The British government has sparked debate for naming 16 individuals that are banned from entering the UK because the government considers their views "dangerous" to society. But as The World's Matthew Bell reports, the U-S has its own complicated relationship with "ideological exclusions."
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MARCO WERMAN: Well, a new policy in Britain is causing some conflict. This week, the British government released a short list of people banned from entering the UK. The government bans them because of their opinions. The list includes several Americans, among them a white supremacist and the right-wing radio talk show host Michael Savage. As The World's Matthew Bell reports, the list has stoked an ongoing debate in Britain and the US about ideological exclusions.
MATTHEW BELL: Michael Savage says he wasn't planning to travel to Britain in the first place, but now he's suing for defamation.
MICHAEL SAVAGE: They link me up with Russian skinheads who have murdered 10 people, preachers in the UK who call for the destruction and overthrow of the government. How could they put Michael Savage in the same league with mass murderers when I have never avowed violence? Had I avowed violence, I wouldn't be on the radio. I wouldn't have lasted 15 minutes let alone 15 years.
BELL: In those 15 years, Savage has attracted millions of fans and caused plenty of offense with remarks on subjects from Islam to illegal immigration to autism. British Home Secretary Jackie Smith is the target of Savage's lawsuit. She's defending her decision to ban him from entering Britain. Smith says he would be likely to set off inter-community tension and even violence.
JACKIE SMITH: We've got standards in this country of the sorts of values that we expect of those who have the privilege of coming here. I think its right that we uphold those standards. That's the basis on which we make decisions about unacceptable behavior. That's the basis on which he's on the list.
BELL: So what are the standards in this country? Does the United States bar people from coming here on ideological grounds?
JAMIL JAFFER: Unfortunately, the answer is yeah.
BELL: Jamil Jaffer directs the National Security Project for the American Civil Liberties Union. He says the Bush administration revived the Cold War practice of stopping foreign nationals from entering the US not for their actions, but for their beliefs. And Jaffer says the Obama administration is continuing the practice based on the Patriot Act.
JAFFER: The Patriot Act allows the government to exclude foreign nationals if they have endorsed or espoused terrorist activities, and that may sound unobjectionable on its face â€“ it may sound like a good idea to exclude people who have endorsed terrorism. But all of those words â€“ endorse and espouse, persuade is also a word that's in the statute â€“ those words are manipuable and they are elastic. And they can be used, the statute can be used to exclude people who have done nothing more nefarious than disagree with US foreign policy.
BELL: Jaffer is the lead attorney on a lawsuit the ACLU is pursuing on behalf of the Islamic scholar Tariq Rahmadan. He's a Swiss citizen living in Britain. Rahmadan was hired to teach on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame in 2004, but he was refused entry to the country. The US government says Rahmadan donated about $1300 dollars to a charity in Europe that aids Palestinians, and the US has designated that charity a â€œterrorist organizationâ€ for funding Hamas. But Rahmadans defenders say that designation came after he made the donations. They say the real reason Rahmadan is barred from coming to the US has to do with his views on Islam and American foreign policy. Matthew Levitt is a former US intelligence official with the Bush administration. He says Rahmadan might have a good court case, but he doubts that the scholar, or anyone else for that matter, is banned from coming into the US for simply holding objectionable views.
MATTHEW LEVITT: US government exclusion policies are based on actions, not on ideas. There may be some cases where it's less clear, because the government hasn't been able to make public enough information about the case. But someone would have to be tied to a terrorist group or to fundraising for a group like that to be excluded from the United States. To my knowledge, the US does not exclude solely based on one's ideas or ideology.
BELL: Nor should it, says Levitt, who is now with the Washington Institute for Neareast Policy, where he helped publish a recent study on combating radical Islamic ideology.
LEVITT: While we combat the underlying radical ideology, we need to do it in such a way that protects our values. And that means we should just keep â€“ knee-jerk and keep people out of the country who just disagree with us. If they have a connection to terrorism, that's a whole different bowl of wax.
BELL: Getting a clear answer from current US officials on what exactly constitutes a connection to terrorism is not easy. Multiple agencies turned down requests for on the record interviews for this story. For The World, I'm Matthew Bell.