Am I being spied upon?
That’s a common question many Muslims ask themselves nowadays.
The use of informants within Muslim communities in Canada is no secret. My feature article in the Montreal Gazette (back in 2007) looked into the issue. I also spoke to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to get their response.
I still get reports every now and then of CSIS agents meeting up with people and wanting to ask questions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on how it’s done.
But the interest in the Muslim community raises some serious dilemmas for ordinary Muslims like myself.
Who do you trust?
Trust is an important value – or so we like to think – in the Muslim community. We’re all brothers and sisters. Yet, a lot of times we’ve got to be very careful about what we say and how we say it, just because we don’t know who might screw us over.
Now, you might be thinking: “Aha, that mean’s you’re hiding something and don’t want ‘others’ to know about it!”
Not really. A lot of times, benign discussions (opposition to the Iraq war or the setting up of religious study circles, for example) can spark interest from CSIS. In the worst case scenario, something that’s said can be misconstrued and used against a person. That’s the fear anyway. Or an informant can possibly provoke a subject into saying something that could be remotely incriminating.
In any case, it’s not fun to have the feeling that you’re being spied upon. It’s even worse to know people think you’re a spy when you’re really not one.
That often happens to converts to Islam, mainly because the FBI has used supposed converts to spy on people and conduct sting operations. It happens to others too, like myself. While working at the Toronto Star in 2005, I was told by an imam (a friend) that some elder folks in the community were telling him to be careful of me as I might be a spy.
The bottom line is: There’s a serious trust deficit in the community, even if we don’t like to talk about it. Maybe that’s what CSIS wants.
To suspect or not to suspect?
The Qur’an clearly tells us not to suspect people. But the same verse tells us not to spy.
O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it…But fear Allah. For Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. (49:12)
Despite that fact we have nothing to hide and aren’t up to anything sinister, sometimes people act in such a way that it’s hard not to think of, at the very least, the possibility that they are informants.
Is it really bad?
When CSIS is criticized for spying on Muslims, the solution often given is that it needs to work with Muslims and be more open. But if a Muslim starts working for CSIS (not that anyone goes announcing it) and if word got around, they’d be shunned and looked down upon. Take Mubin Shaikh as an example.
So the question is: Is it bad to work with CSIS? Maybe you could do it with good intentions, like stopping terrorism and making sure the innocent don’t get screwed over? How about the argument that if I don’t spy for CSIS, somebody else will and that somebody might not know much about the community and could start causing trouble for truly innocent people? What if the intention is just to keep an eye out for truly bad folks and stopping CSIS from unnecessarily bothering innocent people?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I just think about this sometimes. And no, I’m not contemplating about becoming a spy.
How to know if you’re being spied upon
Whether it’s bad or not, no one likes being spied upon. If you want to know if you’re being watched, here are some signs.
1. CSIS knocks on your door and wants to speak to you. That’s a no-brainer.
2. If you’re too high-value of a target or a big mouth, they’ll use a more undercover method of spying on you. Now remember, the best spies are those who arise the least suspicion. So someone will get close to you and ask you for advice and seemingly benign questions on your views on stuff. Or they might try to provoke you to see what sort of reaction you give.
3. You notice strange clicks on your phone line, your line suddenly goes dead and a Bell repairman shows up, you come home and your security system is strangely turned off, your car is broken into (especially if it won’t start afterwards). These are all signs that you’re likely being watched.
Some of the above has happened to me and for all those undercover informants I’ve dealt with: I know who you are.
But it’s all good. I’m not doing anything wrong and believe it or not, I trust you that you won’t either. InshaAllah (if God wills).