U.S. State Department Ends Ban on 2 Prominent Muslim Scholars

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Tariq Ramadan, a European scholar of Islam, was denied visas to enter the United States in 2004 and 2006.
January 20, 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has signed orders effectively reversing the Bush administration's decisions to bar two prominent foreign Muslim scholars, Adam Habib and Tariq Ramadan, from entry into the United States.

The orders, signed last week but not made public until today, clear the way for Mr. Habib, a South African political commentator, and Mr. Ramadan, a European scholar of Islam, to apply anew for entry visas without having the past reasons for their exclusion held against them.

Consistent with the secrecy surrounding the Bush administration's decision to keep out Mr. Habib, the order pertaining to him says only that he will no longer be excluded for "any or all acts supporting the denial of his 2007 visa application," without specifying exactly why he had ever been kept out. Mr. Habib, a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and of U.S. anti-terrorism policies, was told in 2007 that he had been denied a visa for having "engaged in terrorist activities," but he was not informed of the charges against him or the evidence.

Secretary Clinton's order pertaining to Mr. Ramadan says that he will not be excluded for donations he made before 2003 to two charities that the U.S. Treasury subsequently designated as terrorist organizations for their alleged links to the Palestinian militant group Hamas: the French-based Comité de Bienfaisance et de Secours aux Palestiniens and the Swiss-based Association de Secours Palestinien. The State Department denied Mr. Ramadan a visa to take a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame in 2004 and a visa to attend academic conferences in the United States in 2006.

An End to 'Shameful Episodes'

Both orders, issued by Secretary Clinton in consultation with the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, and the attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., were cheered today by organizations that had gone to court to fight the denial of visas to the two scholars.

"The decision to end the exclusion of Professors Habib and Ramadan is a welcome sign that the Obama administration is committed to facilitating, rather than obstructing, the exchange of ideas across international borders," Jameel Jaffer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project, said in a statement issued by that group.

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, issued a statement calling such exclusions of scholars "one of the more shameful episodes in recent American history."

The ACLU and the AAUP had teamed up in filing lawsuits on behalf of both scholars. The lawsuit challenging Mr. Habib's exclusion was joined by the American Sociological Association, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights, while the lawsuit filed on behalf of Mr. Ramadan was joined by the American Academy of Religion and the Pen American Center.

Secretary Clinton's orders did not tackle the broader question of whether the Obama administration planned to end "ideological exclusion," the controversial practice, adopted by the federal government after the 2001 terrorist attacks, of denying visas to intellectuals based on their viewpoints. Nevertheless, Mr. Nelson of the AAUP expressed hope that the orders meant "such ideological exclusions are now entirely in our past."