The Obama administration has just reversed a Bush administration Patriot Act decision preventing Tariq Ramadan from entering the country. Ramadan being perhaps the most prominent intellectual in interfaith dialogues between the West and Islamic traditions, this is excellent news. Ramadan was first denied entry in 2004 when he arrived to take a job at Notre Dame. He was again denied a visa in 2006, an again in 2007 he was denied a visa that would allow him to participate in a academic seminar at which I was attending in California. The seminar attempted to comlink him into a video conferencing center, but it was a dismal technological failure.
In using the Patriot Act to prevent international scholars from participating in a constructive dialogue about religious traditions, theology, and politics, the Bush Administration was caught outright attempting to silence potential criticisms of its policies in the Middle East and Iraq. It was a disturbing precedent. Although that administration initially refused to explain or justify barring Ramadan, eventually it produced an ad hoc accusation that charitable organizations to which Ramadan had donated money may have themselves donated money to organizations that may have donated money to Hamas. It was a shameful and cowardly dodge, and our court system finally reached exactly that conclusion in a decision handed down last year.
Ramadan is important for his writings on the unique and important status of Western Muslims in Islam and in their adopted countries and of the Koran as a vital document that demands perpetual reinterpretation. He is not without controversy: he’s a bold and independent thinker that doesn’t shy away from difficult ideas. Allowing access to those ideas so they can be disseminated, debated, and discussed is what should have happened during the previous administration. I’m glad it’s happening now.
The job for which Ramadan was initially hired is of course no longer available. I hope a major American university is able to find space for him soon – it would be a huge boon for us. I also hope that this indicates a shift in the Obama administration, which has been far too willing up until now to assume uncritically the entire Bush administration security apparatus and its broad encroachments on our freedoms.