talk Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, in New York, because U.S. officials refused to act on his visa application. By refusing to act (as opposed to rejecting the application), authorities made it difficult to determine exactly why Adam Habib could not get to the United States. In October, while holding a visa, he was turned back at John F. Kennedy International Airport when he arrived for a series of scholarly meetings in the United States.
Habib has previously entered and left the United States for education and scholarly purposes without event -- he earned his Ph.D. at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Leaders of the sociology group, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, denounced the government for making it impossible for Habib to travel to the United States. They believe Habib is being kept out not because he poses any danger, but because he is a Muslim who has been vocal critic in South Africa of the U.S. war in Iraq and of other U.S. government policies.
Habib is an expert on civil society and democracy. He is executive director of South Africa's Human Science Research Council's Program on Democracy and Governance and a professor in the School of Development Studies at the University of Kwazulu-Natal. He has written several scholarly books, served as the editor of several journals, and supervised numerous dissertations at South African universities.
U.S. officials, as has been the case with other visa disputes involving scholars, have refused to say why Habib is being kept out. When he was detained and turned back in October, Habib said that he was asked for hours about his views on terrorism. One of the questions Habib reported being asked was whether he had ever been interrogated before and he replied that he had -- when South African security forces during the apartheid era asked him about his speeches against racial discrimination.
In a statement issued through the ACLU, Habib said "I am deeply disappointed that a country like America has treated me in this way when I have done nothing wrong. If the U.S. continues to act in an undemocratic way, refusing to allow in outsiders who disagree with administration policy, it will continue to alienate large portions of the world."
The sociology association issued a statement as well: "The ASA expresses its deepest disappointment and profound concern about the Department of State's de facto denial of a visa, which has barred Professor Adam Habib from participating in the association's annual meeting. Such actions undermine the willingness of numerous scientists and academics from many nations to visit the United States and collaborate with their American colleagues. The ASA believes this limitation on scholarly exchange erodes our nation's reputation as a defender of the free and open search for knowledge."