"HAVE YOU read or listened to any of my material? Can you prove your allegations?" Prominent Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan was left asking these questions when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security revoked his visa in August.
Ramadan, who lives in Switzerland, had been scheduled to begin teaching a course in Islamic Ethics at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. But days before he was scheduled to start, the Feds revoked his visa under a provision of the USA PATRIOT Act that allows the government to bar anyone who has or will use a "position of prominence...to endorse or espouse terrorist activity."
In reality, Ramadan has condemned terrorism in general, as well as the September 11 attacks in particular. In a statement after his visa was revoked, Ramadan spoke of "numerous articles where I call on Muslims to unequivocally condemn radical views and acts of extremism," "the articles in which I condemn anti-Semitism," and his "chapters and taped lectures promoting women's rights."
But Ramadan has repeatedly come under fire for his criticism of Israel's brutal war against Palestinians and U.S. support for Israel--and because his grandfather founded a radical Egyptian Muslim group in the 1920s. He has been the target of a vicious campaign by prominent right-wing hacks, who claim that he promotes a moderate version of Islam to Western audiences and "radical" Islam to Arab and Muslim audiences.
Right-winger Daniel Pipes--who runs the "Campus Watch" Web site that "monitors" Middle Eastern activists and professors on college campuses--has had his sights set on Ramadan for months. When Ramadan received his appointment last year, Pipes lashed out: "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."
After Ramadan was barred from the U.S., Pipes escalated his smears, telling the Chicago Tribune that Ramadan seems "engaged in a complex game of appearing as a moderate but has connections to al-Qaeda." Meanwhile, the Bush administration appears to be using Ramadan as yet another scapegoat in the "war on terror."
"I think this is part of the effort to create a climate of fear in the lead-up to the November elections," Phil Gasper, a member of Professors for Peace and the International Socialist Organization, told Socialist Worker. "The federal government has just seen its case against a group of Muslims in Detroit, which it accused of being a terrorist sleeper cell, fall apart, so now it's looking for new bogeymen.
"As one of the most prominent Islamic intellectuals in the world, and as an outspoken critic of both the U.S. and Israeli governments, Tariq Ramadan is an easy figure to demonize. He's a moderate, but he's an outspoken Muslim, so he's a target."
The academic community has rallied to Ramadan's defense. The executive directors of the Middle East Studies Association and the American Academy of Religion of North America have issued an open letter supporting him, and Notre Dame strongly condemned the Bush administration's actions.
"If Mr. Pipes or anyone else has solid evidence that Tariq Ramadan has ‘connections' with Al Qaeda--whatever that might mean--I would like to see it," Scott Appleby, director of the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame, told the Chicago Tribune. "Otherwise, unsubstantiated charges intended to defame a Muslim intellectual is troublingly reminiscent of some of the darkest moments in U.S. history."
As Gasper said, "It's excellent that Notre Dame is standing behind Ramadan and rejecting the smear job in the media by people like Daniel Pipes. It's also notable that both the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune gave Ramadan space to respond to the smears. The Bush administration probably thought they could get away with this more easily, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. Nevertheless, because the Democratic Party remains silent about cases like this, there is bound to be some chilling effect on academic freedom."
For his part, Ramadan has vowed to fight--and points to the support he has received from activists and the academic community across the U.S. "[T]his is also what I have to say to all of the American Muslims," Ramadan recently told the left-wing radio show Democracy Now!
"Look, you are in a society, where, of course, sometimes the feeling is that the Muslims are targeted because they are Muslims, but at the same time, you have people...like this university and so many other academics, professors, organizations or radios or media now having the feeling that...their civil rights are at risk if it's possible for someone to be banned from a country only because he is a Muslim or he has a critical, you know, approach towards the government."