Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Muhammad Ali Receives Kahlil Gibran Award

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Muhammad Ali Receives Kahlil Gibran Award

Article excerpt

Arab-American Activism

The Arab American Institute (AAI) Foundation's 2004 Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards ceremony was held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC, on May 4. The event opened with a videotaped message from actor Tony Shalhoub, who expressed his admiration for AAI and its role in protecting civil rights and electing officials sensitive to Arab-American concerns. Shalhoub also spoke of his admiration for the evening's honorees, calling Muhammad Ali courageous and outspoken, and lauding the American Near Bast Refugee Aid (ANERA). he then introduced his "new friends," Dean and Maysoon.

Dean Obeidallah, a comedian of Palestinian and Italian descent, amused the crowd with his description of a George Bush action doll he had seen, and said he wished it could be a talking doll uttering phrases like "Palestinian infahida," while being controlled by a Dick Cheney doll. The comedian also took a light-hearted perspective of growing up Arab and Muslim in New Jersey where being Muslim was understood as being a Black athlete. Maysoon Zayid took a similar approach to being Muslim in America, describing herself as "George Bush's worst nightmare-female, pro-choice, disabled, Palestinian, and Muslim."

Trips to Palestine didn't scare her, Zayid said, but flying from the Newark (NJ) airport did-since her cerebral palsy and fear of flying made her look nervous and cry, and her Saddam Hussain-lookalike father, invoking the name of Allah Lo protect her, all might secure her a seat on the next flight to Guantanamo Bay. That might not be too bad, however, Zayid conceded, since there were lots of "single Arab men" there.

Following the entertainment, several members of Congress addressed the honorees and guests. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) expressed concern that the PATRIOT Act had gone too far, that special registration was discriminatory, and that Guantanamo Bay was "troublesome," and said he hoped that torture in Iraq was isolated. Representative Ray LaHood (R-IL) said "If we hung together, worked together, stuck together, we could be very powerful," while Rep. Nancy Pelosi (DCA) praised AAI for not allowing "the freedoms of Arab Americans to become casualtics of the war on terror."

The first award, for Professional Excellence, was presented to the MPI Media Group, a media distribution company founded by first-generation Palestinian Americans Walid and Malik Ali for their groundbreaking work in video distribution. The award was accepted by Malik Ali. …

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