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Lacking Visa, Islamic Scholar Resigns Post at Notre Dame

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2004; Page A06

CHICAGO, Dec. 14 -- Unable to obtain a visa from the Bush administration or a promise about when a decision would be made, Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan resigned his faculty appointment at the University of Notre Dame this week, saying he needed to end the uncertainty.

In limbo since the State Department invoked an anti-terrorism law to keep him out of the country, Ramadan told Notre Dame that he could no longer accept the tenured appointment in classics and peace studies, the university announced Tuesday.

Tariq Ramadan's visa was revoked. (AP)

"As you may imagine, my family has experienced enormous stress and uncertainty during this period, and I keenly feel the need to resolve our situation," wrote Ramadan, a high-profile Swiss theologian who publicly opposes violence in the name of Islam.

Notre Dame administrators, who vetted Ramadan and found nothing that undermined his assertions of innocence, were disappointed in the Bush administration's refusal to admit him.

"This is an opportunity lost," said Matthew V. Storin, associate vice president for news and information. "It's unfortunate that we were not able to have him share his views with our students because the idea was to have a dialogue in the interest of peace. You want to have as many divergent voices as you can."

No one in authority has told the university why the State Department revoked Ramadan's visa last summer, shortly before he was to begin teaching a seminar on Islamic ethics at the South Bend, Ind., campus. "We were never given any specific information," Storin said. "We were never told, 'We have this,' and that was frustrating."

State Department spokeswoman Angela Aggeler said the details behind what is known as a "prudential revocation" remain confidential. She said Ramadan reapplied after his visa was revoked and that his case is under review, with the Department of Homeland Security assigned to make a decision. That review will now stop.

Aggeler said Ramadan, 42, was denied a visa under a section of U.S. code that bars terrorists and their associates, as well as people who have incited others to violence.

Ramadan is well-regarded in intellectual circles as a scholar who seeks to bridge the Western and Muslim worlds, arguing that a Muslim can be a full participant in both. A scholar of Friedrich Nietzsche and the Koran, he is the author of more than 20 books, including most recently, "Western Muslims and the Future of Islam."

He has drawn criticism from some Muslims that he is not Muslim enough and from some Westerners that he is insufficiently Western. When the French government banned Islamic head scarves from schools, Ramadan argued that it was a human rights issue, not simply a matter of Muslim faith. To those who said he was insisting that women cover their heads -- or that he should insist that they do so -- he countered that it was a woman's right to decide.

In his defense, Ramadan has said he called on Muslims after Sept. 11, 2001, to condemn the terrorist attack and declare it a betrayal of the Islamic message. He has often denounced anti-Semitism and has called for a "spiritual reformation that will lead to an Islamic feminism."

Ramadan has accused the Saudi government of human rights violations. He has also criticized Bush administration policies in the Middle East, calling them "misguided and counterproductive" in a New York Times op-ed in September. He said that "sponsoring a few Arabic TV and radio channels will not lead to real changes in Muslims' perceptions."

His critics contend that Ramadan delivers a more extremist message in Arabic than in French or English and may have ties to al Qaeda members, although the U.S. government has not made public allegations against him. Ramadan, whose grandfather, Hassan Banna, was a founder of the militant Muslim Brotherhood, said the "State Department's reasoning remains a mystery."

Ramadan's visa was revoked after he had shipped his household goods to his new home in South Bend and enrolled his daughter in school. The university said Tuesday that it will ship his belongings back to Switzerland.

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