Wartime sensitivities are sending U.S. Immigration scurrying to protect the border from a new kind of terrorist threat -- theologians bearing reading material. Waterloo pastor Matthew Bailey-Dick, a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), was returning to his studies at a seminary in Indiana a few weeks back when he got called over by worried customs officials.
Bailey-Dick, who had just finished a speaking engagement in his hometown on his recent trip to Iraq with the CPT delegation, carried with him copies of the organization's newsletter.
Immigration officers confiscated the pastor's student visa and detained him for fingerprinting and a quick photo shoot.
The reason for the holdup was simply that his material was, according to officials, "anti-American." They were not mad about the Question Authority sticker on his guitar case. (And one wonders if a Jesus Hates The French decal would have gotten him waved through.)
With the American government's threat advisory thermometer currently hovering at yellow, policy interpretation has apparently been left to the whim of border officials.
The Peacemakers have teams of human rights observers all over the world. Their newsletter aims to keep people abreast of their activities, but the officers' particular concern was probably the articles on Iraq, where CPT has stationed two Canadians and four Americans.
The purpose of this presence, according to Bailey-Dick's spokesperson, the CPT's Doug Pritchard, is to "meet with ordinary Iraqis to hear of their experience." The material for the article Why Don't They Hate Us? was gleaned from these experiences, and it contrasts startlingly with another article in the newsletter titled Physicians' Report Forecasts Huge Death Toll.
Bailey-Dick was eventually allowed back to his studies, but was first questioned by an FBI agent in Indiana the next day.
But the fact that the accounts of courage and dismay he carried with him could be deemed "anti-American" says a lot about the prevailing definition of "American" these days.
While Department of Homeland Security's Janet Rappaport says she can't speak about this particular case, she does offer that "all documents are being given greater scrutiny" and that literature-bearing travellers will now more often be "referred to secondary examinations."
You've been warned.