Outraged Muslims launched a letter-writing campaign this week to demand that U.S. officials overturn a decision to deny a visa to renowned Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan.
Some Jewish leaders, meanwhile, applauded the decision, saying Ramadan is a Muslim extremist who should be barred from the United States.
Ramadan, a resident of Switzerland, was to begin teaching this week at the Joan Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. But a visa issued to him in February by the State Department was revoked July 28 on orders from the Department of Homeland Security.
For many Muslims, the decision is further evidence that the Bush administration makes no distinction between Muslim moderates and extremists. Middle East and Islamic scholars consider Ramadan a moderate.
"It is a troubling situation because we hear that the Bush administration wants to build bridges with moderates and mainstream Muslims. But we see that this action flies in the face of this sentiment," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group based in Washington.
The council has started a campaign to encourage Muslims to write to government officials and demand that Ramadan be allowed to assume his teaching post, Hooper said.
For some Jewish leaders, however, the government's decision confirms their own concerns about Ramadan.
"We are concerned about his extremist views concerning Judaism and Christianity," said Yehudit Barksy, director of the division of Middle East and International Terrorism at the American Jewish Committee in New York. "The U.S. made the right decision."
Ramadan, contacted Wednesday at his home, said he believed the visa revocation was politically motivated.
"So far I do not know why I have been banned or prevented from entering this country, knowing that for 20 years I have been working to promote freedom and democracy," he said. "The point is, I don't know who is behind this. But at least I want an answer."
A State Department spokeswoman said Monday that Ramadan's visa was revoked under a section of the U.S. immigration law significantly changed by the USA Patriot Act. The new section allows visas to be revoked for a broad range of reasons, including a perception that someone's political activities endorse terrorism.
Notre Dame officials said they are standing behind their appointment of Ramadan and are working to have the decision reversed.
Ramadan's grandfather is Hassan al-Banna, who in 1928 founded the Muslim Brotherhood, a conservative religious and political organization that at some points in its history advocated violence to overthrow the Egyptian government. The Brotherhood renounced violence decades ago.
Ramadan became the target of some Jewish intellectuals in France last fall after publishing an essay on the Web site Oumma.com. Ramadan wrote that certain French intellectuals--some of whom are Jewish--had unfairly singled out Muslims and Arabs as the cause of a new wave of anti-Semitism in Europe. Subsequently, the intellectuals accused Ramadan of being an anti-Semite and an extremist.
In the United States, to which Ramadan has been invited for years by universities and foreign consulates to give lectures, some Jewish activists also have accused him of being an Islamic extremist. They include Daniel Pipes, founder of a Web site called Campus Watch that tracks scholars who allegedly hold anti-Israel views.
Pipes has said he fears Ramadan is "engaged in a complex game of appearing as a moderate but has connections to Al Qaeda."
In an interview Wednesday, Barksy referred to accusations about Ramadan that have been appearing for months on various Web sites, including that Ramadan has ties to a European bank that is being investigated for having ties to Al Qaeda.
Ramadan said authorities in France and Switzerland have investigated that allegation, among others, and have cleared him of having ties to militant groups.
Some scholars of Islamic and Middle East studies said this week they believe opposition by some Jewish groups to Ramadan likely had a hand in Homeland Security's decision. Jewish leaders adamantly denied that allegation Wednesday.
"I know of no Jewish organization that has communicated with the U.S. government or Notre Dame about the appropriateness of Mr. Ramadan's scheduled teaching there," said Jay Tcath, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Chicago.
Some Middle East and Islamic scholars said they may petition the U.S. government because the visa decision flies in the face of academic freedom.
"I am shocked that this kind of loose talk would prompt the State Department to revoke his visa," said Charles Butterworth, a University of Maryland professor who has been targeted by Pipes' Campus Watch.