WASHINGTON (AFP) — Controversial Muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan said Wednesday that with the backing of civil rights groups he was appealing a decision by the US administration to refuse him a visa.
Ramadan was forced to give up a teaching position at the University of Notre-Dame in Indiana in late 2004 when US authorities revoked his visa at the last minute on the recommendation of the Department of Homeland Security.
The noted scholar, who lives in Britain where he is a senior research fellow at Oxford University, has since been barred from entering US territory, and has been unable to take part in several conferences in the United States.
But his case has now been taken up by civil liberties groups in the country, as well as by the university, which argues that the White House is trying to muzzle freedom of speech and intellectual thought.
The administration of George W. Bush "has barred Professor Ramadan from the US for more than three years now," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project.
"First by alleging without basis that he endorsed terrorism, then saying that it would take years to consider his visa application, and now pointing to charitable donations that were entirely legal at the time they were made."
The US government has accused Ramadan of giving some 1,670 Swiss francs, (about 1,500 dollars) to a charity supporting the Palestinian people which Washington has blacklisted as being close to Hamas militants.
In December, a New York federal judge said Ramadan must prove that he did not know the group was close to Hamas, even though his donations were between 1998 to 2002 before it was blacklisted.
"The district court's decision, if upheld, could further limit the ability of US citizens and organizations to exercise their rights to hear from foreign scholars on issues of consequence," said Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors.
"In Professor Ramadan's case and many others, the government is using immigration laws to stigmatize and exclude its critics and to censor and control the ideas that Americans can hear," added Jaffer.
Ramadan is the grandson of the founder of the Egyptian Islamist opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.
"The US government's actions in my case seem, at least to me, to have been arbitrary and myopic," Ramadan, a professor of Islamic studies, said.
"But I am encouraged by the unwavering support I have received from ordinary Americans, civic groups and particularly from scholars, academic organizations, and the ACLU."