I’d like to turn Allan Bloom’s neoconservative rant against multi-culturalism, The Closing of the American Mind, on its head in this post about the Bush Administration’s war on foreign intellectuals who wish to teach or speak at American universities.
Many of us know about Tariq Ramadan’s horror story in being denied a visa to teach at Notre Dame University. He and the ACLU are suing the Department of Homeland Security over that one. But recent news stories note that DHS and the State Department are waging a worldwide campaign to rid this country’s campuses of foreign intellectuals who may expose our tender young minds to ideas too dangerous for them to absorb. Not to mention those foreign scientists who may be coming here to “steal” our secrets in order to foment terror against us (see below).
Waskar T. Ari, a member of Bolivia’s largest indigenous group, earned a Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University in 2005 and was hired by Nebraska as an assistant professor of history and ethnic studies. His job was to have begun last August.
Barbara S. Weinstein, a history professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, called the situation “very disturbing.” Ms. Weinstein is president-elect of the American Historical Association, which has spoken out in behalf of Mr. Ari.
The government’s reason for not issuing the visa, she speculated, seems related to his ethnicity. “He has certainly never been a member of any movement that would be of a security concern to the U.S. government,” she said.
Mr. Ari, a member of the Aymara people of Bolivia, is a scholar of the religious beliefs and political activism among indigenous Bolivians. He has served as a consultant on social and economic issues facing the Aymara with the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other organizations.
The circumstances under which the U.S. denied his visa are murky at best:
Last June, shortly after it hired Mr. Ari, the University of Nebraska paid $1,000 for an expedited application to the U.S. immigration service to have him declared eligible to apply for a visa for a professional job in the United States. Today, eight months later, the service’s Web site shows the application as “pending.”
The university says it has not received any explanation from the immigration service, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
But it appears that the government has classified Mr. Ari as a threat to American security. Mr. Ari had been living in the Washington area when he was hired by Nebraska, and returned home to Bolivia for what he expected would be a short stay to settle his affairs and pick up a new visa. But when he visited the U.S. Consulate last summer in the Bolivian capital, La Paz, U.S. officials took his passport and stamped “canceled” over his student visa, which was about to expire anyway.
Asked about the situation, a spokeswoman at the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs checked Mr. Ari’s file and said the cancellation of his old visa was done under a terrorism-related section of U.S. legislation on the granting of visas. “We have derogatory information that renders him ineligible,” she said, but declined to add any further information.
This incident illustrates perfectly the distortion introduced into U.S. intellectual life by 9/11 and the terror obsession that prevailed. Terror trumps all–it trumps thought, ideas, knowledge. Even worse, raising the terror specter renders any dissent useless. And the government doesn’t even have to provide a reason for turning foreign academics away. Is this democracy? Is this freedom? Is this what this nation really stands for? What are we afraid of? That an Aymara professor will introduce the “poisonous” ideas of Evo Morales to young college students and bring the spirit of the ‘coca revolution’ here?
I’m embarrassed to say that an Aymara Indian has more faith in my country than I do:
Mr. Ari is one of very few members of the Aymara to have attained a Ph.D.
…Mr. Ari said that he considers the United States like his second “fatherland,” adding that “many indigenous people think I’m too pro-American.”
“It must be some big mistake,” he said of his situation, adding, “I believe in justice. The truth will win out.”
I only hope it is so. But given the closeted minds of this Administration I’m afraid he may be waiting for justice a long time. I hope the ACLU is listening and will take this case on as well as Ramadan’s.
And for the final academic visa outrage of the day, we have the Washington Post to thank. It reported that An Indian academic chemist, Goverdhan Mehta, who is the president of the International Council for Science, was denied a visa by the U.S. consulate in Madras because officials viewed his research as somehow tied to chemical warfare:
The consulate told Mehta “you have been denied a visa” and invited him to submit additional information, according to an official at the National Academy of Sciences who saw a copy of the document. Mehta said in a written account obtained by The Washington Post…hat he was humiliated, accused of “hiding things” and being dishonest, and told that his work is dangerous because of its potential applications in chemical warfare.
Mehta denied that his work has anything to do with weapons…
The scientist told Indian newspapers that his dealing with the U.S. consulate was “the most degrading experience of my life.”
…Mehta’s case has especially angered Indians because he was a director of the Indian Institute of Science and is a science adviser to India’s prime minister. He has visited the United States “dozens of times,” he said, and the University of Florida in Gainesville had invited him to lecture at an international conference.
In his written account, the scientist said that after traveling 200 miles, waiting three hours with his wife for an interview and being accused of deception, he was outraged when his accounts of his research were questioned and he was told he needed to fill out a detailed questionnaire.
“I indicated that I have no desire to subject myself to any further humiliation and asked that our passports be returned forthwith,” he wrote. The consular official, Mehta added, “stamped the passports to indicate visa refusal and returned them.”
What makes this outrage all the more embarrassing for Bush is that he’s scheduled to visit India in a few days. This will, I’m sure sit well with his Indian hosts. How do you plan to visit one of the world’s most important nations and yet manage to insult some of its most well-connected and distinguished scientists? It boggles the mind. But we should keep in mind that if they do this to the cream of the intellectual crop imagine what they do to the average Indian. This all sends a terrific message to Indians about our openness to them and their ideas. What a way to make friends and influence people.
The State Department spokesperson Adam Ereli’s statement of regret is amusing:
“We try to treat everybody fairly. We certainly think we did so in this case, frankly. And we look forward to him having a good trip to the United States. Because the United States wants to be open and welcoming to all those who wish to come here and we’ve made every effort in this case to be open, to be welcoming and to deal with Professor Mehta in a respectful and cordial way.”
When you consider this statement by the ‘victim:’
Mehta said that he had already canceled his travel plans and declined a visiting professorship at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He said the issuance of a visa will not change his decision.
The NY Times version of the story further notes:
Dr. Mehta said he had visited the United States about 20 times but would never again apply for an American visa.
Perhaps Adam Ereli should’ve sung instead “we’ll be missing you in all the old familar places.”
The NY Times notes that two other distinguished Indian academics have also been denied visas from the same U.S. consulate:
…Placid Rodriguez, said he was called by the consulate on Feb. 16. A nuclear metallurgist who helped develop India’s fast-breeder reactor in the 1990’s, he had sought a visa in November to speak at a minerals and metals conference starting March 12 in San Antonio. He said he was told [on Feb. 16] it would take about eight weeks to review his answers to a new questionnaire.
…Dr. Rodriguez said that when he was told that, he saw no point in completing the questionnaire because he would have missed the conference. Besides, he wondered aloud, why hadn’t consular officials asked for the questionnaire in November?
The final case, reported Thursday by an English-language daily, The Indian Express, involved a biologist, P. C. Kesavan, who said he had been told his visa application would be delayed. A scientist affiliated with the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Dr. Kesavan told the newspaper he had been asked for his “entire biographical sketch” by the consulate in Chennai. The paper quoted him as calling it a “most demeaning and humiliating experience.”