Muslim Scholar Unwelcome: Obama Lawyer
By Muhammed Qasim, IOL Correspondent
Ramadan is one of Europe's leading Muslim thinkers and has often condemned terrorism and extremism. (Reuters)
WASHINGTON — Although it has made a break with many of George Bush's controversial, self-declared war on terror policies and has promised to reach out to Muslims, the Obama administration has decided to back a Bush decision to deny one of Europe's leading Muslim intellectuals entry.
"Consular decisions are not subject to litigation," Assistant US Attorney David Jones told the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
He asked the court to uphold a decision to bar Tariq Ramadan, an Oxford University professor, from entering the country.
Jones argued that if the court questioned a consular officer's decision to bar Ramadan, this would leave the administration in a "quagmire" with others seeking such reversals.
When one of the judges asked how high the review of Ramadan's case has gone within the Obama administration, Jones said it was "upwards in the State Department."
Ramadan was invited to teach at the University of Notre Dame in 2004 but the Bush government revoked his visa, citing a statute that applies to those who have "endorsed or espoused" terrorism.
In 2006, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and PEN American Center challenging the decision.
The administration then abandoned its claim Ramadan had endorsed terrorism, linking the ban to $1,336 he donated between 1998 and 2002 to a Swiss charity the US blacklisted in 2003.
A Swiss citizen of Egyptian origin, Ramadan is one of Europe's leading Muslim thinkers and has often condemned terrorism and extremism.
The author of 20 books and 700 articles on Islam, he was named by Time magazine as one of 100 innovators of the 21st century for his work on creating an independent European Islam.
His reputation in British and American academic circles is one of a moderate expert on Muslim affairs.
The Obama administration's position came as a shock to many.
"It's disappointing to come here and hear Obama administration lawyers argue the same sweeping executive power arguments," Jameel Jaffer, lawyer and ACLU National Security Project director, said after the hearing.
He told the court that the government had failed to identify "legitimate and bona fide reasons for the exclusion."
Civil rights groups had hoped for a reversal of Bush policy of excluding foreign scholars from on the basis of their political beliefs.
Many scholars and intellectuals, including Ramadan, believe that they are being targeted for their vocal criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq war and bias towards Israel.
Ramadan was a vocal critic of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
"While the government has an interest in excluding people who present a threat to the country, it doesn’t have any legitimate interest in excluding foreign nationals simply because of their political views. The Bush administration was wrong to revive this Cold War practice, and the Obama administration should not defend it," Jaffer insisted.
"There should be a clean break of the Bush administration national security policies."
If the appeal is thrown out, the ACLU could take its case before a bigger panel of appeals judges, or possibly the US Supreme Court.
"By denying visas to prominent foreign scholars and writers simply because they were critical of US foreign policy, the Bush administration used immigration laws to skew and stifle political debate inside the US," said Jaffar.
"US citizens and US resident are harmed by…the exclusion of people based on the content of their speech."