- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

Sometimes, shared ethnicity can overcome political differences. When citizen activist and 2000 Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader received a Philip Habib Award for Distinguished Public Service from the American Task Force for Lebanon on Saturday, the crowd of 500 gave him as warm a welcome as he's likely to get these days from a room full of partisan Democrats and Republicans.
"Ralph's family and my family come from the same small village of 500 souls," said former Reagan administration Chief of Protocol Selwa "Lucky" Roosevelt, who also received the Habib Award. "Ralph's family were Greek Orthodox, and mine were Druze, and here we are tonight, sharing this same stage and evening two people as far apart politically as we can possibly be. But despite our differences, we share the special pride in being Americans of Lebanese origin."
Even Mr. Nader and longtime friend Phil Donahue couldn't match the star power of Queen Noor of Jordan, who steered clear of any political talk but had to endure a continuous barrage of well-wishers and flashing cameras throughout dinner at the Washington Monarch Hotel.
Queen Noor commended Mrs. Roosevelt for what she termed the ultimate Washington cultural coup persuading Placido Domingo to become artistic director of the Washington Opera.
"Clearly, Washington culture and the arts in the U.S. and many of us around the world have been extremely lucky that a young Lebanese-American native of Kingsport, Tenn., came to Washington for love and dedicated her life to enriching the lives of so many others," she said.
Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Marlo Thomas was unable to attend, although Mr. Donahue accepted the award in his actress wife's behalf.
"A busload of lawyers couldn't get her out of her obligations to 'Friends,'" the former TV talk-show host said before singing the praises of Mr. Nader, who was, he noted, the most frequent guest on his 29-year show. (The Rev. Jerry Falwell ranked second, Mr. Nader noted between Arabic quips.)
As Miss Thomas' husband since 1980 (and Mr. Nader's campaign-trail opening act in 2000), Mr. Donahue has become something of an honorary Lebanese at home enough, anyway, to take the liberty of flooring the crowd with his vocalized imitations of Lebanese folk music. Such sounds were scary enough, he joked, to keep him sleeping with the lights on the first year of his marriage.
Now, he said, he's more than comfortable with the culture.
"As far as I'm concerned, you are all my Habibies," he said, playing on the name of Philip Habib, the longtime ambassador and special envoy to the Middle East, who died in 1992.
The gala, originally scheduled for Sept. 14 but postponed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, included an impressive guest list from Congress and Embassy Row, including Sen. Bob Graham; Rep. John Dingell; former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen; the ambassadors of Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Morocco; and the chief representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
On September 11, Sam Maloof, the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award, was at the Renwick Gallery across from the White House, about to open an exhibit dedicated to his career in design, furniture-making and woodworking. The attacks canceled the event, stealing the 85-year-old artist's big day of celebration, said Jeremy Adamson, chief of prints and photographs at the Library of Congress and an author of a book on Mr. Maloof.
"It was something that transcended all our lives," he said.
The attacks have raised the stakes for the Lebanese, task force President Edward Gabriel noted as he plugged his organization's role in supporting improved relations with Lebanon and in charitable works, such as the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (founded by Miss Thomas' late father,comedian Danny Thomas).
"We're at a very important moment in our history, in which Americans of Arab ancestry have a very important role to play. We're confronted with questions every day by people who misunderstand our contributions and our heritage," Mr. Gabriel said. "We're also confronted with our friends in the Arab world who misunderstand what America is and in some cases have come to dislike our policies."
Not that the Lebanese aren't up to the challenge.
Lebanese Ambassador Farid Abboud suggested that "a penchant for living dangerously" has made his people, including the 14 million living outside Lebanon, more able to confront life's challenges.
"We are used to weathering storms," he said.

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