Like any émigré to the United States, Tariq Ramadan was dependent on the stamp of somebody, somewhere, deep inside the Department of Homeland Security. His life was governed by waiting for one letter to set things in motion - packed bags, plane ticket, new job teaching at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
But after waiting seven months in vain for a visa, Mr. Ramadan decided to throw in the towel. "You know, I have kids here," he said. "We are in limbo, we don't know what will be our future, and I said, 'Okay, it's not going to work like that.' "
Mr. Ramadan was speaking from his apartment in Geneva in December. He had resigned his two Notre Dame positions, including one as the Henry R.Luce Professor of Religion, Conflict and Peace building at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.
He never saw a student or even made it to the United States, because his visa was revoked days before he was to arrive in August. A second visa application proved fruitless.
Mr. Ramadan's story is one of several struggles going on over how American students will study the Middle East. Over the past few years, newspapers have included headlines such as "Witch hunt at Columbia "or" FBI charges Florida professor with terrorist activities."
For some, these headlines herald government meddling with academic freedom. But for others, they signal new balance in a field they believe is dominated by anti-American, anti-Israeli professors.
Daniel Pipes subscribes to the latter school of thought, and not lightly. He is the founder of Campus Watch, an organization that monitors and critiques Middle East studies in North America…
But to academics such as Juan Cole, a professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, Mr. Pipes's Campus Watch would be better named Campus Witch Hunt. He has accused the organization of encouraging spying on academics and publishing "skewed and largely false diatribes" against them.
"Academics deal with bias by open debate and rigorous scholarship, not by shutting people up," Prof. Cole commented by e-mail.
Depending on how you look at things, open debate is - or isn't - what's happing at Columbia University in New York. There, a non-tenured Professor who has been critical of Israel is being held up as another example of what is wrong with Middle Eastern studies.
With New York home to the country's largest Jewish population, the controversy surrounding Professor Joseph Massad has received a great deal of media coverage. Congressman Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York, even asked that Prof. Massad be fired. The New York Civil Liberties Union asked Mr. Weiner and other non-academics to butt out of Columbia's affairs.
The drama has led some to believe that there is indeed a need for the International Studies in Education Act, which was passed by the House But died before it could be passed by the Senate last year.
The legislation would have reauthorized government funding for international studies, but also established an advisory board to Monitor those programs - Middle Eastern studies included. Two people on the seven-member board would have represented federal agencies with National security responsibilities.
This idea was first proposed about a year ago by Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.
But Amy Newhall, executive director of the Middle East Studies Association, is worried that the advisory board will end up policing academic institutions. She is waiting for the legislation to be reintroduced in Congress.
"If it's more of a board that's given these extraordinary powers - as was envisioned in this last version - then that will again be a problem," Prof. Newhall said.