- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

‘Difficult times’

John H. Sununu — former governor of New Hampshire, former White House chief of staff to President Bush’s father and proud Arab-American — is fearful for the future of U.S. citizens with his ethnic ancestry.

“These are difficult times to be an Arab-American. In difficult times, it is all the more critical to do things right,” he told 800 guests at the annual awards dinner of the Arab American Institute Foundation this week.

His concerns were reflected by others who spoke Wednesday evening at the foundation’s Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards banquet in Washington.

Jeanine Pirro, a Republican candidate for attorney general in New York who described herself as a “proud daughter of Lebanese parents,” said she has fought for a “level playing field” as a former district attorney and former judge.

“But there is not always a level playing field in a post 9/11 world,” she said at a reception before the dinner.

Mr. Sununu, who received the Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service, warned against embracing “hot rhetoric” and letting “our emotions overcome our intellect” when confronting discrimination.

“In that elevated state, we lose our capacity to be heard and our capacity to influence,” he said, urging his fellow Arab-Americans to lobby the U.S. government for fair treatment. “By focusing on the positive side, we can make a difference.”

The award is named for Najeeb Halaby, a former chief executive of Pan-American Airlines.

Queen Noor of Jordan, Mr. Halaby’s daughter, introduced Mr. Sununu and called him a “bridge builder and peacemaker.”

The foundation also presented an award to former Polish President Lech Walesa to honor his leadership of the Solidarity trade union movement that challenged the Polish communist government in the early 1980s and helped defeat the totalitarian regime by the end of that decade.

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO commander, introduced Mr. Walesa as a “man who helped change the world” and presented him with the foundation’s Spirit of Humanity Award for Individual Achievement.

Mr. Walesa said he was humbled and speechless. He, nevertheless, delivered a stemwinder and urged the gathering to work for world peace and meet “one of the greatest challenges of all time.”

“Let’s go in that direction, and we’ll make the world better,” he said.

Pollster John Zogby introduced Rep. John D. Dingell for a special recognition for his five decades as a member of Congress from a district with a large Arab-American population.

“Fifty years in politics. That’s what we call a life sentence without parole,” Mr. Zogby said.

The Michigan Democrat, who walked with crutches because of a recent operation, slowly approached the stage to extended applause.

“It was nice to have the crutches tonight. It prolonged the applause,” he said. “I’ll have to remember that.”

The producers of the ceremony added a risky touch when they hired the edgy Arab-American comedy team of Waleed Zuaiter and Ramsey Faragallah. The comics promised to make any man in the audience an “Arab-American in five easy lessons.” The steps included unbuttoning shirts to midchest and displaying gold chains.

They joked that Arabs believe in conspiracies and suggested that, when necessary to find a scapegoat, “blame Israel.”

The ambassadors at the dinner included Farid Abboud of Lebanon, Roberto Abdenur of Brazil, Naser al-Belooshi of Bahrain, Heng Chee Chan of Singapore, Nabil Fahmy of Egypt, Claudia Fritsche of Liechtenstein, Saqr Ghobash of the United Arab Emirates, Mohamed Nejib Hachana of Tunisia, Abdulwahab Abdulla al-Hajjri of Yemen, Karim Kawar of Jordan, Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa of Qatar, Aziz Mekouar of Morocco, Hunaina Sultan al-Mughairy of Oman and Sheik Salem Abdullah al-Jaber al-Sabah of Kuwait.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]washingtontimes.com.



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