Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2009, page 52

Arab-American Activism

AAI’s Kahlil Gibran Awards Gala

  • Algerian Americans Dr. and Mrs. Elias A. Zerhouni (Staff photo D. Hanley).

THE ARAB American Institute Foundation held its annual Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards gala on April 23 at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington, DC. Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Liaison Valerie Jarrett (who was born in Iran) conveyed personal greetings from President Barack Obama and a promise that the gates to the White House are open to everybody, including the Arab-American community. Noting that the Obama administration is preparing to unveil an initiative to increase the number of volunteers working in the U.S., she challenged Arab Americans to think of new ways they can serve their communities and this country.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, last year’s Najeeb Halaby Award recipient, and Queen Noor of Jordan presented the Halaby Award for Public Service to Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, who served as the appointed director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 2002 to 2008. “NIH is rightly called the crown jewel of the federal government,” Zerhouni said.

The Algerian-born Muslim completed medical school and came to the United States with his wife in 1975, speaking no English. He enjoyed a successful research and academic career at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore before President George W. Bush sent him to NIH.

”An immigrant from Algeria became the director of NIH. You can’t imagine what that says about the United States,” Zerhouni enthused. He called on the country to “make health care equally accessible to all, not just here but throughout the world...Yes we can,” he concluded.

Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, accepted the Award for Individual Achievement, on behalf of the “many people who worked together” to produce the “Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World Festival,” which from Feb. 23 to March 15, 2009 showcased Arab culture at the Kennedy Center (see May/June 2009 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, pp. 60-62). Like so many Americans, Kaiser said, he knew little about Arab people—only oil and politics. Through his work on “Arabesque” he discovered Arab hospitality and warmth. “Art is the best tool for understanding,” Kaiser concluded.

  • (L-r) George Salem, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd, Dr. James Zogby, Rep. Keith Ellison, Anthony Lake, Michael Kaiser and James Kimsey (Staff photo D. Hanley).

Virginia businessman James Kimsey presented the Gibran Award for Institutional Excellence to the Marshall Legacy Institute, which trains mine-detection dogs and sends them to countries like Bosnia, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Kimsey declared that in all the arsenal of weapons, the landmine is most insidious. Unexploded ordnance still litters the landscape in Vietnam, and now in Lebanon.

In his acceptance speech Marshall Legacy chairman Anthony Lake, former national security adviser under President Bill Clinton, said his organization has sent 12 dogs to Lebanon over the past year, replacing six dogs sent in 2001 who were ready to retire—including Utsi, who came to the stage, tail wagging.

Lake said he met with survivors whose faces and stories he can never forget. He described meeting a farmer in Hardene, Lebanon, whose tractor was rusting in a field he couldn’t cultivate, surrounded by signs saying:“Danger Landmines.” “Landmines take lives, limbs and livelihoods,” Lake emphasized. (Visit <www.marshalllegacy.org> to make a tax-deductible contribution.)

Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) presented the Award for International Commitment to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), whose commissioner general, Karen AbuZayd, accepted the award on behalf of the 29,000 UNRWA staff in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the occupied Palestinian territory. AbuZayd dedicated the award to the 4.6 million Palestine refugees the agency serves and whose protection and care are the reason for UNRWA’s existence. The award, she proclaimed, also “recognizes the trials Palestinians and Palestine refugees endure, the anguish of their dispossession and the legitimacy of their aspirations for a normal life of security and prosperity in a state they can call their own.” Their hope is “inextinguishable”and their dreams “realistic and attainable,” she concluded, to great applause.

Delinda C. Hanley 


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