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Thursday, May 28, 2009

A World of Least-Wanted Lists

According to Ben Ward of Human Rights Watch in London, the British list was mainly about the Muslims — the American right-wingers were politically correct padding — and shows just how much Britain and countries like France and Spain still worry about the militant Islamists in their midst. But of course we shouldn’t be so naïve. People are stopped from traveling all the time — around the globe and in the United States. They are held back for minor and major infractions, but also for what they think or say, although Britain more or less stands alone in making public who is banned — a name-and-shame list, as the British government put it.

During the cold war, the United States had a rich tradition of excluding people it didn’t like on ideological grounds. Morton H. Halperin, a consultant to the Open Society Institute, an organization that promotes democracy around the world, said the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 targeted Communists but in the following decades was applied rather more broadly. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the act famously excluded the future Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau and the writers Graham Greene, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Doris Lessing and Dario Fo.

Although Congress eventually repealed the act, the power of “ideological exclusion” persists today in the USA Patriot Act, according to Caroline Fredrickson of the A.C.L.U. The act allows the authorities to bar foreigners who use a “position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity.” In a letter in March to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, among others, the A.C.L.U. and other human rights groups said that dozens of scholars and intellectuals were being banned from the country “not on the basis of their actions but on the basis of their ideas.”


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