It may not be what you think.
June 28, 2006
Greece may be the birthplace of democracy, but a Marxist Greek professor was recently prohibited from entering our own democracy, thus depriving us of our right to listen to his views.
John Milios teaches political economy and the history of economic thought at the National Technical University in Athens.
In January, he was invited to present a paper at a conference at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
He accepted the invitation to address the June 8-10 conference, “How Class Works.”
His visa doesn’t expire until November, and he had used it five times before to enter the United States, he says, most recently in 2003.
But this time he didn’t get in.
When he arrived at JFK on June 8, he knew something was up “from the first moment that the Border Police officer checked my passport and visa and told me that there must be some ‘technical problems’ with my papers,” he tells me by e-mail. “The Border Police kept me in a room along with other people, mostly economic immigrants, who were also having problems with their entry into the USA.”
The officers suggested that his name must have gotten confused with another one that resembled his, he says.
Milios sent a message to a member of the Greek Parliament, Alekos Alavanos, who is president of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), to which Milios belongs. Alavanos contacted the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Milios’s expulsion was front-page news in Greece.
“After five hours of waiting, I was informed by the Border Police officer that two federal agents had come to question me,” he says.
Milios says they played good cop/bad cop, with one not even introducing himself and just looking angry.
“They asked me two kinds of questions: First, rather typical questions related to who I am (name, age, profession, marital status, reason for traveling to the USA, etc). Second, questions about my political ideas and affiliations,” he says. “They interrogated me about my public (and at least in Greece) well-known political involvement.” He says they asked: “To which party I belong, what the political goals of this party are, what role do I play in this party, do I belong to the leadership or not, with what means (‘democratic or militant’!) are the party’s goals going to be accomplished, etc.”
Milios says the federal agent told him “he does not have any problem with me” and it was up to Customs. His interrogators left.
At that point, the Customs officer, who was with Milios the whole time, gave him the word. He “informed me that due to technical discrepancies, my visa should be cancelled.”
They put him on the next flight back.
“Before sending me home, they photocopied everything that I had in my wallet (including credit cards), and they took my fingerprints from all ten fingers,” he says.
Milios is outraged at his treatment.
“I find the whole incident ridiculous,” he says. “Who is afraid of my research work and ideas? Why should overseas Marxist research not be discussed with American citizens in the USA? I am startled and astonished!”
Lucille Cirillo is a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection. “Based on information provided by the State Department, Milios was determined not to be admissible into the United States,” she says.
“This seems to be another instance of ideological exclusion,” says Jameel Jaffer, deputy director of the ACLU’s national security program.
He notes that Section 411 of the USA Patriot Act allows the government to bar from this country those “who endorse or espouse terrorist activity.”
“The way the government has interpreted that provision is very troubling,” he says, explaining that a State Department manual interprets this to mean that people can be excluded for “irresponsible expressions of opinion.”
Michael Zweig invited Milios to the United States. The director of the Center for Study of Working Class Life at SUNY Stony Brook, Zweig denounced the exclusion of Milios.
“I am embarrassed to have to protest this unacceptable political intrusion into the flow of ideas and intellectual work across borders, a mission at the heart of any university’s purpose,” he said. “His absence was a serious loss to the intellectual life of the conference and the university.”
The American Association of University Professors wrote a letter of protest to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff, citing not only Milios’s exclusion but also that of Tariq Ramadan, the Muslim scholar who was denied entry into the United States, where he had been offered a tenured position at Notre Dame
“The government’s barring entry of Professor Milios is one more instance, so the available information indicates, of the Administration’s seeming disregard for our society’s commitment to academic freedom,” wrote Jonathan Knight, the director of the AAUP’s program in Academic Freedom and Tenure.
The ACLU argues that the government’s action also infringes on all of our First Amendment rights.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the First Amendment protects not only the right to speak but the right to listen,” Jaffer says. He cited former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan in Lamont v. Postmaster General, who said, “It would be a barren marketplace of ideas that had only sellers and no buyers.”
For his part, Milios wants to return to the United States.
“I am very eager to come back,” he says. “I have a lot of good friends and colleagues in the USA, and I also want to participate in at least two scientific conferences in the near future.”