City of Brass

I remain optimistic about Obama’s upcoming foreign policy address in Cairo – if he approaches it with the same frankness and honesty as his speech on race in Philadelphia, then I think it will be a historic event indeed. Actions and words are both required, however, and as I mentioned earlier Obama’s relationship with the American muslim community is in many ways a standard against he will be judged as he asks for the trust of the muslim world abroad.

One of the ways in which I argued Obama might cultivate credibility would be to permit European intellectual Tariq Ramadan entry to the United States. Unfortunately, it seems that Obama’s administration is on the wrong side of that issue:

WASHINGTON – Although it has made a break with many of George Bush’s controversial, self-declared war on terror policies and has promised to reach out to Muslims, the Obama administration has decided to back a Bush decision to deny one of Europe’s leading Muslim intellectuals entry.

“Consular decisions are not subject to litigation,” Assistant US Attorney David Jones told the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

He asked the court to uphold a decision to bar Tariq Ramadan, an Oxford University professor, from entering the country.

Jones argued that if the court questioned a consular officer’s decision to bar Ramadan, this would leave the administration in a “quagmire” with others seeking such reversals.

When one of the judges asked how high the review of Ramadan’s case has gone within the Obama administration, Jones said it was “upwards in the State Department.”


The Obama administration’s position came as a shock to many.

“It’s disappointing to come here and hear Obama administration lawyers argue the same sweeping executive power arguments,” Jameel Jaffer, lawyer and ACLU National Security Project director, said after the hearing.

He told the court that the government had failed to identify “legitimate and bona fide reasons for the exclusion.”

Civil rights groups had hoped for a reversal of Bush policy of excluding foreign scholars from on the basis of their political beliefs.

Many scholars and intellectuals, including Ramadan, believe that they are being targeted for their vocal criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraq war and bias towards Israel.

Ramadan was a vocal critic of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

“While the government has an interest in excluding people who present a threat to the country, it doesn’t have any legitimate interest in excluding foreign nationals simply because of their political views. The Bush administration was wrong to revive this Cold War practice, and the Obama administration should not defend it,” Jaffer insisted.


“By denying visas to prominent foreign scholars and writers simply because they were critical of US foreign policy, the Bush administration used immigration laws to skew and stifle political debate inside the US,” said Jaffar.

“US citizens and US resident are harmed by…the exclusion of people based on the content of their speech.”

Disappointing is an understatement, though it is clear from the article that the decision probably hasn’t been reviewed by Secretary Clinton, let alone the President yet, so there’s still some hope that they will do the right thing.

It is important to note that the Bush Administration’s original argument against Ramadan – that he “endorsed or espoused terrorism” – fell apart after legal challenge and then post-justified the ban to a relatively minor donation Ramadan had made to a Swiss charity that was involved in Palestinian aid. Ramadan ably defends himself on these charges at his website.

Like Rashid Khalidi, Tariq Ramadan is a muslim with inconvenient political views. As such, I do not really expect the Obama Administration to expend much energy in defending him. This is one of the key disappointments in Obama that muslim American citizens can express, and the reason why we should maintain healthy skepticism about the true degree of genuine change Obama can bring about in his interaction with the muslim world.

Related: Tariq Ramadan’s main message to European muslims is to be skeptical of the idea of an “Ummah” and be loyal citizens of their host countries. However, he argues for doing so while retaining culture and faith in teh face of assimilation – in much the way that the Jews have done. Ramadan’s response to Pope Benedict’s Regensberg lecture is also absolutely essential reading.

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