Posted on June 02, 2008 in Arab American Institute

WASHINGTON – More than 800 diplomats, dignitaries and Arab Americans gathered in Washington, D.C. on May 3, 2006, for the Arab American Institute Foundation’s (AAIF) 8th annual Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards gala.

General Wesley Clark presented Former President of Poland Lech Walesa with the Award for Individual Achievement in recognition of his life-long efforts to bring freedom and democracy to his country.

“For his part, Walesa describes himself as a ‘Polish worker from the Gdansk shipyard.’ He was, of course, so much more,” said General Clark. “As a courageous fighter for freedom, he, together with Pope John Paul II, inspired a nation to freedom.”

Walesa himself urged humanity to unite together in the pursuit of worldwide freedom and democracy.

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes presented to Zainab Salbi of Women for Women International the Award for International Achievement for the organization’s tireless efforts to improve the lives of women in war-torn countries. Salbi gave an inspirational speech about the need to integrate women in all aspects of society during times of war and peace. Salbi stated that “stronger women build stronger nations” and reaffirmed her commitment to preserve women’s rights all over the world.

Zainab Salbi, Hon. Karen Hughes, and AAI Chairman George Salem.

As the Bush’s Administration’s key diplomatic liaison, Secretary Hughes has been active in traveling to and addressing the Arab world. Hughes’ attendance at the Gibran Awards, however, represented one of her first forays in engaging the Arab American community. Secretary Hughes acknowledged World Free Press Day and spoke about the need to preserve the rights of the media to operate freely and openly.

Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan presented the Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service, named in honor of her late father, to Governor John H. Sununu in appreciation for his long and distinguished career as an educator, engineer, businessman, community leader, and most notably, a statesman.

“The Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service was established to honor men and women of Arab heritage who have served their country honorably and exceptionally and who are a role model for others in our community and throughout the United States,” said Queen Noor. “He [Gov. Sununu] is both honorable and exceptional, and I can speak from first hand knowledge of his devotion to the United States and its friends in the Arab world.”

Congressman John D. Dingell received a special recognition in honor of his five decades of public service to his country and to his constituents. The Congressman was honored for his extraordinary commitment to the concerns of Arab Americans.

John Reckford received the Award for Institutional Achievement on behalf of Habitat for Humanity. Habitat was honored for its efforts to end the cycle of homelessness and poverty that millions of families endure. Habitat has active programs in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. Additionally, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Habitat announced “Operation Home Delivery,” a program designed to provide housing to those made homeless by the storm.

Malek Akkad

Motion Picture Association of America President Dan Glickman paid tribute to Arab American film producer Moustapha Akkad, who was killed in the November 2005 terrorist attack in Amman, Jordan. The Jordanian Ambassador to the United States, Karim Kawar, spoke poignantly of Akkad’s artistic ability and his desire to convey the richness of Arab history and culture to Americans through film. A special video tribute of Akkad’s life was shown.

The gala, held at the JW Marriott, also featured a comedy routine by Waleed Zuaiter and Ramsey Faragallah from New York’s Arab American Comedy Festival. The awards honor individuals, corporations, organizations and communities that have demonstrated a commitment to humanitarian values and cultural understanding consistent with the ideals exemplified by renowned Arab American poet and author Kahlil Gibran.

“I applaud our awardees for their commitment and contributions to helping humanity and making this world a better place,” said Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute (AAI). “These awards honor those who have committed themselves to public service and who have worked tirelessly to promote tolerance and social justice during these challenging times.”

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