Muslim scholar rights delayed

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NEW YORK (AP) – A federal judge said he is troubled by government delays in deciding whether a Muslim scholar can enter the United States and may order authorities to make a decision.

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union accuses the government of manipulating the Patriot Act to try to silence Tariq Ramadan, who has been invited to speak in the United States later this month and twice later this year.

U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty said the State Department seemed to be taking a long time to act on a request by Ramadan last August to enter the country, especially since Ramadan’s case had been active for more than two years.

“I’ve convinced myself that when the government wants to act, it can act quickly,” the judge said at a hearing Thursday, noting that the government acted quickly in December 2004, when Ramadan withdrew a previous request to enter the United States.

“You jumped on it like a wolf going after a lamb chop,” the judge said. “I have the impression that the government steps on the brake and accelerator depending on what it wants to do.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney David S. Jones insisted the government was not trying to act slowly and the case was being taken seriously. “It’s not being put in a drawer,” he said.

Jones said a decision was delayed because an interview of Ramadan in December identified eligibility issues that needed to be investigated.

Ramadan, a Swiss intellectual and visiting fellow in Oxford, England, has said he opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and sympathizes with the resistance there and in the Palestinian territories. But Ramadan has said he has no connections to terrorism, opposes Islamic extremism, and promotes peaceful solutions.

Outside court, ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer said it was “great” that the government had backed off an August 2004 suggestion that Ramadan did not oppose terrorism.

“It’s very stigmatizing to have the U.S. government saying you support terrorism,” he said.

The judge asked both sides to submit written arguments by the end of April, which Jaffer noted meant that Ramadan could not attend this month’s PEN American Center’s World Voices Festival in New York.

The judge said Ramadan could still appear at the festival through electronic means.

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