Posted on May 22, 2012 in Arab American Institute

The Arab American Institute Foundation’s fourteenth annual Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards Gala was held in Washington, DC on April 18, 2012. More than 500 people—Ambassadors from throughout the Arab world, members of Congress and the Obama Administration, leaders of national NGOs and community organizations, business leaders from around the globe—all friends and supporters of the AAI Foundation and of the Arab American community, came together to celebrate the accomplishments of the evening’s honorees.

At the heart of the Gala was a tribute to two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid, whose February 2012 passing in Syria struck a fierce blow to his colleagues and his community. Five years ago, AAIF presented Anthony with a Special Recognition for his coverage of the Middle East. This year, we paid tribute to him as a journalist and a friend, whose coverage brought dignity and humanity to the victims and stories of conflict throughout the region. AAIF was honored to join with Anthony’s parents, children, and his widow, New York Times reporter Nada Bakri, to announce the creation of the Anthony Shadid Award for Excellence in Journalism, an annual honor that will be presented to reporters of Arab descent and those who offer groundbreaking coverage of Arab and Arab-American affairs.

Ambassador Theodore Kattouf received the Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, himself a recipient of the Halaby Award in 2008. Introducing Kattouf, LaHood recognized his 30-year career with the Foreign Service, and praised his “knowledge, skill, and expertise, and his tremendous respect for all people as citizens of the global community.” Ambassador Kattouf recognized the contributions of many Arab Americans—from Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, to 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner Sara Ganim—whose work in every field has contributed so much to the fabric and success of our nation. Kattouf, who serves as President of AMIDEAST, also stressed the role that public-private partnerships play in enhancing US-Arab relations and building meaningful relationships between students and youth from America and the Middle East and Maghreb.

Lawyer, journalist, and diplomat Dr. Clovis Maksoud was on hand to present the Award for International Commitment to the Arab Thought Foundation, represented by ATF’s Secretary General Dr. Soliman Abdel Moneim. Speaking of the Foundation’s work, Dr. Abdel Moneim reiterated ATF’s commitment to preserve and celebrate the contributions of Arab scholars and poets, scientists and students, and of the ATF programs that are bringing together the region’s greatest thinkers, and allowing ideas that have germinated in the Arab world to flourish and flower around the globe. He recalled the Foundation’s previous collaborations with the Arab American Institute, and spoke for us all in saying that he looked forward to future cooperative endeavors between the Arab and Arab American communities.

We were honored to welcome, once again, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) to participate in the Gibran Awards Gala. The Congressman presented the Award for Institutional Excellence to the Southern Poverty Law Center, speaking with warmth—and humor—about the Center’s four decade fight against injustice and prejudice, its promotion of tolerance and understanding, and its dedication to fostering a society that respects all its members, regardless of their ethnic, religious, or political backgrounds. Director of Outreach Lecia Brooks accepted the Award on behalf of SPLC, and promised that the Center “will continue to stand with you to fight against injustice, and will continue to stand with you to fight against Islamophobia, wherever we may see it.” 

The last award of the evening was presented by Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef to The Muslims are Coming, a comedy tour conceived and produced by Dean Obeidallah and Negin Farsad. The Special Recognition honored the shows’ groundbreaking efforts to promote understanding and acceptance of Arab American and American Muslim cultures through a free comedy tour of the deep South and Midwest, which also was filmed as a documentary to be released in Summer 2012. Dean Obeidallah talked about the movie and AAI, saying “the movie is not about Muslims, just as AAI is not about being Arab—they’re both about being American, and about what vision you have for our country.”

Dr. James Zogby, founder and president of AAI, closed the evening by acknowledging the startling revelations that local and federal law enforcement programs have targeted Arab and Muslim communities—but acknowledging, too, the resilience and shared interests and concerns of our communities.

The reason why tonight, and nights like tonight are so important is to remind us that we’re not alone. And that we have a remarkable resilience in our community, and incredible resources, and people who do marvelous things. We are, at the end of the day, a community. We do something here that can’t be done anywhere else in the world, and we’re together doing it.