U.S. wrongly rejects Muslim scholars

Evidently, even those who seek peace and condemn terror are not fit to enter the United States.

How can America encourage ‘the voices of moderation and tolerance and pluralism within the Muslim world’ when, because of fearful ignorance, we insult and exclude them?” The words of Diana Eck, director of the Harvard University Pluralism Project, resonate all too clearly in “homeland security” events of the past few weeks.

The rejection of prominent Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan and peace activist Yusuf Islam from entering the country has only furthered the view that the Bush administration’s war on terrorism is haphazard at best.

Turning away professor Ramadan, recognized by Time magazine as one of the 20th century’s top-100 innovators, from his position as a professor of religion, conflict and peace-building at Notre Dame University, alienates the very Muslim thinkers the administration calls upon to denounce the atrocities committed by terrorists in the name of Islam.

Ramadan, an author and respected scholar in Europe, has an established record of speaking out against anti-Semitism, narrow literalism and militant interpretations of the Quran. He is exactly the kind of intellectual the United States should be engaging, especially considering the rise of high-visibility extremism. Instead, his previously granted work visa was revoked by the Department of Homeland Security without explanation. In so doing, this administration sends a clear message that academic freedom, and positive and progressive dialogue are unwelcome here.

This week, the Department of Homeland Security also turned away prominent Muslim musician-turned-peace-activist Islam, formerly Cat Stevens, from entering the country. His flight from London to Washington, was diverted 600 miles to Bangor, Maine, where he was questioned and detained. Islam, who visited the United States just two months ago, was turned away on national security grounds but without details about any risk he might pose. Speaking with Secretary of State Colin Powell, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made clear the action “should not have been taken.” British officials claim there is no evidence Islam posed any danger.

Regardless, he was grounded, detained and sent back home. The frivolity of this rejection is astounding. Islam has issued numerous statements denouncing acts of terrorism, from the acts of Sept. 11, 2001, to the recent Beslan, Russia, tragedy, and even rerecorded his 1971 hit “Peace Train” to raise money for children in war-torn countries.

What more does the administration want from Muslim intellectuals? In turning away Ramadan and Islam, mainstream Muslims worldwide will understand that even those who seek peace and condemn terror are not fit to enter the United States. There is no good reason to keep such people out; we cannot wonder why many around the world consider us to be closed-minded and discriminatory when we permit such bigotry.

If we want Muslims to be represented by their thinkers, and not by their thugs, we must build these bridges of understanding, not destroy them.

Mohamed H. Sabur is a writer for Al-Madinah Cultural Center. Please send comments to [email protected].