"What the West Can Learn From Islam," a Commentary by Tariq Ramadan

February 16, 2007

Author: Tariq Ramadan

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education


In late September, I finally received a response to the question I had been asking the Bush administration for more than two years: Why was my work visa revoked in late July 2004, just days before I was to take up a position as a professor of Islamic studies and the Henry Luce chair of religion, conflict, and peace building at the University of Notre Dame? Initially neither I nor the university was told why; officials only made a vague reference to a provision of the U.S. Patriot Act that allows the government to exclude foreign citizens who have "endorsed or espoused terrorism." Though the U.S. Department of Homeland Security eventually cleared me of all charges of links with terrorist groups, today it points to another reason to keep me out of the country: donations I made totaling approximately $900 to a Swiss Palestinian-support group that is now on the American blacklist. A letter I received from the American Embassy in Switzerland, where I hold citizenship, asserts that I "should reasonably have known" that the group had ties with Hamas.

What American officials do not say is that I myself had brought those donations to their attention, and that the organization in question continues to be officially recognized by the Swiss authorities (my donations were duly registered on my income-tax declaration). More important still is the fact that I contributed to the organization between 1998 and 2002, more than a year before it was blacklisted by the United States. It seems, according to American officials, that I "should reasonably have known" about the organization's alleged activities before the Homeland Security Department itself knew!

I believe the administration refuses me entry into the United States because of my criticism of its Middle East policy and America's unconditional support for Israel, which has led it to acquiesce in flouting Palestinian rights. And undeniably, some American groups that strongly support Israel and will allow no criticism of American foreign policy toward it have been highly critical of me. But academics, intellectuals, and organizations that have supported me -- like the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Academy of Religion (I presented a keynote address to its annual meeting late last year by videoconference, since the administration would not let me enter the country to speak in person), the American Association of University Professors, and the PEN American Center -- have understood that the real issue is my freedom of speech, and they have continued to lend their weight to my legal appeal of the decision.

I am not the only person concerned. The "fear of ideas" that has taken root in the United States since September 11, 2001, with the refusal to grant visas to a number of academics and intellectuals, most of whom are Muslims, strikes at the very heart of American democracy. The muffling of critical opinion should be of immediate concern to all freethinking individuals. To accept such a state of affairs is to accept that the United States, in the name of the "global war on terror" and national security, requires all citizens to think the same way.