- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

The decision to deny a visa to Dora Maria Tellez, a Nicaraguan scholar who had planned to study English at the University of San Diego last fall and teach at Harvard in the spring, has led to campus protests and angry denunciations of the actions of the State Department. More than 100 faculty members and administrators from the University of San Diego, Harvard and Notre Dame signed a letter denouncing the actions of the Bush administration and demanding that the State Department clear the name of Dora Maria Tellez by restoring her human rights.

In denying the visa, the U.S. general consul in Nicaragua, Luis Espada-Platet, indicated in a letter to Ms. Tellez that the Immigration and Nationality Act prevents persons who allegedly endorse or espouse terrorist activity from entering the country. Under the Patriot Act, the federal government has the authority to exclude foreigners who, in the government’s view, have used positions of prominence to endorse or espouse terrorist activity.

While Ms. Tellez states that she “is a scholar and not a terrorist,” and claims in interviews to have “no idea why I have been labeled,” the reality is that in 1978 Ms. Tellez described herself as a “combatant, and guerrilla leader.” Ms. Tellez was one of 25 revolutionaries who dressed as waiters and took over Nicaragua’s National Assembly. During this time, Ms. Tellez called herself “Commander 2” and served as the political commander in the takeover of the national palace In an impressive show of force, Ms. Tellez held 2,000 government officials hostage in a two-day standoff. She later led guerrillas to rise up in the city of Leon. After the revolution, Ms. Tellez served as minister for health in the Sandinista government. She is a long-time advocate for gay and lesbian rights. The State Department has claimed that the Tellez visa denial is not related to her sexual orientation.

Faculty members from Notre Dame joined their San Diego colleagues in the denunciation of the Tellez denial. Most likely the Notre Dame involvement is related to the fact that last year, Tariq Ramadan was denied a visa to teach there. While the faculty claim that Mr. Ramadan was unfairly linked to terrorist groups simply because his grandfather, Hasan al-Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful Islamist institution of the 20th century, the reality is that Mr. Ramadan seems to have developed his own links. Daniel Pipes has pointed out that Mr. Ramadan was banned from entering France in 1996 on suspicion of having links with an Algerian Islamist who had initiated a terrorist campaign in Paris.

The terrorist links are clear in both cases, yet none of this information is included in the faculty response in either the Ramadan or the Tellez case. Most of the signers of the denunciations are probably unaware of these activities. In fact, in the San Diego case, faculty are reminded that Dora Maria Tellez could not be a terrorist because she had been allowed to visit the San Diego campus in 2001 to receive a prestigious honor from the university. Besides, the university has honored other members of terrorist organizations. In the spirit of leaving no terrorist behind, Luz Mendez, a Guatemalan National Revolution Unity Party member, received the university’s 2004 PeaceMaker Award. This, despite the fact that the State Department lists the party as a terrorist organization.

Undeterred by data linking these scholars to terrorist activities, the faculty at Notre Dame, Harvard and San Diego are more likely to blame the Bush administration for attempting to “silence” dissident scholars. They are joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records about what it described as “the federal government’s policy of excluding foreign scholars who have criticized United States policies.” Likewise, Jonathan Knight of the American Association of University Professors claims that the activities of the Bush administration raise “very serious questions about the administration’s decision to keep out individuals because of their expressed political ideas.”

It is not their ideas that are preventing the entry of these scholars; it is their activities. As David Horowitz points out in his book, “Unholy Alliance,” an under-appreciated fact about the war on terror is that America had become a base of terrorist operations because the liberties provided by the American legal system have allowed terrorists to travel freely, raise money, propagandize, recruit and move men, women and money across international borders. The administration is addressing this through the Patriot Act. But colleges and universities have yet to learn.

Anne Hendershott is a professor of sociology at the University of San Diego. She is currently spending a year as a James Madison fellow at Princeton University.

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