By Larry Neumeister
NEW YORK (AP) — A judge said Thursday he was troubled because U.S. authorities have not decided whether a leading Muslim scholar can enter the United States to make appearances before organizations that have invited him.
U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty said he would consider ordering the appropriate government authorities to decide on the status of Tariq Ramadan so he can resolve a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU accused the government of manipulating the Patriot Act to try to silence the outspoken Swiss intellectual and Muslim scholar, who has been invited to speak in the United States later this month and twice later this year.
The judge said it seemed the Department of State was taking a long time to act on a request by Ramadan last August to enter the country, especially since Ramadan’s case had been active for more than two years. The judge said he was "terribly troubled" by the delay.
"I’ve convinced myself that when the government wants to act, it can act quickly," the judge said at a hearing Thursday, noting that the government quickly acted on Ramadan’s request in December 2004, when he said he was withdrawing an earlier request to enter the United States.
"You jumped on it like a wolf going after a lamb chop," the judge said. "I have the impression that the government steps on the brake and accelerator depending on what it wants to do."
Assistant U.S. Attorney David S. Jones insisted the government was not trying to act slowly in the Ramadan case.
"It’s receiving very serious attention," he said. "It’s not being put in a drawer."
He said a decision was delayed because an interview of Ramadan in December identified eligibility issues that needed to be investigated.
Despite this, a visa specialist in the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, Christopher R. Dilworth, said in court papers signed March 31 that "government officials have not determined and do not at the present time intend to determine" that Ramadan is someone who endorses or espouses terrorism.
Ramadan, a visiting fellow in Oxford, England, has said he opposes the U.S. invasion of Iraq and sympathizes with the resistance there and in the Palestinian Territories, though he has no connections to terrorism, opposes Islamic extremism and promotes peaceful solutions.
After the judge asked both sides to submit written arguments by the end of April, ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer complained that further delay meant Ramadan could not attend this month’s PEN American Center’s World Voices Festival in New York.
"The delay is itself a victory for the government," he told the judge.
The judge said Ramadan could still appear at the festival through electronic means.
Outside court, Jaffer said it was "great" that the government had backed off an August 2004 suggestion that Ramadan did not oppose terrorism.
"It’s very stigmatizing to have the U.S. government saying you support terrorism," he said.