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In shiftUSlifts visa curbs on professor

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By Sarah Lyall

(source: NewYork Times)


Prof. Tariq Ramadaan

LONDON — Six years after using the Patriot Act to revoke the visa of a prominent Muslim academic, the United States State Department reversed itself and said Wednesday that it would no longer bar the scholar from entering the United States.

The decision came in the form of an order signed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. It paves the way for the scholar, Prof. Tariq Ramadan, to apply for a new visa free of the authorities’ former accusation that he had contributed money to a charity connected to terrorism.

“I am very happy and hopeful that I will be able to visit the United States very soon and to once again engage in an open, critical and constructive dialogue with American scholars and intellectuals,” Professor Ramadan said in a statement.

Professor Ramadan, who is Swiss and is a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University, had often visited the United States and in 2004 planned to travel there to take up a position as a tenured professor at the University of Notre Dame. But the Bush administration revoked his visa, and denied him a new one in 2006, citing a provision of the Patriot Act that allows the barring of foreigners who “use a position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity.” At first, the government refused to give its reason. But eventually it pointed to evidence that from 1998 to 2002 Professor Ramadan had donated about $1,300 to a Swiss-based charity that in turn provided money to Hamas, the militant Palestinian group. But the professor argued that he had believed the charity had no connections to terrorist activities or to Hamas, and said that he had always condemned terrorism. Professor Ramadan, backed by civil liberties groups and others, has been fighting the exclusion in the courts. Last summer, a Federal appeals court in Manhattan reversed a lower-court ruling that had upheld the government’s decision to deny him a visa, sending the case back to the lower court for further study. The State Department’s order also applies to Adam Habib, deputy vice chancellor at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. Mr. Habib, who has publicly criticized American foreign policy, was refused admission to the country in 2006 and has been barred from traveling there since. A State Department spokesman said that should Professor Ramadan or Mr. Habib apply for a visa again, “They will not be found inadmissible on the basis of the facts that led to denials when they last applied."

Prof. Adam Habib

But they might not find a job. Notre Dame said Wednesday that the position for which it had hired Professor Ramadan had been filled. Civil rights campaigners have long argued that the two cases were particularly blatant examples of how the Bush administration used the Patriot Act as a way to bar people whose political views were at odds with its own. “For several years, the United States government was more interested in stigmatizing and silencing its foreign critics than in engaging them,” said Jameel Jaffer, director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. He said the decision showed that the Obama administration was committed to “facilitating rather than obstructing the exchange of ideas across international borders.” John Schwartz contributed reporting from New York.