Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sectarian hate in Sydney: Why I will not fly with Etihad Airways, ever!!

The “political” money of Lebanese and Arabic regimes and political parties did not only destroy the sectarian tolerance in Lebanon, but has reached Australia and is affecting the lives of tens of thousands of Muslims living here. It is normal now to hear that there was fight here or there because of sectarian hate comments against the Shia or retaliatory attacks on Sunni.

We forget all our problems of deep racism, low representation in decision making bodies and high representation in the tabloid media. We forget all about crusade war on our homelands of Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, ….etc. But we all discovered that we are either from this sect or from the other one.

The latest disgusting sectarian and racist attack I witnessed was on 16 June 09 at the Sydney International Terminal at Sydney Airport. My friend (Palestinian who was born in Syria) was traveling to Syria after 8 years without a visit. He was both very exited but deeply scared.

At the Etihad counter a lady called him and his family to check in. I was there to support him and give him hand if he needed it; especially as he has many health problems. The following 30 minutes was horrific and brought to my mind memories of third world countries and practices of secret agencies of dictatorships and totalitarian regimes.

It helps a lot to put the horrific treatment into dot points, to simplify things:

1- After she checked the Australian passports of my friend and his family, she realised that most of them were born in Damascus, Syria. At that point she lost her mind. She opened the passports and shouted: you were born in Damascus? Is that in Syria? Do you admit? I remembered the Bush administration with its “Axis of Evil” slogans. As if she wants to tell him: are you part of this evil regime? She then asked them to make their Syrian ID documents available. When they said that they do not have any Syrian documents, as they are traveling on Australian passports, she told them that without showing her their original Syrian ID documents she will not process their checkout, and they would not be allowed to fly. After terrorising the whole family regarding the possibility of them missing the flight and losing thousands of dollars, she pretended that she talked to her manager who allowed the checkout. It was very clear that she was taking some revenge actions for treatment she (or one of her family members) received at Syrian checkout points in Lebanon during the presence of Syrian army there.
2- After she commenced the checkout process, she started to be very strict with the allowed weight for the family. At one stage, she told them that there was half kilo needed to be removed from one of the hand bags. After they removed a pair of shoes from this hand bag, she went on and on, with threats that she will either not allow them to fly or charge them $400 (for half kilo????)
3- At some stage she became very aggressive, stood on her feet, removed the luggage sticker and said that they will not fly today. I then asked her to give me her name to complain later against her. She refused and asked to remove all of us from the front of the counter.

At that point and when the whole family started to cry and become nervous, I intervened and asked to speak to her manager. She refused to call the manager. I then asked her to give me her name, but she also refused. I had no other option but to call the police. When her manager saw the police coming and other passengers in the Airport clustering around us, she asked her to finish the torture of the family and send the bags on.

I talked to my friend in Arabic, and she understood us. She was clearly Arabic speaking. And she clearly had problems either with my friend’s Syrian place of birth, or she had problem with my Palestinian traditional scarf. Or maybe she had problems with both. And I believe she had problems with both.

How would sectarian blind hate, based on no reason, allow someone to persecute her fellow Australians?

Did not this lady learn from history that this sectarian blind hate lead to massacres in her homeland? Would she want to see similar here in Australia, even only by starting to discriminate against each other and abuse power to humiliate the “other”?

We will not let this go on an on. This is why we wrote to the Etihad airways. The response so far was good, but with no action to address the discrimination or any action to prevent further oppression. This is why we are taking this matter further to the Human Rights Commission. And we may take it further. At the end of the day, my friend was not responsible for the mistakes of Syrian government, committed by deep encouragement and agreement with all Lebanese forces attacking Syria now.

We can understand and accept that this lady can form Anti-Syrian and Anti-Palestinian movement and campaign against “us”. But in business, we deserve fair trading, especially if operating in Democratic society. And we will get it.

And I will not fly with Etihad which allowed this discrimination to happen without any serious disciplinary action against this customer officer.