A controversial Muslim scholar, barred from entering the United States for three years, spoke by satellite connection to Georgetown audiences this week.
Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss citizen of Egyptian descent, spoke Tuesday and Wednesday and will speak again today in Gaston Hall about modern Islam.
Ramadan’s speeches, sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, had to be broadcast by satellite from Europe because the State Department has continued to deny him a visa since 2004.
Jameel Jaffar, the lead counsel in Ramadan’s case and the Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security program, said that Ramadan was initially denied a visa because he gave money to Palestinian charities tied to Hamas. However, the donations were made before the United States government said the charities were linked to terrorism.
Ramadan’s visa was revoked for providing “material support” to terrorist organizations, State Department spokesman Sean McCormick said in September 2006.
Joanne Moore, a State Department Press Officer, said the State Department had not changed its position on the case since then.
“Many consider him to be the leading Muslim intellectual in Europe,” said Thomas Banchoff, the Berkley Center’s director. “One of the fundamental issues is that he talks about Islam as something that has something to contribute to Western society. The West can learn from Islam around issues like social justice. I think that idea many find threatening.”
In Wednesday’s speech on Muslims in the West, Ramadan said that Muslim immigrants do not pose a threat to Western values and called for a distinction between religious and cultural problems.
“We are obsessed by the few and not seeing the many,” Ramadan said, referring to European Muslims who do not riot or commit terrorism.
Ramadan said Muslims need to discuss their religion, including its relation to terrorism.
“[Terrorism] is not only non-Islamic, it’s anti-Islamic,” he said. He also criticized Muslims who use their religion to justify domestic violence, female circumcision and forced marriages.
Ramadan said his writings and lectures have angered both Muslims and Westerners. This week’s speeches will be compiled with essays by American academics and published in a book, Banchoff said.
According to Jaffar, in 2004 Ramadan was preparing to travel to the United States to take a teaching position at the University of Notre Dame when the State Department revoked his visa. The State Department initially cited Section 4.11 of the Patriot Act, called the “Ideological Exclusion Provision” by its opponents.
“We were all concerned about what appeared to be an instance of ideological exclusion—the exclusion of someone based on their political views or on the basis of their speech,” Jaffar said.
After a judge denied the State Department’s claims, the material support allegation surfaced, according to Jaffar. Currently, a summary motion has been filed in a New York district court to allow Ramadan into the United States.
Joelle Thomas (SFS ’10), who attended Wednesday’s speech, said that she went hoping to get a different perspective.
“I’m really surprised. I thought if he was barred from the U.S., he’d be a fundamentalist,” she said.