Palestine Note

Posted by Palestine Note on April 19, 2012 in News Clips

Last night, the Arab American Insitute hosted its thirteenth annual Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity awards ceremony at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC. The awards are aimed at recognizing individuals, corporations, organizations and communities whose work, commitment and support make a difference in promoting co-existence and inclusion in all walks of life. Palestine Note had the opportunity this year to catch up with Ambassador Theodore Kattouf, the Arab Thought Foundation, and the Southern Poverty Law Center learn more about why these incredible individuals and organizations had been chosen for the honor.

Ambassador Theodore Kattouf, Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service

The Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service, named for the late father of Her Majesty Queen Noor, is awarded every year to an Arab American who has excelled in public service and conducted his or her public life with a strong and visible pride of ethnic heritage. Past awardees include the current secretary of the Department of Transportation, the Honorable Ray LaHood, federal judge the Honorable Rosemary Barkett, and current governor of Indiana the Honorable Mitch Daniels.

This year, the distinction was given to Ambassador Theodore Kattouf. An alumni of Pennsylvania State University, Ambassador Theodore Kattouf’s 30-year career in the Foreign Service included postings to Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia as well as service as U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (1998-2001) and Syria (2001-03). Since 2003, he has acted as president and CEO of Washington, DC-based AMIDEAST overseeing a tripling of the size of this leading provider of training, educational exchange, and development services in the Middle East and North Africa, and a quadrupling of its endowment.

“Ted has created a legacy of promoting cooperation between the U.S. and the Middle East and Maghreb regions. His contributions to America’s image abroad have been invaluable. He is truly a role model not just for Arab Americans, but for all Americans in public service,” says AAI president Jim Zogby. “The AAI Foundation is proud to call Ted not just an honoree, but a longtime friend and partner.”

In talking to us about his work, Amb. Kattouf highlighted AMIDEAST’s faculty development program in the West Bank developed in conjuction with USAID and George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

“We began the program during the Bush administration. You might recall that Soros and Bush were not the best of friends,” he describes. “But with the quiet help of some government officials we got joint public-private funding, all in all $26 million, to help young Palestinian faculty get PhD’s in this country and to allow many more to accept research grants for six months. We also established centers of teaching excellence at a couple Palestinian universities.”

In this next year, Amb. Kattouf is looking forward to further developing AMIDEAST’s work in Palestine. A new grant from USAID may be forthcoming to expand the faculty training program to include elementary and secondary school teachers.

“I believe in what Salam Fayyad is trying to do in building state institutions to take away any excuse not to grant the Palestinians their full political rights,” he adds.

Arab Thought Foundation, Award for International Committment

The Arab Thought Foundation (ATF), an independent, non-profit, non-governmental Arab organization based in Beirut, Lebanon, was established in 2000 by governor of Mecca His Royal Highness Prince Khaled Al Faisal. ATF’s guiding mission is to achieve Arab cultural cohesiveness, promoting and preserving Arab identity while celebrating other cultures. In this vein, the Foundation promotes dialogue among youth, Arab immigrants and international and regional institutions dedicated to promoting Arab culture and solidarity, and works to promote common humanitarian values.

“I mentioned in Arab Voices that much of the misunderstanding about the Arab world and about Islam stems from people simply not listening. And this is what Arab Thought Foundation addresses,” extolls Mr. Zogby. “It gathers the best and brightest minds from across the region and provides a forum for them to share their ideas and insights. It has brought these individuals to a global stage, illustrating the tremendous scope and breadth of work being done in the Arab world.”

General Secretary Dr. Soliman Abdel Moneim spoke with us, in French, about ATF’s interest in honoring and developing programs for computer science, film, theater, and education in the Arab world. The Foundation also hosts an annual conference of intellectuals, business professionals, artists, and youth in order to discuss one of the pressing issues in the Arab community. Dr. Abdel Moneim hopes to work with more Arab non-profits in the future.

“There are many Arab organizations, but most work alone,” he says. “It is especially important now that we all work cooperatively. The triangle of the public, private, and NGO sector must come together to address the issues of the Arab world as well as Arab-Western relations. We must continue to change the ‘conflict of civilizations’ into a ‘dialogue of civilizations’.”

The Arab Thought Foundation joins the ranks of UNRWA, Refugees International, and Global Impact in recognition for International Committment by the Arab American Institute.

Southern Poverty Law Center, Award for Institutional Excellence

Established in Alabama in 1971, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has earned its reputation as a beacon of light in some of our nation’s most troubling times. Dedicated to “to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society,” the Center is perhaps best known for its lawsuits against white supremacist organizations throughout the South. But today, hundreds of thousands of people count on SPLC’s research and publications to enhance their work on behalf of immigrants and minorities. Educators and legislators, activists and media simply could not be as effective were it not for the resources SPLC provides.

“Southern Poverty Law Center’s work has, quite simply, made easy the work of so many other organizations. Many of us know about their court cases for LGBT rights, immigrant rights, at-risk children, but the research the Center does, its award-winning films— these are things that help organizations like AAI make our case against discrimination, against civil liberty violations, against intolerance,” says Mr. Zogby. “Southern Poverty Law Center has been a beacon of light for all who fight for equal rights and justice.”

Lecia Brooks, SPLC’s Director of Outreach, spoke to us about some of the center’s projects most relevant to the Arab American community.

“There’s so much focus on foreign terrorism and anti-Muslim sentiment that we tend to forget about domestic terrorism,” she says. “Our Intelligence Report shines a light on hate, extremist groups and their members.”

The vast majority of the groups SPLC monitors and advocates against tend to be white supremacist or neo-Nazi, but in the past few years there has been an increase in far-right Christian identity and “patriot” groups that have made a point in focusing on what they describe as the “threat of Islamization”.

The Teaching Tolerance program is also one of the center’s most successful endeavors with two of its short films, “Mighty Times: The Children’s March” and “A Time for Justice”, receiving Acamedy Awards.

“Teaching Tolerance began as a way to reach young people with messages of acceptance and tolerance rather than messages of hate. We found a lot of young people were involved in hate groups and we realized that we needed to offer something to educators to help teach tolerance at an early age,” says Ms. Brooks.

In the coming year, SPLC is looking to spearhead legal action for immigration reform and continue to make progress in its efforts to reform the juvenile justice system to prevent youth from being placed on an irreversible trajectory towards juvenile delinquancy.

The Southern Poverty Law Center deservedly stands amongst other institutions like Vital Voices, Search for Common Ground, and Reporters Without Borders in recognition for their excellence by the Arab American Institute.

Original Article
comments powered by Disqus