I arrived yesterday only to be detained a second time--this time in Atlanta--as I tried to reenter the United States from an overseas trip. Now, when I was returning from Malaysia, I reentered the U.S. by way of Los Angeles and the gentleman Customs Agent in the booth was so surprised that my passport didn't seem to work properly when he swiped it confirming my reentry. He apologetically said that he would have to call someone from the other side and that I would have to wait in front of him. But it didn't take very long for the armed guard to arrive. After more than an hour, questioning, searching, etc., I was released to go about my business as I wanted. In the meantime, however, I had the opportunity to school the Agents on the senseless priorities being demonstrated by our elected and appointed leaders--that they are being asked to tighten their belts, with student loans in tow, while spending for the war machine of death and destruction rages on. When they escorted me out, they were telling me about their travails with student loans. One told me that he wakes up every morning wondering how/if he will ever be able to pay his student loans. He also was proud of his education, but pointed out to me that although he was allowed to carry a gun on his job (Customs Agent), a college education wasn't even required. He took that as an example of how much his employer actually cared about him as a person. I told him that in Libya, education was free, but that the U.S. bombed that country. He wrote down the name of my book on Libya and took my e-mail address down. The other armed Customs Agent told me that his daughter was a Ph.D. candidate, but that she was burdened by student loans and asked if I could help with that situation. I told them both that maybe one day I will be in a position to help students burdened with student loans. My one hour delay was an opportunity for me to see the ultimate weakness in the plot by whoever put my name on the list for extra attention: it gives me an opportunity to let them see just how stupid--if they already hadn't figured that out--the policies and regulations that lead this country are and that in the end, we are more alike than the ones who ordered them to give me this extra harassment.
The lesson wasn't lost on them, either.
Yesterday, I arrived in my home city of Atlanta. Here's what happened:
They put me in a glass cell so they could watch what the people inside were doing. It's their small jail because you can't get out unless they let you out.
They sent another family male, with his hijabbed wife and daughter into an interview room. I presumed that would be my next stop.
They sent three armed guards to escort me to get my bags. One Indian looking woman who refused to tell me her "personals." The others were three black males who all knew me.
The Indian woman asked me who i visited in Pakistan. I told her Dr. Aafia Siddiqui's family. She asked me who else and I responded ambassadors, diplomats, academicians, because lots of Pakistanis studied in the U.S.
They then proceeded to take all of my things out of all of my bags including my pocketbook. I asked them by name (except for the Indian-looking girl who did not give me her name and she was wearing a jacket so her name was not visible--she's probably not Customs, but Intelligence)--why I was getting this individualized attention. They responded that they were just following orders. I told them that I do understand that they are just following orders, but isn't it rather silly to even have such orders for harassment every time I return to my own country? Of course, I don't blame them. But their boss in DC who put my name on a list.
One respectfully said that Pakistan was a country of interest due to training camps. I responded, "you mean the US training camps?" He smiled knowingly.
One said Middle East. I responded that West Asia and North Africa are the correct geographic descriptions and shouldn't they be worried about health care, education, infrastructure, etc while the war machine rages on. I also asked them why did the TSA bosses took away the dosimeters when the TSA agents have to stand up all day next to those radiation-emitting machines not knowing the amount of damage being done to them?
I told them that I would not be deterred from protesting the war machine at home and abroad and that they should remember my name because I will not stop standing for peace.
I don't think I have to do too much schooling of the Agents; one of them told me that he admired what I do. Somehow, after that, I feel stronger in my position today that the people of this country are beginning to "get it" and that my struggle along with thousands of others has not been in vain.