The U.S. state department no longer claims Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan "endorsed or espoused terrorist activity." So why won't it restore the U.S. visa Ramadan, a Swiss national, was stripped of in 2004 on those grounds? Since giving up the Notre Dame teaching position that visa was intended for, Ramadan has repeatedly appealed to the U.S. authorities for temporary entry permits to deliver lectures there. A rejection letter from U.S. officials Ramadan made public last week cites a new offense: donating j600 to two Palestinian aid organizations purportedly linked to a group on U.S. and European terror lists — Hamas.
Ramadan retorts that the charities' ties to Hamas remain to be proved, while his last donation to them dates to April 2002 — a year before the E.U. designated Hamas a terror organization. "When he stopped [making donations] is not really relevant," explains a U.S. State Department official. "He's inadmissable to this country because he provided material support to a terrorist organization as defined by U.S. law."
Ramadan says this is a contrived excuse to keep him out. He also claims that many others donated to these charities without repercussion. The motive of the U.S. authorities? Ramadan says it's to keep him from voicing his criticisms of U.S. policy in the Arab world to American audiences, adding that the original U.S. decision to rescind his visa was probably influenced by critics in Europe. In France, a secular state with a large Muslim population, detractors accuse him of concealing radical messages in moderate-sounding pronouncements. So, still no U.S. visa. "Is this Administration now going to say, 'We got bad information, he can come now'?" asks Ramadan.
Whatever the reason for the rejection, one French counter-terrorism official suggests it indicates the U.S. is still confused about how to confront the jihadist threat. "The Americans gave visas to the plotters of Sept. 11, but today refuse to give one to Tariq Ramadan," the official says. "What's wrong with that picture?"
With reporting by Elaine Shannon