On January 20, 2010, PEN American Center President Kwame Anthony Appiah issued the following statement applauding the end of the ideological exclusion from the United States of Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan.

We are very pleased and gratified that our government has lifted the ban on Tariq Ramadan, restoring the First Amendment rights of our members, and all Americans, to engage with a key figure in the international dialogue about democratic and religious values in an interconnected, interdependent world.

PEN and our co-plaintiffs filed the lawsuit challenging Professor Ramadan’s exclusion in January 2006 because we understood that exclusion, and the exclusion of scores of other foreign scholars and writers following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks because of their ideas or views, amounted to a resurgence of a practice we had fought hard to eliminate during the Cold War. The list of writers barred from visiting the U.S. is a testament to the folly of that practice: Julio Cortázar, Graham Greene, Farley Mowat, Pablo Neruda, Doris Lessing, and Gabriel García Márquez were among those kept out of the country in the 1960s and 1970s. The post-9/11 list of those prevented from entering the U.S. for ideological reasons is similarly embarrassing. It includes Adam Habib, whose exclusion the State Department has also now acted to end; Dora María Tellez of Nicaragua; the economist Yoannis Milios; Bolivian scholar Waskar T. Ari; and two of our PEN colleagues: Iñaki Egãna from the Basque PEN Center; and our German PEN colleague KD Wolff this past year.

We commend the Obama administration for taking the important step of granting waivers to Tariq Ramadan and to Adam Habib, which we believe sends an important signal about our country’s commitment to preserving a free and open exchange of information and ideas with the rest of the world. At a time when a number of countries seem intent on limiting the access of their own citizens to the international conversation, it is especially crucial for the United States of America to take a strong and clear stand against censorship at the border.

Since we first filed this lawsuit, the issues on which Professor Ramadan writes and speaks have only gained urgency—we note, just as examples, the recent vote in Switzerland, his home country, to ban minarets, and the countervailing drive to ban speech deemed defamatory to religions. The tensions behind these developments can only be addressed through engagement and dialogue. We look forward to welcoming Professor Ramadan to the United States, and we will move quickly to do what we have not been able to do since he learned in 2004 that his U.S. visa had been cancelled: arrange a public program where he and his American counterparts can discuss these developments and debate some of the many issues of common interest to Europe, the U.S., and the Middle East.

>> Back to Press Release