After more than five years of waiting, the American State Department has decided, in a document signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to lift the ban that prohibited me (as well as Professor Adam Habib from South Africa) from entering the United States.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)—which, along with the American Academy for Religion, the American Association of University Professors and the PEN American Center had taken legal action against the American government—has hailed the decision is “a major victory for civil liberties” in the United States. Under the Bush administration, academics and intellectuals were frequently excluded on the false pretext of security. Today’s decision reflects the Obama administration’s willingness to reopen the United States to the rest of the world, and to permit critical debate.
Coming after nearly six years of inquiry and investigation, Secretary Clinton’s order confirms what I have affirmed and reaffirmed from day one: the first accusations of terrorist connections (subsequently dropped), then donations to Palestinian solidarity groups, were nothing more than a pretense to prohibit me from speaking critically about American government policy on American soil. The decision brings to an end a dark period in American politics that saw security considerations invoked to block critical debate through a policy of exclusion and baseless allegation.
Today I am delighted at the decision. After more than six years, my exclusion from the United States has come to an end. At no time did I equate the American government (and particularly the Bush administration) with American civil society, its academic institutions and intellectuals. I am duty bound to thank all those institutions and individuals that rallied to my support and worked to end unconstitutional ideological exclusion over the years. I am very happy and hopeful that I will be able to visit the United States very soon and to once again engage in an open, critical and constructive dialogue with American scholars and intellectuals
The decision marks a critical breakthrough in my commitment to a dialogue among civilizations, religions, peoples and their consciences. True dialogue is necessarily critical, political and ideological; nothing should hinder opinions from being expressed and debated. I have never ceased doing so, and never will. Other governments—in the Near East—continue to ban me from their territory and forbid me to express myself freely. We must salute the progress accomplished by the United States—while remaining vigilant and critical of American policies. It is a matter of vital importance to resist all attempts to intimidate by bans, threats, defamation or calumny.
The road ahead is long. But there are victories that give us the strength to go on. This is one such victory. It should remind those who have made use of my exclusion to smear, insult and condemn me in a deceptive and cynical way that only ideas can triumph in a debate of ideas. The dignity of a cause will be the cause of its triumph.