Two prominent Muslim scholars will be able to visit the United States for the first time in years following the State Department’s effective reversal of a Bush Administration policy that prevented dozens of writers, educators, and artists with negative views of US foreign and counterterrorism policy from obtaining visas. The American Civil Liberties Union, which praised the move, hopes it is a signal that “such ideological exclusions are now entirely in our past.”
The decision paves the way for the professors, Adam Habib of the University of Johannesburg and Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University, to apply for visas free of accusations that they have ties to terrorism—charges that both scholars have flatly denied as their visa applications were routinely revoked over the past six years. Habib, a respected South African political analyst and a vocal critic of the war in Iraq, told the Associated Press that his most recent visa application was denied for having “engaged in terrorist activity,” but he was never told what that activity entailed. The US government denied Ramadan’s visa application to accept a tenured teaching position at the University of Notre Dame because he had contributed money to charities that the US believed supported Hamas. Ramadan denies the veracity of this claim.
The ACLU had been representing the professors in court on behalf of the American organizations that invited them to the United States. Those organizations include the American Sociological Association, the American Association of University Professors, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights. Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU’s national security project, said the orders ending the professors’ exclusion were long overdue and tremendously important.
“For several years, the United States government was more interested in stigmatizing and silencing its foreign critics than in engaging them,” Jaffer said. “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.”
Both Habib and Ramadan told reporters they plan to apply for new visas soon. But the two professors are still the exception, not the rule. Dozens of other Muslim intellectuals whose cases are not as high-profile remain banned.