Probably not. Lebanon follows you everywhere you go. Whatever position you occupy in your adopted country, you will always be the Lebanese. Wherever you go in this world, and especially if your adopted country did not bestow its nationality on you, you will always be the one with the Lebanese passport: a recipe for humiliation for you and your family.
My trip to Lebanon began with humiliation and psychological torture at the hands of US border agents. I am not one to complain about the US, for God knows I am grateful for what this country gave me, and continues to give me. But what a shame that a government agency consistently violates its own written rules, and discriminates based on the national origin of its residents, and treats children like terrorists.
My son Kais, who, as I wrote once, was born free, is one month short of turning two. He has always been the kind of boy who loves other people, shakes hands with everyone he sees, and throws smiles and winks at strangers. One day, he accompanied his family to Dulles airport, where a TSA agent asked his father to step aside and leave the family behind for a "double search". Reason: Lebanese passport, and a boarding pass stamped with SSS.
TSA rule: you do not separate families.
TSA agent: it's either you, or the entire family.
It was AK's choice to not subject his entire family to a procedure he has gotten used to. But Kais, seeing that his mother had her hands full with an infant, three carry-ons, and a stroller, wanted to be with his dada.
Little did he know that he and his father would be led to a glass-enclosed area, in the middle of a crowd of passengers taking their shoes and belts off. Kais could see his mother through the glass, and couldn't understand why strangers are going through his baby food, his diaper bag, and emptying his sippy cup. One agent came close to where he stood with his father. He flung open the glass door, giving Kais the hope that he and his dad will finally reunite with his mommy and "baby". That wasn't the case. The agent slammed the door in Kais' face, after stealing his boarding pass.
My boy was crying, unable to fathom why he had to be put in a glass cage in the middle of a jungle of people.
Soon, the agent would lead them even farther from "baby" and "mommy". There, the man in charge of security saw it appropriate to ask the toddler to stand over the two footprints, not made to fit baby feet, extend his arms, and endure thorough frisking. His father is trying to console him. It's OK that a stranger is searching him for explosives, treating him like a suspect, even though he did not bear the SSS mark, only his father did. The agent then moves to the father. Kais finds it even more horrific that someone is touching his hero and protector. "No", he screams. It's hysterical crying, mixed in with the coldness of people looking like monsters.
The agent then realizes the suspected terrorist and his son had no bags. He goes over to the mother, asks her to pick a bag to be double-searched. She hands over her husband's computer bag. It's a treat to the agent. It's horrifying to Kais, who sees some of his toys being handled by a complete stranger, while he is being prevented to run to his mother.
The rest of the trip was even more traumatic. Kais now is clingy, anti-social, and will not go anywhere without his entire family by his side. This could be part of his development. The experience at Dulles sure helped accelerate it.
Kais, I tried to hide this world from you. I am sorry I could not protect you from it. Maybe it is for your own good that you get to know it now for what it is.
This country did not become safer after this episode. Maybe this is the price to pay, some will argue. But maybe it isn't. There's a lot of stupidity directed at the United States, but there is also a lot of the same within its borders. People who frisk children are united in shortsightedness with people who view a national dress as a terrorism symbol. These people deserve the bigotry award along with those who attack a presidential candidate for the name and religion of his father.
I am hoping that Kais will grow up to be whatever he wishes to be, including, who knows, a president of this country. Until that happens, I hope the people whom he would want to serve see him as an equal human being, not the bearer of evil genes.
I have written a lot about Beirut, less about the Beltway. After this last visit, I felt like the Beirut story has ended without me having anything to do with the ending. That's life for you, not exactly a film, no matter how much you try to imagine that it is.
I feel the need for change more than any time before. This blog needs to be liberated. I have allowed it to sink far too deep into the abyss of Lebanese politics. Soon, and this might not happen tomorrow, something new will this way come.