Banned in the USA?

It's not just "security walls" that can keep "aliens" from entering Fortress America.

The State Department has this thing they call "prudential revocation" of a foreigner's visa. Translating the bureaucratese into English, that means the government doesn't have to make a formal finding about why an "alien" is being denied entry. A "prudential revocation" means the governments thinks you might be ineligible for entry.

Case in point: Professor Adam Habib, a leading South African political scientist and Vice Chancellor at the University of Johannesburg, who also happens be a critic of Bush's misled crusade to maintain U.S. hegemony over Middle Eastern energy resources under the guise of ridding the world of "terrorism."

In October 2006, Habib, a Muslim, flew into New York City because he was invited to attend an academic symposium being held by the American Sociological Association (ASA). At the airport, he was detained for seven hours and questioned about his political beliefs before his visa was revoked. The professor was deported back to South Africa.

In the days following the deportation, the only answer Habib got was confirmation that, indeed, his visa had been revoked and -- oh, by the way, the visas of his wife and two kids, one of whom was conceived in America, had been revoked too.

Why would a highly esteemed academician be banned from the land of the free? A vague answer was sent to the US Consulate General in Johannesburg later that month, according to the South Africa-based Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI).

The cited reason for revoking Habib's visa is a section of the US Immigration and Nationality Act that says any 'alien' who has engaged in a terrorist activity, or who is believed to be a terrorist threat, can be denied entry.

The law also says that anyone who represents a foreign terrorist organization, or endorses terrorist views, can also be excluded. But, the convoluted denial did not explain how Habib supposedly violated the Act.

In November 2007, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of organizations that have invited Professor Habib to speak in the U.S., including the ASA, the American Association of University Professors, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights.

The lawsuit -- still pending in federal court -- asks the court to prevent the government from excluding Habib, unless evidence is produced that substantiates the "terrorist" accusations.

"In one fell swoop, the U.S. government has stifled political debate in this country and maligned the reputation of a respected scholar without giving one shred of evidence to support its claims. It appears that Professor Habib is being excluded not because of his actions but because of his political views and associations," is how ACLU's National Security Project attorney Melissa Goodman puts it.

If you think this is about the right of non-citizens to enter the U.S., you would be mistaken. This is about the First Amendment rights of U.S. citizens and what the ACLU calls "ideological exclusion," both of which raise serious constitutional questions.

"The exclusion of foreign scholars on ideological grounds has profound implications for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas here in the U.S. Crucial to academic freedom -- and to freedom of inquiry more generally -- are the freedoms to hear the ideas of others, to collaborate with others intellectually, and to engage others in intellectual debate," Goodman observes.

"It is settled law that the First Amendment protects not only the freedom to speak but also the freedom to 'receive information and ideas' (see Kliendienst v. Mandel 1972 and Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC 1969)."

The ruling in the latter case says: "It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace for ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail...It is the right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, esthetic, moral, and other ideas and experiences."

Interesting to note: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was allowed to enter the U.S. to give a speech at the U.N. during the same time frame. A leader of one of the "axis of evil" nations can come to New York but Professor Habib is a threat?

ACLU attorneys argue that ideological exclusion is unconstitutional because the government cannot exclude non-citizens based on the content of their speech in order to prevent U.S. citizens from hearing their views.

I hadn't heard of the Habib case until I was invited to be a reader at the ACLU and PEN American Center-sponsored "An Evening Without...," in which writers and artists are invited to read from the works of thinkers banned in the U.S.A. because of their political beliefs.

On Wednesday night at 7, at the First Congregational Church in Wellfleet, Mass., I'll be reading some of Professor Habib's work. Other writers and journalists -- Howard Zinn, James Carroll and Justin Kaplan, to name a few -- will read from similarly banned-in-the-USA thinkers.

Ever since Adam and Eve were monkey-ing around in the Garden, unable to resist the temptation to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it's been human nature for people to seek out what governments say should not be heard.

If you really believe in freedom, you seek out the Professor Habib's of the world. Even if you don't agree with their ideas, it's a worthy exercise because, like the J.S. Mill quote pinned to my cubicle wall says: "He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that."

Sean Gonsalves is a news editor and columnist with the Cape Cod Times. He can be reached at

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