According to Abu Aardvark, Tariq Ramadan – a francophone Swiss Muslim who is usually cited as a particularly modernist and moderate European Muslim scholar – has been denied a visa to enter the US to take up a teaching posiiton at Notre Dame University. As I understand it, the visa had earlier been issued, but has now been revoked under the portions of the Immigration and Nationality Act that were modified by the PATRIOT Act two years ago.
Further Associated Press coverage at the Boston Globe – and probably other newspapers – as well as at Swissinfo.
There is some evidence of diplomatic fallout. According to Swissinfo, the Swiss foreign minister has intervened to get an explanation. The US Department of Homeland Security claims that Ramadan’s visa was revoked because of a section of US law affecting people who use a “position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity” as well as “public safety or national security interests.”
This certainly requires an explanation. Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan Al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the US used to be a place where guilt was not held to automatically pass from father to son.
Ramadan had been offered a temporary position as a guest lecturer at the Kroc Institute for Peace Studies at Notre Dame. For the conspiracy junkies out there, yes, that’s Kroc as in Joan Kroc, the recently deceased McDonald’s hambuger widow. Your purchase of a Big Mac goes to support the man Daniel Pipes calls a “militant Islamic figure”. Personally, I think nothing speaks higher for a man’s character than having enemies like Pipes. It’s enough to make me want to go right out and snarf a Quarter Pounder (or a Royal Cheese, as it’s known in the metric system). But I digress.
There are also some promonent French intellectuals who claim that Ramadan is anti-Semetic, despite his lengthy claims to the contrary and regular condemnations of anti-Semetic violence. These consist largely of a small group of French Jewish writers who he accused in this article of taking “poltical positions [that] are based on communitarian logic, as Jews, or as nationalists, or as defenders of Israel”. After 9/11, there were some published accusations that Ramadan has connections to Al Qaeda, but in the current political climate, few Muslim figures of any significance can avoid such an accusation. No evidence to support such charges has been brought forward to date.
All of this strikes me as a very low standard for threats to American security, or for determining who is a supporter of terrorism. Muslim, Wake Up! has a collection of links to interviews with Ramadan if you prefer to judge for yourself.
Whether one agrees with Ramadan or not, it is difficult to imagine an Islamic intellectual figure who is likely to be more acceptable as the other side in an American dialogue with Islam. Thus, the refusal to allow him to enter the US suggests that someone in Homeland Security agrees with the Daniel Pipes standard: Any Muslim who fails to condemn Islam, from its founding to the present and in all its manifestations, must be a fanatic and a threat to the West.
Europe has many Muslim citizens, present at all levels of society. It would be a mistake to allow the US to segregate European intellectuals into the threatening and non-threatening on such a feeble basis – especially at a time when it is trying hard not to be painted as the enemy of all Islam. This is an opportunity for Europeans and Americans to show that at the very least they are capable of exercising better judgement than the Bush administration.