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U.S. Revokes Visa to One of Europe's Most Influential Islamic Thinkers

StorySeptember 08, 2004
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Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss scholar known for his work on Islamic theology and the place of Muslims in the modern world, was appointed to teach Islamic philosophy and ethics at the University of Notre Dame. After receiving a visa from the State Department, it was revoked at the behest of the Homeland Security Department. We go to Switzerland to speak with professor and author Tariq Ramadan. [includes rush transcript]

The United States has denied entry to one of one of Europe’s most influential Islamic thinkers.

Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss scholar known for his work on Islamic theology and the place of Muslims in the modern world, was appointed to teach Islamic philosophy and ethics at the University of Notre Dame. He received a visa from the State Department and was scheduled to start his classes in late August. But just days before he was set to travel, his visa was revoked without explanation at the behest of the Department of Homeland Security.

It turns out Ramadan was barred under a section of the Patriot Act, which bars entry to foreigners who have used a "position of prominence . . . to endorse or espouse terrorist activity."

The move has been widely criticized by academics in the US, who suspect that Ramadan had been barred because of his criticism of US foreign policy.

Islamic scholars regard Tariq Ramadan as a Muslim moderate but critics regard him as an anti-Semitic apologist for extremism. Among them is Daniel Pipes, a board member of the United States Institute of Peace and director of the Middle East Forum which runs Campus Watch, a web site that seeks to expose professors who allegedly hold anti-Israel views.

Pipes wrote in the Chicago Tribune to accuse Ramadan of connections with Al Qaeda, denying Osama bin Laden’s role in the Sept. 11 attacks and defending the March terrorist bombing in Madrid.

Ramadan responded in a Tribune article saying: "The American public ought to know a few other facts about me. I take pride in my faith as a Muslim and the West as my home and birthplace and I make no apologies for taking a critical look at Islam and the West. In doing so I am being true to my faith and the ethics of my citizenship. Instead of mere theoretical criticism, I propose practical solutions to the challenges the world faces. I not only speak to ordinary citizens of many faiths, religious leaders and academics but also to politicians, world leaders and organizations."

  • Tariq Ramadan, professor of Islamic studies and philosophy at Fribourg University in Switzerland. He is the author of "To Be a European Muslim" and "Western Muslims and the Future of Islam." He has been described by Time magazine as one of the 100 most likely innovators of the 21st century.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Tariq Ramadan joins us on the phone right now from Switzerland where he’s a professor of Islamic Studies and Philosophy at Fribourg University. Author of To Be a European Muslim and Western Muslims and the Future of Islam. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Ramadan.

TARIQ RAMADAN: Hello. Thank you for inviting me.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Your response to the attacks on you and to the U.S. government withdrawing the visa for you to teach at the University of Notre Dame.

TARIQ RAMADAN: Yes. You know, when I went first to the American Embassy in Switzerland, I gave my file and everything was okay. I went through a two-month clearance procedure. Nothing was on my files. So, to come now with very old allegations, I heard before, you know, ten years ago and saying that this is why now the visa has been revoked is inconsistent, because, you know, to say for example, he is the grandson of Hassan Al Bana. I was the grandson of Hassan al Bana last May when I received the first visa. So I think there is nothing new in all of this. What I am saying to all of the directors, I’m telling them, look if you have something to say or allegations, come with the evidence. Because if you don’t have evidence, I’m not going to follow you in a very, very bad way, you know. You are acting against the dignity of your mind, and you’re acting against the dignity of my person. So if you don’t have evidences, I’m not going to waste my time with this. And I know that I have nothing to do with terrorists. I criticize and I condemn every kind of terrorist from the very beginning, and this was 15 years ago I started to be very critical towards all of the radical movements. There is nothing new in my file. So up to now, so far, we have no explanation why I was denied entering the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Tariq Ramadan has been described by Time magazine as one of the 100 most likely innovators of the 21st century. What has been the response of the University of Notre Dame, since they were the ones that invited you to teach.

TARIQ RAMADAN: The university has a very, very strong stance saying that we are supporting Tariq Ramadan. They went also to a very meticulous inquiry about me, knowing what I’m doing, the writings in Arabic and English and French. They know that there’s nothing in my file, so they are very supportive, and this is also what I have to say to all of the American Muslims. Look, you are in a society, where, of course, sometimes the feeling is that the Muslims are targeted because they are Muslims, but at the same time, you have people, you know, like this university and so many other academics, professors, organizations or radios or media now having the feeling that this is —- their civil rights are at risk, if it’s possible for someone to be banned from a country only because he is a Muslim or he has a critical, you know, approach towards the government -—

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Ramadan, we have to leave it there because the show is ending, but we’re going to ask you to rejoin us for part two of this discussion.

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