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  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Is the worshipper beside you a heathen–or a spy?

Posted by James McPherson on March 20, 2009

Imagine the outcry if it were discovered that the Obama administration were sending spies into conservative Christian churches.

No, as far as I know, that hasn’t happened. But 10 Muslim organizations say the FBI has been infiltrating mosques–that the agency “has sent undercover agents posing as worshippers into mosques, pressured Muslims to become informants, labeled civil rights advocates as criminals and spread misinformation.”

Perhaps coincidentally, the report comes on the same day that Barack Obama used a video message to try to reach out to the Islamic nation of Iran: “The message is a dramatic shift in tone from that of the Bush administration, which included Iran, along with North Korea and Iraq, in an ‘axis of evil,'” CNN noted. “It also echoes Obama’s inaugural speech, in which he said to the Muslim world, ‘we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.'”

That respect is more likely to come if the government isn’t seen as an enemy of Islam–already a difficult message to carry forward with our consistent support of Israel. I’m not criticizing all of that support, but it does make relations with some Islamic countries more complicated.

Of course maybe we should be spying on Muslims–why should those suspicious peace-loving Quakers be the only religious group considered a threat?

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19 Responses to “Is the worshipper beside you a heathen–or a spy?”

  1. zelda said

    Well I will criticize the support the US gives Israel………..it’s a can of worms for sure.

    This country is all about the Jewish factor……….we are entwined to the hilt.

    And it is very much is a thorn in the US ‘s side in trying to even the playing field.I do not support our blind support of Israel.Factions will one day have to reap what they sow and either stand up to it or fall..all on their own.I believe that will HAVE to happen so that we, or any other country etc., are not in the line of fire. The “world game board”we are playing on is not taking any prisoners already.Notice that?

    The wicket is sticky but not surprising.

  2. Kelmar said

    Dealing directly with the opening of this post – if groups within Catholisism were bombing and killing innocent people, if active recruitment for these bombers was going on in Catholic churches and the church itself was not making a very vocal stand against these individuals – I would ABSOLUTELY support putting spies into Catholic churches and I’m Catholic. We put spies everywhere, why not a place of worship? It hasn’t happened before because we’ve never had a truly similar situation.

  3. skyboy said

    Interesting analogy and comparison to conservative Christians. A little surprising that you didn’t mention any other religions though. It would also go a long way if you were to take a look at the SIPRI (Stockholm Institue for Peace) website. There they list the major and minor conflicts taking place on the planet. Take a look at how many of them have radical muslims on one or even both sides of those conflicts. I would say that it’s provable that mosques are recruitment centers then ‘thank you FBI’ might be appropriate.

  4. Bryan said

    if Southern baptists were strapping bombs to themselves and running into abortion clinics and IF churches were giving 100K to the family members of the bomber, then yes, I would expect spies in a Southern Baptist Church.

  5. Adam F. said

    Coming from a left-wing San Francisco liberal…I say GOOD. Its obvious that a good portion of Muslims don’t like our “western” ways and want to hurt us. A mosque seems like a logical place to look for religious zealots. I am not saying we need to trample upon innocent peoples rights, but lets be real here people, we need to stay on top of the Muslim community moreso than other sectors.

  6. James McPherson said

    “A little surprising that you didn’t mention any other religions though.”

    The main (but obviously unclear) reason for the reference was because traditional conservatives (who seem, sadly to be dying out) tend to be both God-fearing and government-fearing, and therefore among those most lkely to support civil rights and to decry government agents in churches (or church schools).

    “I would say that it’s provable that mosques are recruitment centers then ‘thank you FBI’ might be appropriate.”

    Perhaps–as long as you’re not saying the ends justifies the mean in that “proof.” And if you’re not saying that if a mosque (which might belong to any of the various versions of Islam) in Los Angeles happens to prove to be a “recruitment center,” that justifies cracking down on every mosque in the country. Put another way, would you say that the nutcase activities of Westboro Baptist Church accurately reflect the beliefs or actions of most Baptists?

    After all, even if we exclude those who made biblical arguments in support of the misguided Iraq War (which has killed 100,000 to a million civilians–in other words, perhaps more in six years than Saddam Hussein killed in 24 years), there has been no shortage of folks even in recent times who have used Christianity to justify violence, sometimes to the point of terrorism. They include Paul Hill (http://www.armyofgod.com/Paulhillindex.html), Eric Rudolph (http://www.armyofgod.com/EricRudolphHomepage.html), and many others (http://www.armyofgod.com/POClist.html) in this country.

    Other countries seeing even more “Christian” murderers have included Ireland (Catholics “bombing and killing innocent people,” for whch American Irish Catholics raised a lot of money), Rwanda and Bosnia.

    My concern isn’t with investigations into churches or mosques or their members, though: it’s with investigating them to the point of harrassment if it’s just because they happen to be associated with Islam (without other evidence of collaboration in wrongdoing), while at the same time we’re supposedly “reaching out” to Muslim nations. At best, as I noted above, that complicates issues. Thanks for the comments, all.

  7. Michael King said

    The type of religion is irrelevant. If the FBI suspects that ANY branch of ANY religion is a potential threat to the USA or any of its citizens, the is has the responsibility to investigate. Given that Muslim extremists believe it is their mandated duty to attack the USA, its citizens and our way of life, then the FBI MUST do everything in its power to prevent terror within the USA, especially at the grass roots level. It seems that most people truly haven’t considered the implications of USA-based localized terror cells that could begin their own local bombing campaigns at movie theaters, court houses, police stations, schools, churches, etc.

