SOUTH BEND – Acting at the request of the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. government has revoked the work visa of a Muslim scholar who had been hired as a professor at the University of Notre Dame.
Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss citizen who has been criticized for alleged links to Islamic militants and for remarks branded anti-Semitic, was supposed to begin teaching Tuesday, the first day of the fall semester.
Instead he was sitting in his office in Geneva, Switzerland, trying to figure out what to do next.
“This is unjustified,” he said.
Russ Knocke, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, said the work visa had been revoked because of a section in the Immigration and Nationality Act applying to aliens who have used a “position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity.”
“I’m not going to comment on it,” Knocke said, other than that the revocation was made based on “public safety or national security interests.”
“We absolutely don’t agree with that,” Notre Dame spokesman Matt Storin said. “If we did, we would not have hired him.”
Storin described Ramadan as a distinguished scholar and a voice for moderation in the Muslim world.
Ramadan said he went through a rigorous two-month background check before he was granted the work visa.
He said nothing has changed since it was granted in May to cause the U.S. government to revoke the visa.
“There is nothing new,” he said. “Where is the evidence? There is no evidence. This is something that is very unfair.”
He said if he had any ties to Islamic militants, the visa never would have been granted.
“It’s clear now, I think, it’s coming from political pressure,” Ramadan said.
Asked whether Jewish or Israeli interests became involved in Ramadan’s case, Knocke refused to comment.
Ramadan said he opposes terrorism and all forms of violence and that he is not anti-Semitic.
“I am against all kinds of racism, and I am strongly against any kind of anti-Semitism,” he said.
“What I’m saying as a Muslim is that when I criticize a policy, for example the Saudi policy or the Egyptian policy, I am not Islamophobic.
“And when I am criticizing the policy of the state of Israel, of (Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon, I’m not an anti-Semite. It’s just a political criticism.”
Ramadan said his family’s furniture and personal belongings had already been shipped to South Bend. He said the visa being pulled has been a hardship on his family.
“We just don’t know what to do,” he said. “It’s unfair to treat people like this.”
Notre Dame appointed Ramadan this year to be its Henry B. Luce professor of religion, conflict and peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. It is a tenured position.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, criticized the decision to revoke Ramadan’s work visa, saying it indicates an unwillingness of Americans to listen to Muslims.
“Dialogue involves listening to those you don’t always agree with,” Hooper said.
“It’s really a slap in the face to Muslims who are trying to build bridges between the Muslim world and the west.”
Hooper said the council plans to send a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge asking him to disclose the exact reason the work visa was revoked.
“Without any information, we can only surmise that his views were unpopular with certain circles,” Hooper said.
Ramadan has been teaching at the College of Geneva and the University of Fribourg, both in Switzerland, and has gained a popular following among European Muslims in showing how Islamic values are compatible with secular European society.
Ken Kusmer of the Associated Press contributed to this story.