My initial impression of the Swiss scholar, Tariq Ramadan, was a good one, as indicated by a positive review in the Middle East Quarterly of To Be a European Muslim: A Study of Islamic Sources in the European Context. But I watched with dismay as the revelations about Ramadan came out in late 2003 and by the time the New York Sun broke the story of his appointment at Indiana's Notre Dame University in January 2004, I was distinctly unenthusiastic, commenting that "Once again we see that the leftward leaning academy and in particular the Kroc Institute [at Notre Dame] has a soft spot for militant Islamic figures. Given what we are now learning about him, it would appear like others, he is playing a double game of hiding an Islamist agenda."
That was that until the Chicago Tribune broke the story last week that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revoked Ramadan's work visa to enter the United States, and the article quotes me worrying that Ramadan "is engaged in a complex game of appearing as a moderate but has connections to Al Qaeda." My statement was quoted in many places, including the front page of Le Monde. A follow-up article in the Tribune again quoted me.
Then, what really caught my attention was when SwissInfo ran a story in which Ramadan suggested that I was a reason why his visa had been revoked. That's not the case (his coming to Notre Dame University was not an issue I took interest in other than responding to an occasional request from a journalist for a quote) but this allegation then started making the rounds. For example, the Beirut daily Al-Mustaqbal reported that Radwan al-Sayyed, a scholar of Islam, repeated Ramadan's allegation regarding my role.
This prompted me to take a closer look at Ramadan's record and why the DHS might have decided to exclude him. The results were published first in my New York Sun column, then (in a slightly enlarged version) in the Chicago Tribune.
Today, the Chicago Tribune comes back with a double riposte, notably a full-blown reply by Ramadan to me "Scholar under siege defends his record: Tariq Ramadan responds point by point to the `unfounded allegations' of a critic," and a house editorial coming out in his favor, "A Muslim scholar's exclusion." Ramadan uses the opportunity to float his usual excuses for the pattern of extremism that follows him like a cloud. The editorial misses the point; somehow, when it comes to academics like Ramadan and Sami Al-Arian, too many observers don't understand that the topic is terrorism, not freedom of speech.
But one line of the editorial stands out; noting that Ramadan's and my exchange "makes an interesting debate," it goes on to comment that "unfortunately DHS, the key player, is not taking part." That is correct: all of us on the outside of DHS – Ramadan, the Tribune editors, myself, and others – are stumbling in the dark without knowing what DHS's information and criteria are. Yet that unfortunately is the way it should be, given the exigencies of national security and the need not to compromise sources. (Aug. 31, 2004)