By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
Are we headed toward martial law? Last week Peter Kirsanow, a Bush appointee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, said in Detroit that he envisions a situation in which the public will demand internment camps for Arab Americans. If terrorists attack the U.S. for a second time and if "they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights," he said.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration currently is in the midst of a charade over the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which states that the military cannot engage in domestic police functions. In recent years that restriction has proved to be more myth than anything else. As if to underscore that point, Alabama governor Don Siegelman announced last week that he was mobilizing 500 members of the Alabama National Guard to "serve in the homeland defense role within the United States." And at the same time, the U.S. general in charge of the Northern Command, which oversees defense of the continental U.S., suggested that the military may come to have a larger role in policing the country against terrorism. The Bush administration has its attorneys looking to see whether the Posse Comitatus Act, which was adopted to get federal troops out of the South after the Civil War, should be changed. The act has little muscle and was breached repeatedly in the Waco siege. Military personnel and technology were used at Waco to train domestic-security agents, fly choppers, supervise the use of equipment, and go over final plans for the assault. Special Forces were used to train ATF agents before the Waco operations, and they were at Waco during the siege. National Guard troops from Alabama and Texas were used in the initial phases of Waco.
From the Vietnam War through the armed guerrilla wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, churches in the U.S. have been widely viewed as sanctuaries for protesters, not the place for ratting them out. But buried in President Bush's domestic terrorism program is a suggestion that along with letter carriers, meter readers, and cable technicians, churches will play an important role in "a national reporting system that allows these workers, whose routines make them well positioned to recognize unusual events, to report suspicious activity."
Bush himself, in an April speech in Knoxville, Tennessee, spoke of the need for a Citizen Corps and, as a step in that direction, urged citizens to gather around their religious institutions. "It means organizing a program in your church or your synagogue or your mosque," he said, "to help hear the universal call of loving somebody just like you'd like to be loved yourself."
The Citizens' Preparedness Guide even lists "Places of Worship" in its table of contents and suggests that in addition to schools and other public places, churches could be useful in making "preparedness a part of [people's] daily lives. . . . Places of Worship provide a valuable support network and an opportunity to share information about preparedness." And adds, "Consider incorporating your place of worship into your Neighborhood Watch Programs." It adds, "Hold meetings to discuss preparedness and distribute copies of this guide to your congregation."
In the recent past, police and federal agents repeatedly have tried to infiltrate churches, but they have usually not succeeded. The idea of employing the church at the heart of an intelligence operation was startling to some members of the religious community reached by the Voice over the weekend. "I think that's terrible," said Reverend Elizabeth Braddon of Park Slope United Methodist Church. "With September 11 and since, our concern has been to offer protection to South Asian [and other] communities. . . . We would certainly not use our church community to target others."
"We're not here to spy on each other," said David W. Dyson, pastor of the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn. Peter Laarman, senior minister of Judson Memorial, called the idea "a total violation of what the spirit of religious community should be."
Immediately following 9-11, FBI agents began visiting mosques, and now mosques and other Muslim organizations of various types have come under close federal scrutiny. As for mosques becoming headquarters for this kind of spying, Abit Husein of the Islamic Society of Baltimore said, "They were talking about hiring one out of 10 Americans as a spythat was the news. So, that was shocking, too. I mean, everybody can spy on anyone elseyou never know if somebody is spying on you."
Ghazi Khankan, director of interfaith affairs at the Islamic Center of Long Island, said, "I have a message to Mr. Bush and Mr. Ashcroft, that the Muslim community is a self-policing community. The Islamic way of life and the Islamic teaching is opposed to acts of violence and terrorism as part of the religious teaching itself. . . . if we see someone is going to harm any human being or any property, it is my religious duty to stop that person." Khankan added, "That does not mean that we would not cooperate with any legitimate authority or organization that are on the lookout, but for God's sake, don't focus on Muslims alone, be on the lookout in all houses of worship, not just mosques."