The Lancet: USA Should Allow Free Exchange of Scientific Ideas
March 12, 2007 § 4 Comments
The Lancet | Editorial | 10 February 2007-16 February 2007
Last week, eight Muslim and Islamic scholars sent a petition to the South African Government calling for a UN investigation to be started into the treatment of Muslims travelling from South Africa to the USA. The men claim to have experienced discrimination, because of their appearance, at the hands of airport and immigration officials either en route to the USA or on US soil.
Their case is not an isolated one. Since the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the USA, there has been an upsurge in anti-Muslim travel incidents. This trend is a concern for those involved in protecting human rights and for the scientific community. In today’s Correspondence we publish anecdotal evidence that suggests that UK researchers with Muslim-sounding names are being denied the opportunity to travel to scientific conferences in the USA.
In the letter, Izhar Khan from the University of Aberdeen details the experience of one of his Muslim research fellows who has not been issued with a visa to travel to a nephrology meeting in the USA. Khan notes that two other Muslim researchers from the university have had a similar experience. When The Lancet asked the US embassy in London about their processes for issuing visas for conferences they said: “There is no special process for applications from persons with Muslim names…All persons with common names, regardless of nation of origin, may be subject to administrative processing as there is a greater likelihood that their name will match the name of someone listed in our database who is ineligible for a visa.”
Whether these researchers have been subject to extra “administrative processing” is unclear. Either way, they have been denied the opportunity to present their scientific work to an international audience. US scientific and medical societies that host international conferences should raise the issue with Congress and the US State Department and demand that immigration laws do not interfere with the free exchange of ideas. If Muslim voices are prevented from speaking at international conferences, then the whole scientific community will lose out.
The USA should allow the free exchange of scientific ideas. “The Lancet”. 10 February 2007. Volume 369. Issue 9560. 438.