Arab-Americans: Making a Difference By Casey Kasem
There are about 3 million Arab-Americans, as a community we've been demonstrating our loyalty, inventiveness, and courage on behalf of the United States for over 100 years. Here are just a few of the more famous ones: people you may know!
You talk about courage, how about America's and the world's first jet ace? He was the Korean War hero, US Air Force Col. James Jabara. In World War II, Army officers like Maj. Gen. Fred Safay fought alongside Gen. Patton, and Brig. Gen. Elias Stevens served on Gen. Eisenhower's staff.
In 1944, one of our Navy's ships, the destroyer escort USS Naifeh was named in honor of an Arab-American war hero, Navy Lt. Alfred Naifeh of Oklahoma. More recently, West Point graduate and four-star Gen. George Joulwan commanded both the US and NATO forces in Europe.
Some of us work in our nation's capital, like veteran Congressman Nick Joe Rahall II of West Virginia, Congressmen Pat Danner (Missouri), Ray Lahoud (IIIinois), John Baldacci (Maine), John E. Sununu (New Hampshire), and Chris John (Louisiana). There's also US Senator Spencer Abraham of Michigan. The first Arab-American ever appointed to a US Cabinet position is the Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala.
Former governor of New Hampshire John Sununu became the White House chief of staff and later, a political commentator for CNN. America's longest serving White House chief of protocol was ambassador Selwa Roosevelt. Her assistant, Thomas A. Nassif, also served as US ambassador to Morocco, a post currently filled by Edward Gabriel. Our ambassador to the United Arab Emirates is Theodore Kattouf.
A special presidential envoy was the late ambassador Philip C. Habib. A 50-year veteran with United Press International is the dean of the White House press corps, feisty Helen Thomas, who covered eight presidents since 1961. In a class of his own, the late warm-hearted Robert George portrayed Santa Claus year-round for nearly 50 years and was the official Presidential Santa at the White House through eight administrations, from Eisenhower to Bush.
Others who have served in high elective office are: US senate majority leader George Mitchell (Maine/Democ.), former US senators James Abourizk and James Abdelnour (South Dakota), former Congressional members Mary Rose Oakar of Ohio, George Kasern of California, Abraham Kazen Jr. of Texas, and Toby Moffett of Connecticut. Victor Atiyeh was the popular governor of Oregon.
Arab-Americans are grocers and governors, physicians and farmers, Indy 500 champs and taxicab drivers, financiers and factory workers, bakers and bankers, salesmen and senators, TV stars and TV repairmen, teachers and preachers, Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks and neighborhood sandlot heroes. Name it, and an Arab-American has done it.
For example, the Heisman Trophy winner who threw the miracle touchdown pass for Boston College some year's back was Doug Flutie. He was the first American college quarterback to pass 10,000 yards. Today, after years as a superstar in the Canadian Football League, Doug is back in the NFL, quarterbacking the Buffalo Bills. There's also NFL quarterback Jeff George and NFL coach Rich Kotite.
Don't forget former Chicago bears linebacker and NFL Hall of Farmer Bill George, or former Cleveland Brown Abe Gibran. The former owner of the Miami Dolphins was Joe Robbie.
In basketball, there's Rony Seikaly. UCLA's fiery coach, Jim Harrick, took his team to the NCAA playoffs eight years in a row, winning the national championship in 1995. He's now coaching the University of Georgia. The late George Maalouf Sr. owned the NBA's Houston Rockets. Today, Joe and Gavin Maalouf own the Sacramento Kings.
In Major League baseball, Joe Lahoud played with the Boston Red Sox and Fred Saigh once owned St. Louis Cardinals.
In auto racing, Bobby Rahal won the Indy 500 in 1986; later becoming the all-time earnings champ among Indy car racers. The founder of the Professional Bowlers Association was the late Eddie Elias. In the ring, Petey Sarron won the world featherweight championship in 1936-1937 while Zuhair Steve Mansour was weightlifting's Grandmaster of the World in 1990. Three-time US national chess champion is Seattle's Yasser Seirawan.
