February 2010 Issue • Volume 38 • Issue 2

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State Department Acts on Academic Freedom Issue Pursued by ASA

by Lee Herring, ASA Public Affairs Office


Adam Habib

Washington, DC — In a major victory for academic freedom and civil liberties, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has signed orders that effectively end the exclusion of a prominent social science scholar who was barred from the United States by the Bush administration, and whom the American Sociological Association (ASA) had invited to participate in the 2007 ASA Annual Meeting in New York. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the denial of a visa to Professor Adam Habib, University of Johannesburg, in a complaint filed on behalf of ASA and other organizations in the U.S. District Court in Boston in October 2007 (now, American Sociological Association et al. v. Clinton).

Clinton’s orders put the case on hold until Habib secures his multi-entry visa. For background, see November 2007 Footnotes article (p. 1), "ASA Files Complaint Against the U.S. Government for Excluding South African Scholar from the United States."

"ASA has waited patiently but we have been persistent in our goal for this long-awaited decision allowing this internationally known South African scholar to be admitted to this country for purposes of scholarly exchange," said ASA Executive Officer Sally T. Hillsman in response to the January 15 Department of State action. ASA has exhibited a longstanding commitment to international scholarly exchange, according to Hillsman, and much of this is documented in her March 2007 Vantage Point column (see www.asanet.org/footnotes/mar07/exec.html).

In a message to Hillsman, Habib expressed his gratitude by saying that "[t]his outcome would not have been possible had it not been for the principled stand taken by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Sociological Association, the American Association of University Professors, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the Boston Coalition of Palestinian Rights. Your organization’s commitment to the principles of academic freedom and the free engagement of ideas represent not only the more progressive face of the United States and global academy, but it also provides hope in a world where civil liberties and tolerance [have] been eroded, and democracy is imperilled."

During the Bush administration, the U.S. government denied visas to dozens of foreign artists, scholars and writers—all critics of U.S. foreign policy and many of whom are Muslim, as is Habib—without explanation or on the basis of vague and unspecified national security concerns. In a speech in Cairo in June 2009, President Obama addressed the relationship between the United States and Muslims around the world, calling for "a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground."

ASA and the ACLU were heartened by the U.S. State Department’s orders, believing it to be an important step toward maintaining the centrality of academic freedom and achieving the President’s goal. "The decision to end the exclusion of [Professor Habib] is a welcome sign that the Obama administration is committed to facilitating, rather than obstructing, the exchange of ideas across international borders," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project.

"Given the orders issued by Secretary Clinton, we hope and expect that Professor Habib . . . will soon be able to come to the United States to meet and talk with American audiences," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project who represented the ASA. "The Obama administration should now conduct a broader review of visas denied under the Bush administration, reverse the exclusions of others who were barred because of their political beliefs and retire the practice of ideological exclusion for good."

Clinton’s actions also included relief for scholar Tariq Ramadan, who many believe was also significantly impacted by ideological exclusion in the State Department’s visa decisions. The orders signed by Secretary Clinton state that, in the future, Professors Habib and Ramadan will not be denied a visa on the same grounds that were used in 2006 and 2007. To enter the United States, however, Habib will need to apply for a multi-entry visa, a process likely to take several weeks. The ACLU expects that, given Secretary Clinton’s orders, the visa application will be granted expeditiously.

Habib is a respected political analyst and Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Advancement at the University of Johannesburg and has been a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and of some U.S. terrorism-related policies. Habib is a PhD graduate of the City University of New York Graduate Center. Until he was deported back to South Africa upon his arrival in 2006 at Kennedy Airport with a valid visa and then denied a visa renewal, Habib was a frequent visitor to the United States to address and consult with academics, federal government agencies, and the non-profit sector.

Attorneys in the Habib case are Goodman, Jaffer, and Rabinovitz of the national ACLU and Sarah Wunsch and John Reinstein of the ACLU of Massachusetts. More information is available at www.aclu.org/exclusion. small_green

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