September 2, 2004

I’VE WRITTEN BEFORE that our immigration policy seems to be designed to hassle honest people while letting actual terrorists slip through. This would seem to be the latest example:

Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss scholar known for his work on Islamic theology and the place of Muslims in the modern world, was supposed to start teaching last week at the University of Notre Dame. But after he got a visa from the State Department, it was revoked at the behest of the Department of Homeland Security, which apparently sees him as a danger. Why is anyone’s guess, since the department declines to spell out the reasons he’s been barred. . . .

If the U.S. government has grounds to think Ramadan has worked with Al Qaeda to further its bloody ambitions, he should certainly be denied entry. But no one has produced tangible evidence that he is personally involved in such activities, and the law doesn’t require such involvement. If he is being refused permission to teach in this country purely because of his views, the government has an obligation to Notre Dame and the American people to acknowledge that–and to specify which of his opinions endangers public safety.

Nothing that has come to light so far suggests that Ramadan endorses terrorism. His defenders say that on the contrary, he is known for urging a more modern understanding of Islam and for firmly denouncing anti-Semitism. It’s not likely that Notre Dame’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies would knowingly grant its imprimatur to an apostle of violence.

Okay, given the dubious history of “peace studies” that last probably doesn’t carry much weight.

Daniel Pipes thinks the exclusion is justified. Ramadan replies here.

As Eugene Volokh notes, this is entirely legal. But is it a good idea? Unless there’s more to this story than we know so far, I’d say that it’s not a good idea.

Here’s an email I got from a Muslim law student at Northwestern with whom I’ve corresponded for a while:

I’ve met Professor Ramadan myself and I can say with full candor that he is anything but a radical Islamist who wishes to bring terror to our shores.

For what it’s worth, I’ve always believed that any change that moves the worldwide Islamic community as whole away from fundamentalism and Islamism is going to come from the West. But we, the ‘West,’ are going to have to be smart about it. . . . The greatest move we can make is to bring people like Professor Ramadan to our shores to let the world know that we the Americans are taking the lead in cultivating a moderate, progressive, and intellectual form of Islam, now that Islam in the Middle East and other parts of the world has been hijacked, in large part, by radical, anti-Semitic wackos who call themselves Imams yet understand nothing of the faith of Islam.

I certainly agree with “constructive engagement” here. I’m all for toughening up immigration in ways that keep terrorists out, but unless Ramadan is a terrorist, I don’t see the reason for excluding him.

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