Academic groups suing to stop U.S. from denying visas to scholars based on their political views
BY WARREN P. STROBEL
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - Three academic groups, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the Bush administration Wednesday to stop it from barring foreign scholars from the United States based on their political views.
The lawsuit seeks to overturn the government's use of the so-called "ideological exclusion" provision of the USA Patriot Act, which the Bush administration cited in revoking a visa for Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Islamic scholar, in August 2004.
Ramadan has sought to reconcile the Islamic and Western worlds and was offered a teaching position at the University of Notre Dame. His case has become a symbol for concerns over restrictions on academic freedom.
"If the instance of Ramadan is any indication, we are concerned about scholars ... who may be prevented from coming to speak with us, to meet with us," said Barbara DeConcini, executive director of the Georgia-based American Academy of Religion, which invited him to speak at its annual conference in 2004.
The group, which calls itself the world's largest association of scholars of religion, rarely takes stands on public policy issues. "It was important for us to step up to the plate," DeConcini said.
Megan Gaffney, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, said she had no comment on the lawsuit.
It was filed by the ACLU on behalf of the religion group, the American Association of University Professors and the literary group PEN American Center.
Many scholars are expressing concern that security restrictions invoked in the name of fighting terrorism have constricted academic debate on controversial issues.
Knight Ridder reported last month that the State Department has been using ideological litmus tests in a program that sends American experts overseas to represent the United States, weeding out critics of the Iraq war. The department denied it was doing so.
In the last two years, the government also has barred 61 Cuban scholars who were to have attended a 2004 conference, and Dora Maria Tellez, a Nicaraguan scholar and former minister of health.
"The government has resurrected a practice that existed during the Cold War of excluding people because of their views" and is manipulating immigration laws to do so, said Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU staff attorney.
The Bush administration has never fully explained its decision to revoke Ramadan's visa days before he was to come to the United States.
Russ Knocke, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, said at the time that the decision was based on "public safety or national security interests."
A provision of the Patriot Act, amended last May, allows the government to exclude a foreigner who's found to "endorse or espouse terrorist activity or persuade others to endorse or espouse terrorist activity or support a terrorist organization," according to the lawsuit. The suit seeks to invalidate that provision.
Ramadan's many defenders say that, although he's been highly critical of the Bush administration's foreign policy, he has condemned terrorism.
Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, was invited by British Prime Minister Tony Blair last year to join a government task force on the sources of extremism in Britain.
Critics, including analyst Daniel Pipes, say Ramadan's been much more equivocal on the issue of terrorism. Pipes called Ramadan "Islamist royalty" in an article because his grandfather, Hassan Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood, the Middle East's oldest Islamist group.
Ramadan reapplied for a U.S. visa but was told last month that it could take almost two years to get an answer, the suit says.
Acknowledge terror threat
Sooner or later, political correctness is going to cause the death of hundreds or even thousands of Americans.
These potentially avoidable deaths and injuries will come about because our law enforcement and intelligence agencies — out of fear of certain politicians on the left, the ACLU and the media that supports them — will continue to ignore, play down or outright reject the obvious. The obvious being that the terrorists who mean to strike into our homeland will only come from one source: the Muslim faith.
At this point, I should state that I strongly believe the Muslim faith to be one of peace and honor. Among its many positive aspects, Islam preaches against the killing of innocent civilians. That said, is it racist or wrong to wonder whether a minute minority among that faith in our nation, might sympathize with monsters who choose to twist a great religion to fit their vile beliefs? Many politicians on the left, the ACLU and many in the media would resoundingly proclaim that it is wrong to ask that question. Further, they would state that any "profiling" of Muslims or Arabs is not only wrong, but "un-American." Hence the fear and caution exhibited by those charged to protect us from the now, very imaginable.
That brings up another truth the left chooses not to face: unless this country wants to give up some of its civil liberties, then it will be almost impossible to stop the vermin elevating themselves to the level of "terrorist." After the recent terror bombings in London, it was reported that potentially one percent of native Muslims in Great Britain, might sympathize with al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. If you argue, as I believe, that 99 percent of all Muslims living in the United States are good, law-abiding citizens who were horrified by the events of September 11, as well as the bombings in Madrid and London, then that would seem like comforting news.
However, that number can also be turned around. Estimates are that there are as many as 6 million Muslim Americans living in the United States.
Should one percent of that number sympathize with al Qaeda or other terrorists, then you are talking about 60,000 individuals. Let's give a very reasonable benefit of the doubt and say that 99.9 percent of all Muslim Americans are disgusted by the heinous crimes being committed by these terrorists. With that almost absolute number, there still could be 6,000 Muslims, already in our nation who support the obscene. Six thousand.
There were only 19 hijackers.
Alarmingly, the threat of political correctness is not just confined to profiling, or the left. When a high-level U.S. government official was asked why more could not be done on the U.S.-Mexican border to keep out the thousands of "non-Mexicans" streaming into our country, he responded that it was not possible because of "political and cultural reasons." Translation: "We don't want to offend any voting groups." National security sacrificed in the name of cheap, partisan politics is a disgrace. No matter what the administration.
The dedicated men and women who work 24/7 to protect our nation are to be commended and thanked. Some in the leadership positions, however, need to be questioned. While vigilant, some are far removed from the reality of everyday life and as such, their conclusions can be flawed.
Last August, two days after I wrote a syndicated column saying that I thought that when terrorists did strike again, they would hit our subways and buses, I met with a high-level official in our government tasked to prevent further terrorist attacks in our nation. After hearing about the banks, government buildings and other "high-profile" targets this individual wanted protected, I mentioned that I thought the obvious was being discounted. That the terrorists would go after our subways and buses. The official smiled politely, took my question, and mentioned that while the subway and buses were a concern, they were not a top priority.
Unlike that individual, who is squired around Washington everyday in a town car, I take public transportation. I know the security in Washington and New York is virtually non-existent on these systems. Common sense, as evidenced in London and Madrid, supports that the terrorists will take the targets we give them. As of today, our government officials have wrapped a huge red bow around the public transportation systems that they themselves never ride.
I think very highly of George W. Bush and believe history will record him as one of our greatest presidents. A man who made, and makes, difficult decisions in the best interest of our nation. As such, and in light of the tragic events in London, I believe this great president needs to go before the American people and better prepare them for what we all hope will never happen.
But should it and every responsible intelligence official believes that our homeland will be struck again then our citizens will react that much better because their president calmly, methodically, and respectfully, outlined the consequences of another shoe dropping on our soil.
Terrorism can be defeated. But only if we acknowledge the obvious.
Douglas MacKinnon served as press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole. He is also a former White House and Pentagon official and an author.