A prominent Muslim scholar banned from the United States for six years returned Wednesday for visits to four cities, saying he wants the US to know its greatest threat is that it will surrender its core values because it fears Muslim-dominated countries.
"In the name of your fear or mistrust of Muslim-majority countries, you may end up betraying your own values," Tariq Ramadan said in a telephone interview.
Ramadan said he was happy to be in the US as he made the 20-mile (32-kilometer) trip in a car from Newark (New Jersey) Liberty International Airport to New York City, where he was to speak on a panel Thursday at The Cooper Union college.
"My name has been cleared," he said.
Still, he said he was delayed at customs for about an hour as he was interviewed by authorities there.
The 47-year-old professor at Oxford University in England was permitted to return to the United States after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in January signed orders enabling re-entry for him and Adam Habib, a scholar from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.
Habib spoke Wednesday at the City University of New York Graduate Center. The Department of State said when the orders were signed that it wanted to enable the professors to return to encourage a global debate.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Ramadan's behalf after his US visa was revoked in 2004 as he was about to move to Indiana to take a tenured teaching job at the University of Notre Dame. He has spoken at Harvard and Stanford universities and elsewhere.
Later, his visa applications were denied on the grounds that he had donated $1,336 to a charity that gave money to Hamas, a Palestinian militant group. Ramadan has said he has no connections to terrorism, opposes Islamic extremism and promotes peaceful solutions.
On Wednesday, Ramadan said the controversy over the donation "was something ridiculous."
Ramadan said he will be speaking with scholars in Chicago and Detroit before finishing his trip on Monday in Washington, where he will meet with members of Congress and speak at Georgetown University.
He said he planned to remain outspoken, criticizing Muslims at times and criticizing any of "our policies that are wrong." He said he was speaking as a European and a Westerner.
Ramadan said he wanted to be part of meeting the "responsibilities in the West to open channels for better communications with Muslim-majority countries."
He said he knew he would not be permitted to return to the United States during the administration of former President George W. Bush and wasn't certain even once President Barack Obama was elected.
"I heard lots of words and wanted to see if he would be able to deliver what I got," he said. "When listening to President Obama in Cairo, I said, 'This is a very good speech.'"
Obama extended a hand to the Islamic world in a speech in Cairo in June 2009.
"So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity," Obama said then. "And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end."
Ramadan said no one can deny there are improvements in communications between the United States and the rest of the world.
"To change mentalities and policies takes time and effort," he said. "I want to be instrumental in this."
ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer, who rode with Ramadan into the city, said Clinton deserves credit for clearing the way for Ramadan and Habib to re-enter the country but some scholars still remain excluded because of their viewpoints.
"We would like this administration to retire the practice of ideological exclusion," he said.