June 23, 2006

Court tells U.S. to decide on Muslim scholar visa

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge criticized the U.S.
government on Friday for holding up a visa application from one
of Europe's best-known Muslim intellectuals and ruled it must
make a decision in the long-running case within three months.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty granted a request by the
American Civil Liberties Union to force a decision on the visa
request from renowned Swiss theologian Tariq Ramadan, who has
been barred from U.S. entry since 2004 and has waited more than
nine months for a response to his latest application.

"The government has failed to adjudicate Ramadan's pending
B-visa application within a reasonable period of time," Crotty

The judge noted that Ramadan had spoken out against
terrorism and radical Islamists and that the British government
had even enlisted him as an expert on how to combat terrorism.

Crotty called the government's explanations on why it had
delayed a decision on Ramadan's latest application "less than
convincing" and mocked its claims that Ramadan had not been
excluded entry over concerns he espoused terrorism.

"Perhaps the delay is caused by the government's hope of
'possible future statements by Mr. Ramadan' that might justify
exclusion," said the judge.

"But in waiting, the government does a disservice not only
to Ramadan, but also to the visa application process and to the
plaintiff's First Amendment rights," he added.

If the government had "a legitimate and bona fide reason
for excluding Ramadan" it should act on his pending visa
application, Crotty said.

Heather Tasker, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's
Office, said the government was reviewing the decision.

The ACLU had filed suit against Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in
January for denying visas to foreign scholars, including
Ramadan. The lawsuit seeks to overturn as unconstitutional part
of the USA Patriot Act that bars anyone endorsing terrorism.

Ramadan teaches at Oxford University and has published more
than 20 books and 700 articles on Islam. He has condemned
Islamic violence but some critics have called him an extremist
despite his public pronouncements.

Ramadan is the grandson of Hasan al-Banna, one of the most
important Islamist figures of the 20th century. In 1928,
al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood, which opposed the
ascendancy of secular and Western ideas in the Middle East.

His visa has been revoked three times since August 2004,
after he was offered a teaching post at the University of Notre
Dame in Indiana. He has also been forced to cancel speaking

ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer said the decision "rejected the
government's early contention that professor Ramadan endorsed
terrorism" and showed "the government can't use the immigration
laws as a means of silencing its political critics."