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US maintains visa ban on Muslim academic

London Guardian | September 26 2006

The US government has refused to grant a visa to the Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, a vocal critic of the US invasion of Iraq, but has dropped earlier charges against him of supporting terrorism, it has emerged.
Mr Ramadan, a Swiss citizen and a visiting fellow at Oxford, said he received an official letter clearing him of the charges that prevented him taking a job at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

But the US sustained the visa ban, imposed in 2004, saying that Mr Ramadan had contributed $600 (£400) to a group providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

Janelle Hironimus, a State Department spokeswoman, said a US consular officer had last week denied Mr Ramadan's application for a temporary business and tourism visa based on new information the government had learned about the scholar.

She said it had been determined that Mr Ramadan was ineligible to enter the country "based solely on his actions, which constituted providing material support to a terrorist organisation."

Ms Hironimus said she could not reveal specifics about Mr Ramadan's case due to confidentiality rules regarding visa applications.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the US government had notified Mr Ramadan that he was being denied a visa because he donated money French and Swiss organisations that provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

The ACLU said the organisations are legitimate charities in France, but the Bush administration contends the groups gave funds to the militant Islamic group Hamas and has invoked a law allowing it to exclude individuals whom it believes have supported terrorism.

"This case is really about speech," said Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU lawyer. "The government is using the immigration laws as a means of silencing and stigmatising a prominent critic."

Mr Ramadan, whose family fled Egypt to settle in Switzerland, has said he opposes the US invasion of Iraq and US policies in Israel and the Palestinian territories, but has no connections to terrorism, opposes Islamic extremism and promotes peaceful solutions.

On his website, Mr Ramadan said in a statement Monday that he brought the donations to the State Department's attention and that the organisations "are not deemed suspect in Europe, where I live."

"I donated to these organisations for the same reason that countless Europeans - and Americans, for that matter - donate to Palestinian causes: not to provide funding for terrorism, but because I wanted to provide humanitarian aid to people who are desperately in need of it," he said.

In a letter received by Mr Ramadan on Thursday, he said the State Department had put an end to rumors surrounding his case since the government revoked his visa in 2004 on grounds he had "endorsed or espoused" terrorist activity, a claim the government later dropped.

He said the 2004 revocation had come as a shock after he had accepted a double-tenured position at the University of Notre Dame, rented a house in South Bend, Indiana, and enrolled his children in schools there.

"I have consistently opposed terrorism in all of its forms,' he said. "While I have criticised specific United States policies, I have always condemned terrorism and I continue to do so today."

In 2005, Mr Ramadan applied for a visa that would allow him to temporarily visit the United States to lecture or attend conferences, as he had done prior to 2004 when he spoke at Harvard University, Stanford University and elsewhere.

When the State Department did not rule on the application, the ACLU brought a lawsuit on behalf of several groups which had invited Mr Ramadan to speak to force it to act.

In June, a US district judge ordered the government to rule on Mr Ramadan's application within three months.

In his statement on Monday, Mr Ramadan said it was "clear from the history of this case that the US government's real fear is of my ideas."

Ms Hironimus defended the government's policies, saying the United States "welcomes the exchange of culture and ideas with the Islamic world."

But Mr Jaffer said the ACLU had an option to return to court to argue that the government was using immigration laws to censor political debate in the United States.

"We do think this is reflective of a broader pattern. Increasingly, the government is relying on the immigration laws as a tool to manipulate debate here in this country," he said.


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