His first U.S. speaking tour in six years did little to settle the wildly conflicting image of Oxford University Professor Tariq Ramadan. A voice of moderation to many academics and other supporters, he remains a source of suspicion – "an Islamist in sheep's clothing" as CNN's Christiane Amanpour put it.
The debate rages in Canada, too, where Ramadan, the grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna speaks tonight.
For six years, American officials refused to grant Ramadan a visa, saying he donated to a Hamas-linked charity. Ramadan denied knowing the charity was tied to Hamas and his supporters won an appeal in U.S. federal court which would have given him a chance to prove his claim.
That challenge was still in the appellate review process when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reversed course in January and opened the door to a visa. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said that Hillary Clinton had "signed an exemption" based on her authority contained in the Immigration and Nationality Act. He cited the following as one of the key reasons:
"But in the Secretary's judgment, and consistent with President Obama's outreach to the – to Muslims around the world, we want to encourage a global debate. 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."
Curiously, the exemption cited by Crowley contains a specific provision that actually disallows such waivers in cases involving people who have "endorsed or espoused or persuaded others to endorse or espouse or support terrorist activity..." on behalf of designated FTOs.
Someone should explain why Ramadan still qualifies for the exemption. He has justified terrorist attacks on American military personnel in Iraq at least twice.
In an interview published by the Italian magazine Panorama in September 2004, Ramadan said "resistance to the army is just" because "Iraq was colonized by the Americans." He drew a line at "kidnappings and car bombings that don't differentiate between civilians and soldiers."
He made a similar distinction about violence against Israel and in Chechnya, saying it's okay to fight repression and dictatorship, "But the killings or the kidnapping of civilians are illegitimate tools of a legitimate resistance."
He drew similar lines last week during an interview on CNN:
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: There are people here who are very confused about how to judge what you believe and what you're talking about and what you're trying to preach about Islam and reform.
RAMADAN: So anyone who is telling you, I was not clear in suicide bombings, for example, or targeting innocent, he is wrong or she is wrong. This never happened. My position on this is, the Palestinian resistance or the Iraqi resistance is legitimate. The means should be ethical. You cannot target innocent people. You cannot target civilians. I was always clear.
His justification of attacking Americans in Iraq that has not received the attention it deserves. Ramadan clearly stated, "The resistance to the army is just." That "resistance" includes al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda in Iraq, both officially designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO).
For Ramadan, it's fine for Hamas and Hezbollah to kidnap and murder Israeli Defense Force soldiers and for al-Qaeda in Iraq to blow up American soldiers with IEDs. Such endorsements can have real world consequences. If he's as respected a figure as his supporters claim, his words may be viewed as sanction by violent Islamists who revere his grandfather and the ideology he espoused.