October 13, 2006
This week's New Yorker includes a Comment by George Packer about the State Department's refusal to grant a visa to Swiss-Egyptian scholar Tariq Ramadan
. Ramadan is a prominent scholar of Islam -- he is currently a Fellow at Oxford University and his last book, "Western Muslims and the Future of Islam," was published by Oxford University Press -- and he has developed a significant popular following for his contention that European Muslims can be both fully European and fully Muslim.
In the New Yorker, Packer argues that the State Department's refusal to grant Ramadan a visa makes the United States "appear defensive, timorous, and closed." Packer is certainly right about this, but it is worth underscoring that the problem is not simply one of appearances. The government's exclusion of Tariq Ramadan impoverishes academic and political debate inside the United States, and it does so at a time when open debate about the status of Muslims in the West is exceptionally important. The State Department apparently disagrees with Ramadan's ideas, but Americans should be allowed to decide for themselves whether those ideas are persuasive. Americans surely don't need the government to protect them from the controversial ideas of foreign intellectuals.
In January 2006, the ACLU filed a lawsuit to challenge the State Department's refusal to grant Ramadan a visa. The lawsuit -- filed on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American Associaiton of University Professors, and PEN American Center -- also challenges the constitutionality of the Patriot Act provision that the government initially cited to justify Ramadan's exclusion. The lawsuit is ongoing and you can read more about it here
It's also worth noting that the ACLU shows up in two other places in this New Yorker issue: Our lawsuit against the NSA
is mentioned in the profile of ACLU v. NSA
client Christopher Hitchens, and a feature on Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch cites Bill O'Reilly's sideswipes at the ACLU during Fox's questionable coverage of the Abu Ghraib scandal
(Jameel Jaffer is lead counsel in
American Academy of Religion v. Chertoff, the lawsuit challenging Tariq Ramadan's exclusion.)