Chicago Tribune: Chicago welcomes once-banned Muslim scholar

chicago tribuneSix years after the U.S. government barred Tariq Ramadan from entering the U.S., the controversial Muslim scholar will speak in Chicago on Saturday—one of his first American appearances since U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised he would no longer be denied a visa for having alleged ties to terrorism. His opponents warn of danger ahead.

Ramadan, now a professor at Oxford University in England, will address an audience at the Council of American Islamic Relations in Chicago. His visa was revoked in 2004 right before he would have moved to Indiana to take a tenured teaching job at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

A champion of integrating Islam in the Western world, Ramadan criticized the Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East. He also has rejected Muslim terrorism as “anti-Islam.”

“Anyone who has read any of my 20 books, 700 articles or listened to any of my 170 audio-taped lectures will discern a consistent message,” Ramadan wrote in the Chicago Tribune in 2004. “The very moment Muslims and their fellow citizens realize that being a Muslim and being American or European are not mutually exclusive, they will enrich their societies. Since Sept. 11, I have lectured at countless American universities and civic organizations. The French consul of Chicago invited me in 2002 for a lecture trip in the United States, and I spoke at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.”

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, said he wasted no time inviting Ramadan to speak when the scholar’s rights to enter the U.S. were restored in January. He had last spoken with Ramadan in December when both of them spoke at the Parliament for the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia. Ramadan now has a 10-year visa.

“We are all about reconciling Islam and the West,” Rehab said. “We challenge those who attempt to drive a wedge between Muslim and being American. That’s really the life cause of Tariq Ramadan as an academic and philosopher and media personality. He often says that he’s culturally Western, nationally Swiss, ethnically Egyptian and religiously Muslim. For him and for us as well, there is no inherent schism between being Muslim and being American.”

Ramadan will speak about the Islamic theory of salvation at the University of Illinois in Champaign on April 17 via videolink.

Rehab said Ramadan’s visa was originally yanked by a “paranoid” Bush administration. He said Ramadan was, and still is, one of the most popular Muslim voices in the world. He is grateful that the Obama administration realized the absurdity of barring an intellectual to speak in the U.S.

But author Robert Spencer says that popularity is dangerous. In interviews, he has criticized Clinton for making an exception to U.S. law that prohibits supports of terrorist groups from entering the country. Spencer said Ramadan should still be barred for donating money to a group that funds Hamas.

Spencer contends that the scholar has the same goals as Osama bin Laden–to impose Shariah law in the West. While Ramadan paints himself as a moderate intellectual, Spencer said, he is actually a “stealth jihadist.”

What do you think? Is allowing a religious scholar to speak in the U.S. dangerous or democratic?