Posted on April 24, 2012 in Countdown

Countdown Vol. 10, No. 45

14th Annual Gibran Gala

Last week, we held our 14th Annual Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards Gala here in Washington, attended by hundreds of Arab Americans. We honored the Southern Poverty Law Center for combatting hate, the Arab Thought Foundation for their international excellence, Ambassador Ted Kattouf for his exceptional public service, and comedians and Islamophobia-fighters Dean Obeidallah and Negin Farsad for their work on the “Muslims Are Coming” comedy tour. We were just as excited to have those who presented the awards as we were about the awardees themselves: we had Congressman Keith Ellison, Ambassaor Clovis Maksoud, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood, and the Egyptian Jon Stewart Bassem Youssef. We also paid tribute to the late Anthony Shadid with a moving video, and announced the introduction of the Anthony Shadid “Excellence in Journalism” Award to be kicked off at next year’s Gibran. Click here for a more detailed account of the evening.   

Arab American Leadership Day

Pop quiz: What do Cecilia Munoz, Tom Perez, Kris Balderston, Ben Rhodes, Valerie Jarrett, Rep. John Dingell, and Rep. Hansen Clarke have in common? Aside from fantastic-sounding names, they’ve all demonstrated enough commitment to the Arab American community to attend our annual Arab American Leadership Day. What is Arab American Leadership Day? Typically, it’s the day that follows our Gibran Gala, and consists of a White House briefing for Arab American leaders, followed by a Congressional luncheon on the Hill. Held with our NNAAC partners and attended by more than 100 Arab American leaders this year, Leadership Day included a substantive discussion with senior administration officials and policymakers about a wide range of foreign and domestic policy issues that are of concern to our community.

Brennan's Non-Explanation

Last Friday, Obama’s top National Security Advisor John Brennan reportedly praised the NYPD and New York Police Chief Commissioner Ray Kelly for striking what Brennan called an “appropriate” balance “between our security and our freedoms and our rights as citizens.” What’s so “appropriate” about spying on Arab Americans and American Muslims? We don’t know either. To make things more confusing, we were just told at the Arab American Leadership Day briefing at the White House that there was an on-going DOJ investigation into the NYPD’s surveillance operations. So why was Mr. Brennan prematurely stating publicly that he has “full confidence that the NYPD is doing things consistent with the law?" Mr. Brennan’s office offered this non-explanation: “John was not rendering any judgment as to whether NYPD’s practices should be the focus of a federal investigation, rather he was stating that everyone in the counterterrorism and law enforcement community must make sure we are doing things consistent with the law.” Except that’s not what he was initially quoted as saying, and there have been no attempts to correct any news reports.

West Warns the West

Remember Allen West? That’s the anti-Muslim Member of Congress who, two years ago, called Islam a “very vile and very vicious enemy” and attacked people who don “Coexist” bumper stickers as wanting to “give away our country” (a very nice and sensible guy, as you can see). So when the FBI recently announced that it would be getting rid of anti-Arab/anti-Muslim materials in its training manuals, it came as no surprise that West would have a super-special reaction: he warned that such a move was yet another indication that “we” were committing “cultural suicide.” It seems politicians don’t get in trouble for anti-Muslim remarks these days, but they do get in trouble for other stuff. You’ll be happy to know that West’s keynote address at an NAACP event was canceled over his accusing some Democrats of being “members of the Communist Party.”

Barack W. Bush?

There was a time when presidential candidate Barack Obama was very critical of President George W. Bush’s expansive use of executive power at the expense of Congress’s role. Well, faced with Congressional obstructionism, it looks like the President is increasingly willing to go over their heads as well. Indeed, Obama’s frustration with Congress has led to the creation of an interesting new slogan: “We Can’t Wait.” Maybe Congressional Republicans will now go with “Yes We Can.” Meanwhile, John Boehner gives the Democrats a 1-in-3 shot at retaking the House. If they don’t, we may have another major debate on the separation of powers, because the New York Times cites the President’s aides when saying that this is “not just a short-term shift in governing style and a re-election strategy,” but a fundamental shift that “could foreshadow pitched battles” in the second term.

And the Saga Continues

A couple of weeks ago, Countdown-favorite Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, decided to weigh in on the State Department’s annual request for Palestinian aid. Ros-Lehtinen decided to only release half the funds, and explicitly excluded any funding for items such as “assistance and recovery...road constructions…tourism promotion… [and] scholarships for Palestinian students.” This week, we got Secretary Clinton’s response: “Nuts.” Okay, she didn’t actually say that (we’re projecting our feelings about this onto others), she said that the funds deliver “critical support to the Palestinian people and those leaders seeking to combat extremism within their society and build a more stable future,” and overruled the Congressional hold on the funding. A small victory for common sense!

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