    If you watch the news at all, even sporadically, you are likely to see something about some bombing that occurred some where in the middle east where innocent civilians were killed. What if that begins happening here in the USA? Are you then going to blame the FBI for not doing their jobs?

    I understand that it is not fair to Muslims who are law-abiding citizens that they should be stereotyped with extremist Muslims. But the fact remains that only Muslims are engaging in terrorist activities and as long as the FBI isn’t interfering with honest Muslim activities, then is the FBI really doing any harm? What if the FBI were investigating a local Christian church by planting spies? As long as the spies don’t interfere with the legal operation of the church, then who cares? The church doesn’t have anything to hide. If mosques don’t have anything to hide, then they should perhaps welcome the fact that they’re being investigated instead of casting doubt on themselves by wanting the FBI out of their mosque.

    I go to church and am actively involved there. If they suspected we were conducting illegal activities, I would want them in our church if for no other reason to convince them of our innocence.

    If they have nothing to hide then this shouldn’t be an issue.

    If one of my family members committed a complex crime, I would expect the law to investigate me to see if I’m involved and I would want to prove myself innocent to them rather than not cooperate and have people think I’m guilty.

  8. zelda said

    I agree with the comments above accept for James.
    Now James………..you can’t cry “they are stepping on my rights” now can you.Not if you have your right thinking cap on.
    And how , by the way, can anything be proven unless it’s checked out?
    It’s a different world now………and we now have to think defensively.

  9. James McPherson said

    “It’s a different world now………and we now have to think defensively.”

    Hmm. It seems to me that that’s the same argument used to promote Red Scares of the 1920s and 1950s, and which brought neo-cons power in recent years. And those certainly worked out well, didn’t they?

  10. zelda said

    Yes…..that is true.
    But I feel there is a fine line between good sense and “blowing off” where we are today.
    It’s difficult to reach back and compare situations totally don’t you think?
    What would you suggest we do today?

    I understand the scare tactic formula being used as far as a scheme to control the population. But when I say it’s a different world I mean just that. I don’t need to tell you that.

    1920’s………1950’s? This is 2009.Yikes!!!!

  11. James McPherson said

    Well, how about if we go back even further, to the words attributed to Ben Franklin after the Constitutional Convention in 1787? Asked whether the fledgling country had a monarchy or a republic, Franklin supposedly responded, “a republic, if you can keep it.” Every so often, a frightened populace seems determined not to keep it.

    Franklin, you’ll remember, is also the one who said, “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”

    As for what I think we should do: obey the law, and adhere to the Constitution. Thanks, as always, for contributing to the discussion.

  12. zelda said

    I don’t think you can quote Franklin on the liberty for security idea. You have just proven my point.You are going back to a time(1787) when those words were applicable.Yes….I realize that fear is fear and can be a timeless statement ………..if taken literally.
    The world we live in today is much different.It’s like the difference of a kid playing with a pop gun in the 40’s and now that gun that is available to the kid of today is an oozie.People start out the same..times and dangers change.
    Dirt roads……freeways……….things change.
    We find ourselves in a scary place in the US that is a real first in many ways.
    There are REAL reasons to be scared James! Not just the HYPE aimed to control us.
    Don’tcha think?

  13. zelda said

    By the way.you understand that there is plan to get rid of the constitution via the Amero plan for Canada the US and Mexico……….if and when that happens what will the people follow?

  14. James McPherson said

    “There are REAL reasons to be scared…”

    Many reasons, indeed. But among those that scares me most are the idea of unfettered government leaders who can define “enemies” as they see fit, and those citizens so frightened that they’d let their leaders do so.

    As for the “Amero,” That seems to be strictly an urban myth propagated by right-wing nutball Hal Turner: See http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/amerocoin.asp and http://www.snopes.com/politics/immigration/nau.asp and http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/domain.asp.

  15. zelda said

    I had not heard of nutball Hal Turner..so I guess I had better shut up and do some homework before I comment from now on.Let’s HOPE that he IS a REAL nutball…….
    I know you are enormously well read……so I will go with you on that one.

    Yes……you are right about the goons we elect that take us down the primrose path.
    Could be more reasons people “let” leaders define the enemies.For one the “dumbing down” of Americans fits in wouldn’t you say.?We just aint that smart any more.
    thanks James

  16. ms said

    I completely agree, there should be undercover agents in mosques. Mosques are used not just for worship, like we tend to think they are.
    The vast majority of terrorist acts are carried out by Muslims in the name of Islam. If they weren’t, there would be no problem. But they are.
    If they weren’t trying to change the laws of the countries they have chosen to live in there wouldn’t be a problem. But they are.
    If they weren’t trying (and succeeding) to change the curriculum and rewrite history in our schools there wouldn’t be a problem. Once again they are.
    When you are born in a country and have no love or pride or patriotism for that country find another. When you choose to completely separate yourself and pick and choose the laws you’ll live by then you are not a good citizen. When you prefer to live by a barbaric code , such as Sharia law, go to a country that already has it. We don’t want it. Ever
    If I decided to leave the US and live in another country I would have to learn the language, follow their laws, behave in the manner of the people around me, go to school and learn about the history of THEIR country. If you come here you should plan to do the same. Or leave. Please. Just leave.

  17. zelda said

    I rest my case James………….ms has it on the nose.
    There are real and first time threats looming as well put by ms”s rational blog.
    These facts are not a spin.
    I wish they were.

  18. […] Republicans for their pain. But they and Lou Dobbs can go on blaming Mexicans and other “foreigners” for pretty much everything else, from lost jobs to leprosy. Tagged with: Barack Obama, […]

  19. […] Is the worshipper beside you a heathen–or a spy? […]

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