Rescinding of visa for Dr. Tariq Ramadan

The Honorable Colin Powell

The Honorable Tom Ridge  

Secretary of State

Secretary of Homeland Security 

U.S. Department of State

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

2201 C Street NW Washington, D.C. 20528  

Washington, DC 20520  

Dear Secretary Powell and Secretary Ridge:  

We, the Middle East Studies Association of North America’s Committee on Academic  Freedom and the Board of Directors for the American Academy of Religion, are writing to express our very grave concern regarding the decision of the Department of  State, made public last week, to rescind the visa for the well-known scholar of Islam Dr. Tariq Ramadan. Dr. Ramadan was slated to take up an appointment in the  religion department of the University of Notre Dame, beginning earlier last week. He  had received his visa in April 2004, only to have it rescinded, without explanation, in  early August. The Department of State’s decision was reportedly taken on the basis of  information provided by the Department of Homeland Security. Neither department  has made public any reason for the decision. We request that you take the necessary  steps to reverse this decision as a matter of urgency, in order that Dr. Ramadan can  lecture and meet with students.  

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) comprises 2600  academics worldwide who teach and conduct research on the Middle East and North  Africa, and is the preeminent professional association in the field. The association  publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and is committed to ensuring  respect for the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression in the region  and in connection with the study of the Middle East and North Africa.  

The American Academy of Religion (AAR) is the major scholarly society and  professional association of scholars and teachers in religion. With 10,000 members,  the Academy fosters excellence in research and teaching in the field and contributes to  the broad public understanding of religion and religions. The AAR publishes the  flagship scholarly journal in religion and books in five series through Oxford University Press.  

The decision to rescind Dr. Ramadan’s visa is particularly troubling on two grounds.  First, he had already received his visa, going through the rigorous screening process  that your Departments have implemented for foreign visitors. As far as we are aware,  neither Dr. Ramadan nor the University of Notre Dame were consulted regarding any  problems or new information that might give cause to rescind his visa.

Second, the lack of explanation for rescinding the visa raises serious questions about the cause of the  decision. In the absence of any explanation, we fear that pressures were applied to reverse the  granting of the visa by people who disagree with Dr. Ramadan’s views as a scholar and as a public  intellectual. That fear is exacerbated by the unsourced comments in some media outlets about  alleged “links” between Dr. Ramadan and terrorist groups. There is absolutely nothing in the public  record regarding Dr. Ramadan, or in his scholarly production, that would indicate any basis  whatsoever for such allegations—and Dr. Ramadan is a scholar very much in the public eye in  Switzerland, where he resides and teaches, and in Europe more generally. To us, these allegations  smack of a character assassination campaign designed to suppress Dr. Ramadan’s voice at a  prominent American university.  

Denying qualified scholars entry into the United States because of their political beliefs strikes at the  core of academic freedom. On that basis alone the decision to deny Dr. Ramadan access to our  country is unacceptable. We also find the decision profoundly counter-productive to the stated aims  of our national policy. As our country tries to understand better the Muslim world and to encourage  interpretations of Islam which reject violence and terrorism, we will have to be open to dialogue with  Muslims who hold political opinions that do not espouse violence but do differ from the opinions of some Americans or are critical of U.S. policies. If controversy is cause enough to deny someone a  visa, our prospects for reaching out to Muslims around the world are very dim. The decision to bar  Dr. Ramadan from teaching and meeting students and other academics, if allowed to stand, will  represent a very low mark with regard to the Bush administration’s commitment to the free  exchange of ideas and freedom of expression.  

We are aware of absolutely no evidence for allegations that Dr. Ramadan has advocated violence or  been associated with groups which perpetrate violence. On the contrary, important scholars and  reputable universities have testified to his academic credentials and his character as a researcher and  teacher. If the U.S. government has evidence to the contrary, let it be made public, to reassure the  American public that untoward political pressures are not affecting the government’s decisions. In  the absence of such evidence we can only conclude that denying Dr. Ramadan permission to enter  the country constitutes a direct attack on academic freedom and freedom of speech. We respectfully  urge you to reconsider this unfortunate decision and reinstate Dr. Ramadan’s visa without delay.  

Yours sincerely,  

Amy W. Newhall

Executive Director 

Middle East Studies Association

Barbara DeConcini 

Executive Director

American Academy of Religion  of North America  


Hon. Paula Dobriansky, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs  

Hon. Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs 

Hon. William Burns, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs  

Sen. Richard Lugar, Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee  

Sen. Joseph Biden, Ranking Minority Member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee 

Rep. Henry Hyde, Chairman, House Committee on International Relations 

Rep. Tom Lantos, Ranking Minority Member, House Committee on International  Relations  

The Rev. Edward A. Malloy, President, University of Notre Dame  

Professor Scott Appleby, Director, The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, The  University of Notre Dame  

Mr. Matthew V. Storin, Associate Vice President, Office of News and Information, The  University of Notre Dame  

Professor Tariq Ramadan  

Stephen Kinzer, Chicago Bureau for The New York Times

Documents & Links


Stay Connected

MESA offers several ways to stay connected: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, as well as listservs and trusty email notifications. To find out more, please follow the link below.

Connect Now