By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A South African scholar is un-Muzzled

Adam Habib

In October 2006, a South African scholar named Adam Habib, a frequent visitor to the United States, was detained at JFK Airport, questioned about his political beliefs and hustled out of the country.

Habib later learned that the Bush administration had decided, on the basis of no apparent evidence, that he had ties to terrorism. More likely his exclusion was based on his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq.

Habib’s ordeal led me to bestow a 2008 Phoenix Muzzle Award upon then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and then-secretary of homeland security Michael Chertoff for exploiting the vast, vague powers they had been granted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to silence a prominent critic. Among other things, their actions forced Habib — who received his Ph.D. from City University of New York — to cancel an appearance at an academic conference in Boston on Aug. 1 of that year.

Now Habib is once again free to travel to the United States. In January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an order clearing Habib, a sociology professor at the University of Johannesburg, and Tariq Ramadan, a professor of St. Antony’s College, part of Oxford University, in response to a legal action brought by the ACLU and several other organizations.

Habib is currently on a 19-day tour of the U.S. that will bring him to Harvard Law School this Wednesday, an appearance being co-sponsored by the ACLU of Massachusetts. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Habib praises Clinton’s decision, but urges the Obama administration to end his predecessor’s policy of “ideological exclusion.” Chronicle reporter Peter Schmidt writes:

“It is absolutely incumbent on the Obama administration to follow through on these tentative steps” and “withdraw all of the practices of ideological exclusion that emerged during this period,” Mr. Habib said. Noting how President Obama was himself shaped by living abroad as a child, Mr. Habib said, “It would be a failing of his own history, his own awakening, of his own historical roots, for him not to follow through on these tentative steps.”

Unfortunately, as is frequently the case in these situations, Habib’s voice was stifled when we most needed to hear him speak.

University of Johannesburg photo via the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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1 Comment

  1. Christian Avard

    Dan, that’s great!

    This weekend, a good friend and former colleague was finally permitted to speak in the US after the US Consulate in The Netherlands relented. I think I told you about him. His name is Mohammed Omer. He’s an award-winning Palestinian journalist who won the Martha Gellhorn award for journalism and he was brutally beaten by the Shin Beit while trying to return to Gaza after he received the award.

    Apparently Israel thought he was too much of a threat to speak in the US. I’m glad the US thought otherwise.

    Here’s the press release.

    Matt Rothschild of The Progressive also wrote something about him.

    Glad to see justice prevail for them both!

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