Middle East Voices

Posted by Middle East Voices on April 26, 2012 in News Clips

Since 1999, a unique awards program created by the Washington-based Arab American Institute (AAI) has thrived by awarding individuals embodying the ideals of Lebanese – American poet Khalil Gibran and his love for humanity, equality and better understanding between East and west.

Gibran’s famous 1923 book, The Prophet, reflects his commitment to better understanding and tolerance among racial, ethnic, and religious communities. The winners of this year’s Gibran Awards continue to embody the poet’s ideals.

The Gibran Award for Institutional Excellence was given to Southern Poverty Law Center, established in Alabama in 1971 and had championed the efforts to fight hate and bigotry.

Lecia Brooks received the award on behalf of her organization and said the SPLC has a lot in common with Gibran’s ideals noting, “We try to do that through our work: teaching tolerance, monitoring hate and extremist groups and through seeking justice in courts. So we are trying to create a society where Gibran’s ideals of passion and tolerance and acceptance are reality.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center was honored in appreciation of its efforts in exposing hate groups and extremists who spread anti-Muslim sentiments throughout the United States. The center often hampers some of the country’s most notorious hate groups by suing them for violent acts committed by their members, winning many notable court cases.

We try to do that through our work: teaching tolerance, monitoring hate and extremist groups and through seeking justice in courts. So we are trying to create a society where Gibran’s ideals of passion and tolerance and acceptance are reality. – Lecia Brooks, Southern Poverty Law Center

Promoting Better Understanding

Since 2004, a public service award has been presented in the memory of Najeeb Halaby, a prominent Arab American who headed the Federal Aviation Administration under President Kennedy. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who received this award in the past, came back to present it to another Arab American, Ambassador Theodore Kattouf, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Syria and is currently the president of AMIDEAST, a U.S. organization that provides educational exchange and training in the Middle East and North Africa.

“I feel privileged to have received this award and I feel privileged tonight to be giving the award to Ted Kattouf, who has also done a great deal of work around the world,” said LaHood.

Under his leadership, AMIDEAST tripled the size of training and educational opportunities for Arab students. Kattouf said “I think Gibran would have loved AMIDEAST because AMIDEAST is all about promoting better understanding between the people of the Middle East and North Africa and the American people through education, through training, institutional development and exchange programs. We are trying to build non-political ties between the two peoples.”

U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), who is also the first Muslim American to be elected as a congressman, is a real believer in the Gibran Awards as a way to educate the American society about how his universal ideas serve American values of equality, freedom and tolerance. At the ceremony he said, “As we face conflicts, discrimination, racial profiling, Khalil Gibran and the Arab American Institute have a lot to teach us about how to get along and respect each other.”

Comedy Fighting Stereotyping

Arab-American comedian Dean Obeidallah and Iranian-American Negin Farsad, who launched “The Muslims are Coming Comedy Tour” to counter negative stereotyping about Muslims, received a Special Recognition Award for using comedy to promote Gibran’s message of respect for all human beings from different backgrounds. Obeidallah said, “The Muslims Are Coming is completely consistent with and actually furthering the goals and ideals of Khalil Gibran and what he was about: bringing people of different faiths together by respecting each other.”

Gibran once wrote “In the sweetness of friendship, let there be laughter and joy.” Awarding artists for using comedy to fight hatred and negative stereotyping of Muslims in America was a fitting tribute to this sentiment.

The night concluded with a special tribute to prominent Arab American journalist Anthony Shadid, who died suddenly in Syria after devoting his life to serve as a bridge between American readers of the Washington Post and New york Times and the Middle East. AAI President James Zogby announced that next year’s  Gibran Awards program will add a new category for the best journalist who continues Shadid’s mission.

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