Apr 19th 2010

Those We Honor and Why

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

This week the Arab American Institute (AAI) hosts its annual Kahlil Gibran "Spirit of Humanity" Awards Dinner in Washington, DC. This year's event also marks the 25th Anniversary of the AAI, but, as in past years, the spotlight will not be on the Institute, but on those who have been selected to receive the Gibran awards.

Named for the world renowned Lebanese poet and philosopher, Kahlil Gibran, the awards recognize individuals and institutions, who by the work they do, the values they project, or the challenges they issue forth, exemplify the "Spirit of Humanity".

Past recipients have included: Senator George Mitchell (for his work in Northern Ireland), Lech Walesa (the leader of the Polish Solidarity movement), the YWCA (for its efforts to combat racism), Refugees International, and Mohamed Ali.

This year's honorees are no less significant.

UAE businessman and philanthropist, Juma al Majid is being honored for his extraordinary efforts to preserve Arab and Islamic culture. The restoration projects undertaken by his Center for Culture and Heritage have ensured that the magnificent work of the past will be of benefit to future generations. Through his efforts, thousands of books and manuscripts have been saved. It is his gift to us all.

Al Majid is revered in his own country for his philanthropy. When Arabs in nine countries were asked to name their favorite personality in the region, in most countries the winners were athletes or entertainers. Emiratis chose Juma al Majid.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is being recognized for his efforts to promote cultural understanding between Chicagoans and the world community. Under his leadership, Chicago has: established Sister City relationships with Amman, Casablanca and most recently Abu Dhabi; hosted events to promote education, and business and cultural ties with the Arab World; and supported Arabic language training in the city's public schools.

Daley's efforts remind us all not only of the need to celebrate our own county's rich cultural diversity, but of the need for America to make itself more open to the world.

Since there is no higher calling than to serve the needs of others, this year the AAI also honors the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Launched during the Clinton Administration to promote volunteerism and public service, and expanded during the Bush and Obama Administrations, the CNCS has enabled tens of thousands of young Americans to serve their communities through grants and training programs that have supported local projects providing education and social services in underserved areas.

As a result of one such CNCS project, Americorps, scores of young Arab Americans have been able to move from college into work serving the needs of their communities nationwide.

The last two honorees are Arab Americans whose personal stories, though different, are both remarkable American stories of service and commitment.

Judge Rosemary Barkett is this year's recipient of the Najeeb Halaby award. Named for Halaby, who's career in public service began in the Kennedy Administration and concluded with his Chairmanship of Save the Children, this award is given annually to an accomplished Arab American elected or appointed official. Born in Mexico of Syrian immigrant parents who later became citizens of the US, Judge Barkett was appointed to the federal bench by President Clinton. For her work promoting justice and equal rights, she has been honored by numerous organizations including those representing women, Hispanics and members of the legal profession. This year Arab Americans are proud to recognize her service and the way she has embodied the values of our heritage in her life's work.

The story of Abdul Rahman Zeitoun has been told in the best selling book "Zeitoun", written by David Eggers, and soon to be the subject of a Hollywood film. A hero of the Katrina disaster, Zeitoun risked his life for days on end saving others. In a canoe he went from flooded house to flooded house delivering supplies and rescuing the helpless. Then a week later, this courageous and selfless hero became a victim himself, of cruel discrimination. He was inexplicably arrested by federal officials and held incommunicado as a suspected terrorist.

He was exonerated and despite an ordeal that would have made a lesser man bitter, Zeitoun has established a foundation donating the proceeds from the book to the rebuilding of his beloved city, New Orleans, and ensuring the rights of all Americans.

When the Institute was founded 25 years ago, its goal was to secure for Arab Americans their rightful place in the mainstream of American political and social life. The community had to face down bigotry and political exclusion, and, after 9/11, suspicion.

To a degree this has borne fruit, though challenges remain. But in honoring those who define the values we share and those whose work we seek to emulate, Arab Americans make a statement about who we are, what we bring to this country and the way forward. This is the community's tribute to the Spirit of Humanity.

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Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
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Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
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Mar 2nd 2021
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Mar 1st 2021
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Feb 28th 2021
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Feb 23rd 2021
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Feb 20th 2021
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Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
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Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
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Feb 2nd 2021
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Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "
Jan 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "Barack Obama cautioned in his final speech as president that, “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” Yet isn’t that exactly what America has been doing? In a decade punctuated by the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, a racial-justice crisis, an inequality crisis, and now a political crisis, we have only paid lip service to lofty democratic ideals. ... Sadly, this complacency has come at a time of growing fragility for the American experiment. Internet-enabled connectivity is dangerously amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse in an era of mounting social and political instability. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6. The stewardship of democracy is at grave risk. "