Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June-July 2012, Page 53

Arab-American Activism

Visionary Hala Maksoud Commemorated

Staff photo D. HanleyAmbassador Clovis Maksoud (l) is greeted by Georgetown economics Prof. Ibrahim Oweiss. (Staff photo D. Hanley)

On Sunday, April 22, Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) and Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, along with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), held a commemorative evening to honor the late Dr. Hala Salaam Maksoud.

Current ADC president Warren David called his Lebanese-American predecessor, who died in 2002, an "advocate for peace, justice and understanding" and a "tireless defender of Arabs and the Arab-American image in the United States....In every generation," David said, "there comes a leader who exemplifies vision, courage, and integrity. The Arab-American community experienced such a leader in Dr. Hala Salaam Maksoud."

Maksoud, one of the most influential Arab-American leaders of her era, co-founded several organizations, including the American Committee on Jerusalem, the Association of Arab-American University Graduates, and the Arab Women's Council. She served as ADC president from 1996 to 2001.

Ambassador of Lebanon to the U.S. Antoine Chedid called Hala Maksoud "a daughter of Lebanon and the Arab world" who "spoke for the speechless" and "represented the best of Arab women." He and other speakers, including ADC chairman Dr. Safa Rifka and Hala's husband, Ambassador Clovis Maksoud, recalled "Dr. Hala's" strong will and selflessness as she put the needs of the community before hers. Enraged by Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, and to protest U.S. support for Israeli actions, she organized a hunger strike in Lafayette Park with a group of Arab ambassadors' wives, and conducted candlelight vigils by Arab Americans and others in front of the White House.

Georgetown professor Yvonne Haddad emphasized the importance of Maksoud's work with the Arab Women's Committee. She "spread the news that Arabs are human beings" as she visited cities across the country and was interviewed on TV, radio and newspapers. "She was an advocate for the civil rights of Arab Americans," Haddad stated, "but she also believed in the goodness of the American people." Hala Maksoud was convinced that prejudice against Arabs and Muslims is grounded in ignorance and misunderstanding caused by disinformation promulgated by Zionist organizations.

People wondered who could take her place when she died, Haddad recalled. Every decade Arab Americans face "trial by fire," which fosters new activists full of enthusiasm to challenge anti-Arab sentiment, Haddad said. "There is a new crop of young Arab-American women working for social and legal justice," Haddad concluded, "and Hala's spirit lives in all of them."

Ambassador Maksoud expressed his gratitude to his many friends who had come to share this significant moment. He fondly recalled his beloved wife's "relentless optimism tempered by infinite compassion." He also recalled one interviewer who asked his wife if other Lebanese women looked like her. She replied, "No, most of them are taller."

The commemoration also featured performances by musicians Simon Shaheen (on oud) and Waleed Howrani (on the piano), followed by a reception at Georgetown University.

Delinda C. Hanley