Monday, October 22, 2007

The Fear of the Spoken Word

Free speech, as interpreted by the Bush administration, depends on who you are and where you say it. For instance, if you’re a professor from Switzerland and happen to disagree with our Dear Leader, you can be denied a visa.

There may be something to be said for avoiding face-to-face encounters with shaggy leftists — the cigarette smoke, for starters, and the jargon, and the complacent moral superiority. But in largely repealing the law on ideological exclusion in 1990, Congress seemed to suggest that Americans could be trusted to make those decisions for themselves.

The spirit of the old law, the McCarran-Walter Act, was revived after the Sept. 11 attacks. The USA Patriot Act of 2001, for instance, allowed the government to deny visas to people who had used their “position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity.”

The government invoked that law in 2004 when it denied a work visa to Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss philosopher and Muslim intellectual. As a consequence, Professor Ramadan had to give up a teaching appointment at, in the words of The Guardian newspaper, “that hotbed of Muslim extremism, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.”

In the three years preceding the denial, Professor Ramadan had visited the United States 24 times, lecturing at Dartmouth, Harvard and Princeton — and the State Department.

Not only does this fear of speech prove that this administration is so full of bluster and bullshit that it’s afraid of someone who might say something scary — like not all Muslims are terrorists — it also makes us look patently ridiculous to the rest of the world.