Palestinian-born Dr. Elias Ghanem once cured singing stars Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, and Paul Anka from the Vegas throat. Today, he's chairman of the Nevada Athletic Commission.
Among America's activists, can you think of two people who have saved more lives than the founder of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), Candy Lightner, and America's (and probably the world's) foremost consumer advocate, Ralph Nader?
Back in 1960, Ralph Johns, a key white participant in the civil rights movement, encouraged the famous Woolworth sit-in at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Getting down to business, the founder of an international, and billion dollar-engineering firm, Jacobs Engineering Group, is Dr. Joseph Jacobs. A former chemist with dozens of patents became Armand Hammer's successor as chairman of the board, president, and a chief executive officer of Occidental Petroleum: Dr. Ray Irani.
Najeeb Halaby, former head of the Federal Aeronautics Authority, was CEO of Pan American Airlines. His daughter, Lisa, married King Hussein of Jordan and became the first Arab-American to be queen of a foreign country, Queen Nour.
After trotting the globe for years, solving problems and directing new ventures for the Ford Motor Company, Jacques Nasser is now its president and CEO. Stephen Yokich served five terms as vice president of the National United Auto Workers Union then became its president. In 1999, Mattel Incorporated, makers of Barbie dolls, etc, named Ned Mansour as its president.
John Mack, president of one of America's largest investment banking firms: Morgan Stanley Group, built it into a global powerhouse, which then merged with Dean Witter to form the world's biggest securities company. An internationally respected financial expert and economic forecaster is Ray Jallow.
One of America's preeminent pollsters, keeping tabs on public opinion and other statistics, is John Zogby of Zogby International.
Paul Orfalea founded the world's biggest international chain of copying service stores: Kinko's, while Waleed and Malik Ali founded MPI, the world's largest home-video distributor of documentaries. Entrepreneur Tony Ismail founded the Alamo Flag Company in Dallas and built it into the largest retailer of flags and related items in the US today.
Turning to law, the Texas lawyer who won the biggest settlement in U.S. history, on behalf of Pennzoil ($10 billion dollars!), is one of this country's most successful attorneys, Joseph D. Jemayl.
In the famous zoot suit of the 1940 s, George Shibley defended unjustly accused Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles.
In entertainment, Canadian-born singer-songwriter Paul Anka became one of America's first pop teen idols. The late ukulele plucking, falsetto singing Herbert Khoury became famous as Tiny Tim. In the world of rock, there was the late legendary Frank Zappa. On the West Coast, Dick Dale was the King of the Surf Guitar. One of today's stars is singer-dancer Paula Abdul. The first teenager ever to have her first two singles both hit number one is Tiffany.
Speaking of music, two of America's landmark music shows on radio were created by two Arab-Americans, Don Bustany and me: American Top 40 and American Country Countdown. The man who pioneered the concept of a radio-programming consultant in 1958 is Mike Joseph, helping organizations like ABC, CBS, and NBC, among others.
On Broadway, playwright Fred Saidy wrote two classics, Finian's Rainbow and Bloomer Girl. Opera prima donna Rosalind Elias hit the high notes at the Met. For the avant-garde Dancer of the Year in 1992, the New York Times picked a 20-year Broadway veteran with the Paul Taylor Company: Elie Chaib.
Turning to television, Lucie Salhany became the first woman to head a television network, Fox Broadcasting Corporation, then United Paramount Network. Among TV directors, two Arab Americans have each helmed over 300 episodes for the networks. Asaad Kelad has done numerous series like Family Ties and episodes of The Facts of Life, "Who's the Boss? , and WKRP in Cincinnati, etc
After directing Broadway hits like Sweet Charity, Mame, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, John Bowab switched to TV and has directed episodes of Soap, Benson Buddies, The Facts of Life, and The Cosby Show.
Super-Fact: did you know that the highest-rated episode in television history was the last episode of M*A*S*H. Who played the role of not-so-crazy Corporal Klinger for its entire 11-years run? A talented Arab-American from Toledo (Ohio), Jamie Farr.
