The Freedom of Expression Institute is calling upon Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad to intervene on Prof Adam Habib's behalf regarding the refusal to give him a US entry visa. Although it appears to be based on the notion that Habib might be involved in terrorist activities, The FXI believes that the real reason is that Habib is a leading Muslim South African critic of US foreign policy.
However, it seems strange to exclude Prof Adam Habib on either basis when President Ahmadinejad was recently given entry and a platform to speak at Colombia University.
Perhaps the real reason is more complicated. Prof Adam Habib has been influential in moulding South Africa's foreign policy and this might be why The US has decided to exclude him from their shores. Following this logic, the US might, in fact, be informing South Africa that it does not, like most of the western world, approve of its close links to Iran and Hamas. After all, Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils has recently done his best to foster good relations with these regimes on visits both to Tehran and Gaza.
Pretoria has inevitably made enemies in Washington and, like it or not, Prof Adam Habib has paid the price. It might be that The US believes that Habib has indirectly used his position of prominence within South Africa to endorse or espouse terrorist activity, emanating from Iran and Hamas, and as a result should be excluded.
Of course it would be wrong to fall for The FXI's argument that this issue is really all about freedom of expression. The FXI is, once again, following a narrow political agenda; it recently backed Prof Habib as a nominee to The SABC's board and it is evident that The FXI implicitly supports Prof Habib's foreign policy ideas.
Would The FXI come to my aid if I ever had an opportunity to apply for an Iranian visa in order to attend public meetings in Tehran criticizing Ahmadinejad's foreign policy? Would The FXI take the matter up with Aziz Pahad? And if I ever actually gained access to such forums (non-existent!) in Iran, inevitably ending up in a Tehran Jail, would Jane Duncan and Na'eem Jeenah of The FXI fight at the highest levels for my release ?
FXI on US government's ideological exclusion of Adam Habib
Tuesday, 06 November 2007
The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) is concerned about the reasons given by the United States (US) Department of State to University of Johannesburg Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Adam Habib, for his being denied entry into the US. Habib is a political scientist and prominent political commentator.
The reasons were sent to him by the US Consulate General in Johannesburg on October 26, 2007, following an application from Habib for a waiver of his ineligibility to enter the US.
In its letter to Habib, the US government upheld the ban on his entry into the US, citing a section of the US Immigration and Nationality Act which relates to terrorist activities.
The section states that any 'alien' who has engaged in a terrorist activity, or who the US believes to be a terrorist threat or who has signalled an intention to engage in terrorist activity, can be denied entry.
The section adds that anyone who is a representative of a foreign terrorist organisation, or an organisation that endorses terrorist views, or who has used his/ her position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity, can also be excluded. The letter does not make it clear how Habib is supposed to have violated this section.
Habib was denied entry to the US last year, after having been invited to participate in a panel discussion on globalisation and South African social movements by the American Sociological Association (ASA).
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) also invited him to its 2008 Annual General Meeting, to discuss US travel bans on international scholars who are critical of US foreign policy.
The ban prevents Habib from honouring these speaking engagements. This in turn denies US citizens the right to hear him, which interferes with their US first amendment right to freedom of speech.
The FXI further believes that the banning of Habib is part of a pattern where the US government denies entry to prominent individuals who have criticised US foreign policy. This practice has been termed 'ideological exclusion', and amounts to censorship of views it does not agree with, in the process ensuring that critical debate amongst academics cannot take place.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has taken up Habib's case in the US, has argued that the above mentioned section of the Immigration Act is nominally aimed at those who 'espouse or endorse terrorist activity', but it is vaguely written and easily manipulated to exclude the US government's critics, who are branded terrorists simply by virtue of being critical.
In fact, according to the ACLU, the State Department's foreign affairs manual interprets the section to apply to foreign nationals who have voiced 'irresponsible expressions of opinion'. The practice of ideological exclusion is therefore a violation of freedom of expression and academic freedom.
Recently, Swiss academic Professor Tariq Ramadan was denied entry to the US under its ideological exclusion programme, which cited the same provision in the above mentioned Act.
It is also noteworthy that Habib is Muslim, and this combined with his critical stance on aspects of US foreign policy may well have contributed to his being 'profiled' as a potential terrorist.
A further concern in this case is that Habib’s wife and two children have also been banned from entering the US. Even if any legitimate reason did exist for the US to rule Habib’s entry into that country inadmissible, it is alarming that the US authorities then extend a ban onto his family as well, while they have been innocent of any wrong-doing.
The FXI calls on the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take the matter up with the US government, and to seek a review of the ban. If Habib has been banned on the basis of ideological exclusion, then the Ministry has a duty to protect the freedom of expression of its citizens, including in the international arena.
The FXI is also seeking a meeting with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad, to make representations to him in this regard. The FXI also supports the attempt by the ACLU to have the decision reviewed.