September 23, 2004
A Canadian Perspective
From a Canadian perspective, the arbitrary banning of Swiss Muslim Professor Tariq Ramadan from the U.S. reported in Martin Marty's recent Sightings column ("Learning from Tariq Ramadan," September 13) was light treatment.
By this, I do not mean to downplay the indignity shown Professor Ramadan by the Department of Homeland Security. This U.S. action was an egregious personal insult (especially after he had been examined by a 10-person team). Nevertheless, I doubt that it will result in him or anyone else becoming "new converts to hyper-anti-Americanism," as Professor Marty fears; nor will it harm "the war on terrorism," as Alan Wolfe claims. Being deprived of a teaching post in the American academy is not going to convert any moderate non-American intellectual, Muslim or other, into a terrorist or an extremist. Nor should we view this and similar actions only through the nationalist lens of America's "war on terrorism." America has an inherent responsibility to treat all people, including non-Americans, with basic human decency.
For another perspective, here is a sample of what Canadian Muslims have been subjected to (Toronto Star, September 13, 2003):
"One of Canada's most moderate and respected Muslim clerics was pulled off a plane Thursday and thrown in jail by U.S. immigration officials in Fort Lauderdale without any charges being laid... Ahamad Kutty, who has preached tolerance and peace throughout North America for more than two decades, was ordered off his Orlando-bound flight from Toronto and interrogated in an airport holding cell and a local jail for 16 hours…He has been declared a risk to national security... Kutty, an imam and scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto and at the city's west-end Jami Mosque, was detained with fellow Toronto cleric Abdool Hamid. The pair had traveled to Florida to attend seminars and give a series of lectures and sermons on, among other things, the dangers of fanaticism in the Islamic world."
Even more troubling is the widely-reported case of Maher Arar ("His Year in Hell," 60 Minutes, CBS News broadcast, January 21, 2004). In September 2002, Arar was returning to his Canadian home from a family vacation in Tunisia through New York. While at JFK Airport, he was detained and interrogated by U.S. immigration officials and then held at the Metropolitan Detention Center. Because he was a joint Syrian-Canadian citizen, the U.S. deported him to Syria, even though he, his wife and his children live in Canada, he was carrying a Canadian passport, and he hadn't visited Syria since moving to Canada at age 17. He spent a year in a Syrian jail, where he was interrogated and tortured, before his wife was able to secure his release with the help of Canadian officials and various international agencies.
Did these horrific acts engender terrorists or Muslim extremists? Was the American "war on terrorism" undermined? I don't think so. But, for the last two years, the Canadian Islamic Congress has released travel advisories warning Canadian Muslims not to travel to the U.S. saying, "the U.S. is not safe for Muslims."
Americans concerned for the safety of non-American Muslims should heed the warning of the Canadian Islamic Congress. If American intellectuals would like to learn from them, and I agree with Professor Marty that they do have something to learn, then, until safety and consideration can be assured, perhaps the Americans should do the traveling.
Sharon Mattila is a doctoral candidate in Biblical Studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She was a 2003-2004 Martin Marty Center Dissertation Fellow. Sharon recently completed a year of dissertation research in Israel as a Lady Davis Fellow with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she was also an Associate Research Fellow with the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research.