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Bush-era visa ban lifted on two prominent Muslim scholars

The US has lifted a Bush-era visa ban on two prominent Muslim scholars, Adam Habib and Tariq Ramadan. The move is being framed as part of Obama's campaign to improve ties with Muslim countries.

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AFP - The US government said Wednesday it has lifted a Bush-era ban on two prominent Muslim scholars, saying neither is deemed a security threat to the United States.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley framed the move as part of President Barack Obama's campaign to improve US ties with Muslim countries by promoting global debate, including those who criticize Washington.

Crowley said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed exemptions under the US Immigration and Nationality Act allowing scholars Adam Habib and Tariq Ramadan to apply for US visas like other prospective visitors.

Habib is at the University of Johannesburg, in South Africa and Ramadan at Saint Antony's College, Oxford University, in England.

"The next time professor Ramadan or Professor Habib applies for a visa, he will not be found inadmissible on the basis of the facts that led to denial when they last applied," Crowley told reporters.

"We do not think that either one of them represents a threat to the United States," said Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs.

However, he said the pair "will still be subject to the other standards" that apply to anyone seeking a visa for the United States.

"Consistent with President Obama's outreach to Muslims around the world, we want to encourage global debate," Crowley said.

"We want to have the opportunity potentially to have Islamic scholars come to the United States and have dialogue with other faith communities and people here in our country," he said.

The move was hailed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which said it had filed lawsuits challenging the denial of visas to Habib and Ramadan by the previous administration of president George W. Bush.

"The orders ending the exclusion of Adam Habib and Tariq Ramadan are long overdue and tremendously important," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project.

"For several years, the United States government was more interested in stigmatizing and silencing its foreign critics than in engaging them," he said in an ACLU statement.

"The decision to end the exclusion of Professors Habib and Ramadan is a welcome sign that the Obama administration is committed to facilitating, rather than obstructing, the exchange of ideas across international borders," he said.

The ACLU said the Bush administration had denied visas to dozens of foreign artists, scholars and writers critical of US foreign policy -- and many of them Muslim -- "without explanation or on vague national security grounds."

It was not clear how soon the pair might come to the United States.
  

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