What is the specific accusation against you by the Department of Homeland Security?
Neither the University of Notre Dame nor I were told the reasons for my visa revocation. We read in the papers that DHS spokespeople say this was done under the provisions in the Patriot Act. But they do not specify how this law applies to me.
The State Department, CIA and National Intelligence Council staffers all have praised you highly. What do you think changed?
In October of last year, I gave a lecture at the State Department attended by various government officials. I have visited the United States over 20 times in the last three and a half years and several times this year. My lineage is known, and the allegations of my detractors as well as my refutations have been in circulation for a long time and had to have been known by the DHS and State Department when my visa was approved in May. Nothing in my life has changed, so I cannot tell you what change has caused this revocation. I do not know who is behind it.
Do you think these charges are working against you among your colleagues or the public?
There will always be people willing to believe the worst, but reasonable people who read my reply to these accusations see them for what they are: a malicious attempt at defamation and attacks against my dignity as a human being. I have received remarkable support from colleagues and the public both in America and around the world. Many in academia have realized the seriousness of this attack on academic freedom. They have issued public statements and written letters to the DHS, State Department and President Bush speaking out against this decision and demanding reinstatement of my visa.
Tell us more about you.
I was born, raised and educated in Switzerland. My parents were devout Muslims who spared no energy in teaching us and showing us by example how to live as Muslims.
While growing up, I visited Egypt many times and my dream was to return to my parents' birthplace and my "home country." But I began to feel different in my early twenties, that somehow I did not really belong to Egypt; my attachment was to Islam and its principle, but culturally - in my sensibilities, my tastes, my perspective, and of course my education - I was much more of a European than an Egyptian.
In 1991, I took my wife and children with me to Egypt to further my studies in Islamic sciences; living there for one and a half years confirmed that I belonged somewhere else. I realized that in order to be a European Muslim, I could no longer draw on my Egyptian belonging, but I also had a nagging feeling that something was missing. Many of the people I interacted with in Switzerland and France had also intimated this feeling to me: wanting to remain Muslims, they felt a gap between this desire and their reality. The question they faced was: how can I be a Muslim and European at the same time? It was difficult, especially in places like France, where they were facing challenges and restrictions such as the headscarf ban issue.
This task was made difficult because Muslims have superficial understanding of Islam; the majority thinks that to remain a Muslim in Europe, one must be an Arab Muslim or a Pakistani Muslim or a North African Muslim or a Turkish Muslim. Overcoming this way of thinking was the first task.