Leading Muslim Scholar Is Denied U.S. Travel Visa

By Larry Neumeister
Associated Press
Tuesday, September 26, 2006

NEW YORK, Sept. 25 -- The government has rejected the visa application of one of Europe's best-known Muslim intellectuals, saying that he supported a terrorist group. His attorneys allege that the United States is using charitable donations he made as a pretext for stifling his views.

Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss citizen who teaches at Oxford University, was denied a temporary business and tourism visa Thursday "based solely on his actions, which constituted providing material support to a terrorist organization," Janelle Hironimus, a State Department spokeswoman, said Monday.

Hironimus said she could not reveal specifics about Ramadan's case because of confidentiality rules regarding visa applications.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the U.S. government notified Ramadan that he was being excluded because he donated $765 to French and Swiss organizations that provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

The ACLU said the organizations are legitimate charities in France, but the Bush administration said the groups gave money to the militant group Hamas, and it has invoked a law allowing it to exclude people who it believes have supported terrorism.

Ramadan has said that he opposes the U.S. invasion of Iraq and U.S policies in Israel and the Palestinian territories but that he has no connections to terrorism, opposes Islamic extremism and promotes peaceful solutions.

He said in a statement that he is disappointed about the government's decision but is glad that the State Department abandoned its initial allegation that he endorsed terrorism.

"I think it's clear from the history of this case that the U.S. government's real fear is of my ideas," he said. "I am excluded not because the government truly believes me to be a national security threat, but because of my criticisms of American foreign policies in the Middle East; because of my opposition to the invasion of Iraq; and because of my criticism of some of the Bush administration's policies with respect to civil liberties."

Hironimus defended the government's policies, saying the United States "welcomes the exchange of culture and ideas with the Islamic world." She said that in the past three years more than 450 religious scholars and leaders, the vast majority of them Muslim, have visited the United States as guests of the government.

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