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Muslim scholar visits U.S. after travel ban lifted

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A leading Muslim scholar, in the United States for the first time in six years after the Obama administration lifted a travel ban on him, says he will not shy away from criticizing the president whose policies finally allowed him to visit.

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“I think that people who were expecting him to change everything so quickly were just dreamers,” Tariq Ramadan told Reuters in an interview Thursday.

Ramadan, a Swiss citizen of Egyptian origin who was born in Switzerland, has written extensively on Western Muslims and on Islam. He is president of the thinktank European Muslim Network in Brussels and teaches at Britain’s Oxford University.

“I think the vision is there. The words are there,” he said of President Barack Obama, whom he faulted for not delivering more quickly on his pledge to shut the Guantanamo Bay prison for suspected militants and failing to make progress in the Middle East peace process.

“It’s when he is reelected that he can be more effective.”

In 2004, the United States revoked Ramadan’s visa. When he applied for a new visa, the application was denied on grounds he had made donations to the Association de Secours Palestinien, or ASP, from 1998 to 2002.

The Bush administration listed ASP as a banned group in 2003, saying it supported terrorism and contributed funds to the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, an organization the United States said had ties to terrorism.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lifted the ban on Ramadan in January.

“I have been in a peaceful mind for the last six years because I knew my record was clear,” Ramadan said. “Now this story is over. The Bush administration is over, so is my case.”

Ramadan, who said he visited the United States 13 times between 2001 and when his visa was revoked in 2004, will make his first U.S. public appearance since his ban was lifted at the Cooper Union school in New York as part of a literature festival.

“In the United States of America, I’m an academic. I shouldn’t have to say who I am going to speak to and what I am going to speak about,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union championed Ramadan’s case as part of a pattern of scholars being excluded due to unwarranted or unspecified U.S. national security grounds.

Ramadan said the U.S. policy toward him was contradictory. Just months before being denied a visa on national security grounds, he had been invited to Washington by the State Department to give a lecture on Islam.

“I was introduced as someone who is controversial, who is from the Muslim world,” he said. “So they knew exactly who I was.”

Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and John O’Callaghan