You may remember the Patriot Act — President George W. Bush’s overzealous, freedom-curtailing response to national security threats. The act resulted in many prominent intellectual voices being kept out of the country based solely on their personal ideologies. But last Wednesday, in a letter to the Obama administration, the American Civil Liberties Union joined with other civil rights and free speech groups to protest these McCarthy-esque ideological-exclusion policies left over from the Bush administration. It’s imperative that the Obama administration overturns this prejudiced protocol in favor of promoting tolerance, academic freedom and diversity.
Ideological-exclusion policies were authorized as part of the Patriot Act under the Bush administration in 2001 to prevent the immigration of people with certain ideological values. The logic behind the policy is that these people have beliefs that make them dangerous. But in practice, prominent intellectuals seeking to visit American universities and conferences have been turned away at the border for no good reason. Last Wednesday, dozens of organizations, including the ACLU, the Center for Campus Free Speech and the National Education Association, sent a letter to administration officials detailing their opposition to these policies. The ACLU’s letter also requests a re-evaluation of cases already decided under this policy, including one scheduled for court this week.
Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss intellectual who is Muslim, was invited to speak at the University of Notre Dame but was denied entrance to the United States in 2004. Adam Habib, a South African political critic, was also denied a visa in 2007. If the only difference between citizens and intellectuals who have been turned away is that one holds an American passport and the other does not, this standard is clearly wrong. In the name of academic freedom, these intellectuals must be allowed to enter the nation, or we won’t be able to benefit from their intelligence, insights and, yes, criticism.
This sort of isolationist behavior is detrimental to society. To increase understanding of different cultures, the government has to lead the way in fostering open debate. Listening to and accepting criticism from people with different beliefs is the only way to increase our understanding of others. By censoring these views, the government effectively discriminates against those with different beliefs, adding fuel to the fires of extremism — which actually can be dangerous. Closing our borders to diversity only increases ignorance and fear.
It’s the role of universities to provide students with access to ideological perspectives that they might not otherwise encounter. This is an impossible mission to fulfill if the government so strictly screen applicants to enter the U.S. based solely on ideology. In order to create students who are truly well rounded, universities’ right to sponsor controversial speakers and teachers must not be infringed so drastically.
Not everyone who criticizes America is a danger to our nation. The Bush administration’s assumption that everyone who criticizes America is dangerous was clumsy and offensive — and Obama must revive America’s international image by discarding this discriminatory practice. For eight years America’s borders have been closed and America has suffered. It’s time to open our borders and our eyes to the rest of the world, including those who challenge our views.