In January 2004, I was offered a double-tenured position at the University of Notre Dame. I was honoured and pleased to accept the position, and I very much looked forward to becoming part of the academic community in the United States. After the U.S. government granted me a work visa, I rented a house in South Bend, Indiana, I enrolled my children in school there, and I shipped all of my household belongings. Then, in July 2004, the U.S. government notified me that my visa had been revoked. It did not offer any specific explanation for the revocation, but it pointed to a provision of the Patriot Act that applies to people who have "endorsed or espoused" terrorist activity.
The revocation was a complete shock to me. I have consistently opposed terrorism in all of its forms. Moreover, before 2004 I visited the United States frequently to lecture, attend conferences, and meet with other scholars - indeed, I had been an invited speaker at conferences or lectures sponsored by, among others, Harvard University, Stanford University, and the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Foundation. While I have criticized specific United States policies, I have always condemned terrorism and I continue to do so today.
The U.S. government invited me to apply for a new visa and, with the help of the University of Notre Dame, I did so in October 2004. After three months passed without response from the government, however, I felt I had no choice but to resign my position and resume my life in Europe.
Although I reluctantly resigned my position at Notre Dame, I did not abandon the effort to clear my name. At the urging of American civic groups and academic organizations whose members wanted to meet with me in the United States, I reapplied for a visa in September 2005 in the hope that the government would retract its baseless accusation that I had endorsed terrorism. But once again I confronted a deafening silence from the administration. Finally, in January 2006, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the American Academy of Religion (AAR), the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and PEN American Center filed a lawsuit challenging the government's actions. In response to the lawsuit, the government ultimately abandoned its accusation that I had endorsed terrorism. However, the government still did not grant me a visa, and it said, unbelievably, that the process of considering my visa could take years. The federal court rejected the indefinite delay. In June 2006, it ordered the government to grant me a visa or explain why it would not do so.
On September 21, 2006, after two years of waiting, an explanation at last arrived. The letter I received from the American embassy, though it refuses my visa application, puts an end to the rumours and baseless allegations that have circulated since my original visa was revoked. After two years of investigation, the State Department cites no evidence of "suspicious relationships", of meetings with terrorists, of encouraging or advocating terrorism, or of so-called "doublespeak". Instead, the State Department cites my having donated about 600 Euros to two humanitarian organizations (in fact a French organisation and its Swiss chapter) serving the Palestinian people. I should note that this was not something that the State Department's investigation revealed. To the contrary, as the State Department acknowledges, it was I myself who brought these donations to the State Department's attention. The U.S. government apparently believes that the organizations to which I gave small amounts of money have in turn given money to Hamas. But the organizations to which I donated are not deemed suspect in Europe, where I live. I donated to these organizations 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.
After two years of intense investigation, this is the explanation offered for the denial of my visa. I am of course disappointed in the government's decision. At the same, time, however, I am glad that the State Department has abandoned its allegation that I endorse terrorism. While the State Department has found a new reason to deny my visa application, I think it clear from the history of this case that the U.S. government's real fear is of my ideas. I am excluded not because the government truly believes me to be a national security threat but because of my criticisms of American foreign policies in the Middle East; because of my opposition to the invasion of Iraq; and because of my criticism of some of the Bush administration's policies with respect to civil liberties. I am saddened to be excluded from the United States. I am saddened, too, however, that the United States government has become afraid of ideas and that it reacts to its critics not by engaging them but by suppressing, stigmatizing, and excluding them.
I remain hopeful that the government will one day reconsider its decision to exclude me from the country. But for now I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the ACLU, AAUP, AAR, PEN and all the civic and academic institutions and the ordinary Americans whose unwavering support has made the challenges of the past two years more bearable. You truly exemplify what is best in America. You personify the spirit and dignity of America. Thank you.