For more than one year, we were announcing that we intend to start sending “Tours of peace” to Syria. We did not hide any fact. We were very open about our plans. And we published all available and needed information, except the dates of the first tour, for security reasons.
And despite the fact that I am well-known anti-extremist activist, who appeared on many media outlets for the last 4 years criticizing the so-called Syrian revolution and its supporters.
All this did not save me from being intercepted by Australian Border Force at Melbourne airport on 26 October.
An agent of ABF looked at me, asked me (among hundreds of travelers) for my passport. And checked the departure declaration. I fit the criteria for “ISIS supporter”: Middle Eastern appearance, Arabic name and travelling to Beirut.
The agent was very serious and bit angry. Then asked me to follow him to interrogation room.
“Where are you travelling to?”
That was enough to shock him. How dare I was to declare that I am going to Syria.
He asked me to get everything from my pocket. He also asked me how much money I have. He did not believe that I have only about $2000.
He had no clue about our “tours”. He did not have any clue about my background. He did not have any clue about my political commitments.
I started to be annoyed.
“It seems that you do not watch TV. It seems that you have no clue what is happening in the communities. It is very clear that you have no coordination with ASIO, Anti-terrorism squad and AFP”.
He was angry that I did not declare in the departure declaration that I am bounding to Syria. Despite the fact that the question on the declaration is “country where you will get off this flight”, which is Lebanon in my case.
At that time I thought that the reason behind this farce could be one of two possibilities.
It is either that our authorities are trying to stop terrorism by “prejudice”: if you look like off Middle Eastern appearance, your name is not Western and you are bound to one of the Middle Eastern countries” you are suspect. No intelligence gathering and no data needed or available.
So if I changed my name to John Howard, bought a ticket to Malaysia or even Germany and changed the colour of my hair to blonde, I would escape the radar.
The other possibility is that our authorities are siding with extremists and trying to sabotage our initiative. After the arrest of the tour’s hero and peace activist Warren Marrienr, I am now convinced that the second possibility is the logical reason.
Our authorities who facilitated travel of Australian terrorists to fight in Syria for years (including convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf who left the country despite the fact that his passport was cancelled for years), are very angry that we organised tour of peace to Syria. Instead of thanking us for organising initiative that promotes peace and reconciliation, our participants were targeted, detained and deported (in the case of Warren Marriner).
I am on my way home to Australia. I am alert that authorities will act silly and maybe irresponsible. Hence I am taking all precautions.
I am declaring how much money I have. I am also declaring the products of animals. And I am expecting intense interrogation. But the vital question still remains in my mind: Why authorities are targeting the wrong people.
Even if we support president Assad and his government, we never heard that Syrian government or Syrian army constitute any threat on our national security. We have no information that we are breaking any Australian law. And we are not promoting any violence. On the contrary. I want to see violence in Syria and around the world ends yesterday.
It is very clear that our authorities had lost any logic or common sense. It is very clear that our authorities have no plan on how to protect our national security from the real threats. And it seems that our authorities are determined to crack down on freedom of speech and turn our country into police state.
We will resist this by all peaceful means available. This includes fighting against the regressive troika (Labor, Liberals and Greens) in the next election.
One fact stands: we are coming back Syria: to help and to promote peace and reconciliation.