New York, NY, January 25, 2006—PEN American Center has joined two national academic associations and the ACLU in filing a lawsuit challenging a Patriot Act provision that the government has used to bar prominent writers and scholars who are critical of U.S. policies from visiting the United States. 

Section 411 of the Patriot Act, which was further expanded in 2005, allows the government to refuse admission to the United States to individuals who “endorse or espouse terrorist activity” or “persuade others to support or espouse terrorist activity.” But in August 2004, a Department of Homeland Security official cited the provision as the basis for revoking the visa of Swiss-born, internationally recognized Muslim scholar and writer Tariq Ramadan, a move that effectively stopped him from assuming a tenured position he had been offered at the University of Notre Dame. Ramadan has consistently condemned terrorism in his public statements and extensive writings, and he traveled to the United States frequently before and after September 11, 2001, even participating in a conference on “Islam and America in a Global World” that former President Bill Clinton hosted in 2002. PEN, the American Academy of Religion, and the American Association of University Professors are joining Professor Ramadan and the ACLU in challenging his exclusion and the constitutionality of the Patriot Act provision.

“PEN was founded on the belief that writers play a vital role in promoting international dialogue and that a free exchange of ideas and information across borders is essential to decrease the risk of conflict and war,” said Salman Rushdie, president of PEN American Center. “We are joining this lawsuit because the government’s exclusion of Professor Ramadan illustrates how the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 laws and policies may be serving to increase American isolation at a time when international dialogue is more critical than ever.”

PEN has long played a leading role in challenging laws that bar foreign writers and scholars from visiting the United States. The organization was one of the most vocal critics of ideological exclusion during the Cold War under the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, a law that was used to justify banning such writers as Julio Cortázar, Graham Greene, Farley Mowat, Pablo Neruda, Doris Lessing, and Gabriel García Márquez from visiting the United States. In congressional testimony in 1989, PEN insisted that excluding writers and scholars for their political views abridges the rights of American writers to engage in face-to-face discussion and confrontation with foreign colleagues, and violates the right of citizens to make their own decisions about the ideas with which they are presented. In announcing today’s lawsuit, PEN stressed again that ideological exclusion harms Americans.

For more than 10 years, PEN has also monitored the way in which governments around the world have often applied antiterrorism measures to restrict freedom of expression. In testimony before the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1998, PEN decried the use of antiterrorism and national-security laws in countries including Peru, South Korea, and Turkey to jail or silence journalists and writers. A critic of such practices then, the U.S. government now seems to have accepted and adapted them. In one notable example, the United States granted a visa in 1999 as a gesture of solidarity to a Turkish sociologist who was jailed unjustly under antiterrorism laws. However, when the sociologist traveled to the United States in 2002, he was informed on arrival that his visa had been canceled.

Stressing that a range of laws exist to keep terrorists and members of their networks from entering the country, PEN Freedom to Write and International Program Director Larry Siems said the lawsuit targets a provision that threatens free speech in the United States by erecting barriers to information at the border. “Immediately after 9/11, publishers and librarians reported a surge in requests for books and information about Islam and the Muslim world,” Siems said. “That freedom to explore ideas and cultures is threatened if Section 411 of the Patriot Act is used to bar influential figures like Tariq Ramadan from the United States. The American people have a right to hear directly from and engage with Tariq Ramadan, or to know exactly what criteria allegedly trump that right.”

PEN American Center Executive Director Michael Roberts underscored the concrete impact of the ideological exclusion provision, noting that PEN has invited Professor Ramadan to participate in its 2006 World Voices Literary Festival. “This spring, internationally recognized writers will meet in New York for five days of discussion and debate on the theme of Faith and Reason,” Roberts said. “Tariq Ramadan could be an important participant in this conversation, as he often is in the United Kingdom, where he now teaches, and throughout Europe. Instead, because of our government’s actions, Americans alone are deprived of the opportunity to engage directly with Professor Ramadan.”

PEN American Center is the largest of the 141 centers of International PEN, the global association of writers dedicated to protecting the freedom to write and promoting the free flow of literature, information, and ideas throughout the world. It sponsors public literary programs and educational forums including PEN World Voices and regularly invites writers from around the world to participate in those events. In its Core Freedoms Campaign, PEN is working to restore free expression protections threatened by the USA Patriot Act; protect public access to governmental information and a full range of voices from the United States and around the world; and promote policies that reflect and advance international human rights standards.


More Information

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105, [email protected]