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Foreign Scholars Continue To Be Scrutinized By U.S. Authorities

The job Dr. Tariq Ramadan was supposed to take is no longer available to him. Two years after the U.S. State Department barred the Swiss Muslim scholar from entering the country, the University of Notre Dame has launched a new search to fill his position.

Ramadan, who had been openly critical of U.S. policies in the Middle East, is just one of many foreign scholars subject to scrutiny in the post-September 11 era of tightened security.

Ramadan was supposed to join the Notre Dame faculty as professor of religion, conflict and peace building. According to university spokesman Don Wycliff, he held the position in spite of his exclusion by the government but ultimately resigned from the post in December of 2004. The university has since launched a job search to fill the position.

“We are not less interested in him and his scholarship… but too much water has flown under the bridge and Ramadan is committed [as a visiting fellow] to the University of Oxford,” Wycliff said, adding that “it was only a coincidence” that the candidates narrowed down to fill the position are not foreign scholars.

The U.S. government earlier this month decided not to appeal a court ruling ordering it to either issue a visa to Ramadan or provide good reasons for not doing so. Federal authorities have been given 30 days to act on a second visa request that Ramadan filed in September 2005.

A federal court issued the ruling in June in a lawsuit brought on Ramadan’s behalf by the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and the PEN American Center. The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the plaintiffs, filed the lawsuit.

Ramadan, who had been hired by the University of Notre Dame, opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In 2004, the U.S. authorities revoked a visa issued to him and did not provide a reason. But the authorities did refer to a provision of the U.S. Patriot Act allowing exclusion of foreign citizens who have “endorsed or espoused terrorism.”

But the scholar says he also opposes Islamic extremism, and promotes peaceful solutions. “I want to build bridges. But I’m not blindly supportive of U.S. or European policies,” Ramadan told The Associated Press.

Jameel Jaffer, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Security Program, said the U.S. government was using ideological exclusion not as a legitimate reason to protect the country but just to stop someone who is against government policy per se.

In light of recent terrorist events, “a free exchange of ideas becomes more important when the country faces these threats, and it’s important that Americans have access to foreign scholars with a different perspective,” Jaffer told Diverse.

A number of foreign scholars have been denied entry this year to the United States on grounds of political or ideological affiliations.

Dr. Yoannis “John” Milios of the National Technical University of Athens was going to present last June a paper called “How Class Works” at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He was interrogated about his politics at JFK Airport in New York and then told to return to Athens. Dr. Waskar Ari, a scholar of race and ethnic studies, could not start his teaching position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln last spring. The State Department has alleged that Ari was excluded on national security grounds, but has not yet provided any evidence.

South Asian and Latin American scholars have also been subjected to scrutiny. Dr. Goverdhan Mehta, a former director of the Indian Institute of Science and a frequent lecturer at U.S. colleges, was denied in February a visa he needed so he could teach at the University of Florida in Gainesville. By the time he was granted one after President Bush intervened, Mehta had turned down the job. Prominent Cuban scholar Carlos Alzugaray Treto was unable to give the keynote address in 2003 at the Latin American Studies Association annual meeting.

The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act to seek details on why these applicants, and others, have been denied entry to the country.

“America has a rich tradition of robust academic debate. The government dishonors that tradition when it censors ideas at the border,” said ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman.

— By Shilpa Banerji


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