On NBC, Saturday Night Live bandleader for many years was guitarist G.E. Smith (His family's Lebanese name is Haddad, meaning blacksmith).
The best-known Lebanese in America was also the founder of St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital: the late, great comedian and actor Danny Thomas. His son is a television and film producer and an Emmy Award multi-winner for The Golden Girls and other TV shows, Tony Thomas. Danny's daughter is the Emmy Award-winning Marlo Thomas, the first actress ever to play a single, independent young woman living apart from her parents in a TV series, That Girl.
The leading man who starred in the movie Flashdance was Michael Nouri, later seen in TV's Love and War, and sitcom Wings the first time two Arab-Americans featured in the same TV series. He has also starred in films like Mel brook's Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Tony has moved to the big screen as well in films like Big Night, Men in Black, The Siege, Paulie and A Civil Action.
Crusty but softhearted Mel in TV's Alice was portrayed by the late Vic Tayback. One of the co-stars of the series Empty Nest was Kristy McNichol. Star of TV's Head of the Class, Christine Haje was once picked by People Magazine as one of the 50 most beautiful people in the US.
Two other fine movie and television actors who also starred in popular TV dramas are James Stacy, who played the title role in Larami, and Michael Ansara, who played Cochise in Broken Arrow.
An award-winning comic actress from San Diego who played a fun-loving nun in the Sister Act films is Kathy Najimy. Currently, she co-stars as Olive, a Lebanese-Ameircan, in NBC's Veronica's Closet with Kirstie Alley. Kathy also does the voice of Peggy Hill on Fox's animated hit, King of the Hill. Lovely Salma Hayek is another actress who has lit up the screens. Handling the Rocky, Rambo, and Terminator films, was the billion-dollar producer, Mario Kassar (Carolco Pictures).
The producer of the epic The Message: The Story of Islam (a biography of the Prophet Mohammed) and Lion of the Desert, not to mention the entire blockbuster Halloween series is Moustapha Akkad.
The director of Jim Carrey's looney comedy hits: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Liar Liar, Eddie Murphy's The Nutty professor and Robin William's Patch Adams, is Tom Shadyac. These films have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.
One of show business's legendary talent managers was the late George Bullets Durgom, who, through the years, managed Jackie Gleason, Sammy Davis Jr., and Marilyn Monroe, to mention a few. Two of today's top recording star's husband-managers are of Syrian descent: Rene Angelil, discoverer and manager of wife Celine Dion, and Cuban-born Emilio Estefan, manager and producer of wife Gloria Estefan.
Emmy Award-winning cinematographer-director George S. Dibie is president of the International Photographers Guild. The cinematographer who designed Cinemobile: the first customized van for filming on location, while working on the TV series I Spy, was Fouad Said. For this achievement, he received a Technical Academy Award in 1970.
Among other Oscar winners: Best Actor for the movie Amadeus, F. Murray Abraham. A winner for best screenplay adapted from another medium (for the The Exorcist) is William Peter Blatty. The first woman to receive an Oscar for best original screenplay (for Thelma and Louise) is Callie Khouri. Also winner, for Best Song (Last Dance from Thank God It's Friday), is the late composer Paul Jabara. Set decorator Emile Kuri, nominated eight times for films like Mary Poppins, won the Oscar twice: for The Heiress and Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Arab-Americans also have made significant contributions to the art world. Woodworker Sam Maloof, whose quality work is in demand, has had creations appear in the White House, Smithsonian Institution, the Vatican and other renowned exhibit halls. Retired heart surgeon Dr. Hussam A. Fadhli is an award-winning sculptor, whose work is displayed around the world, including the Bush Presidential Library.
In the world of fashion, the prestigious CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year Award for 1990 and 1991 went to Arab-American Joseph Abboud of New York. He's the only designer to win the award tow years in a row.
Staying with apparel a moment, J.M. Haggar Slacks manufactures more men's slacks than anyone in the world. In addition, Farah Brothers manufactures men and women's slacks. Maalouf Brothers manufactured Mod-O-Day women's dresses.
For an inspiring success story, try that of writer-lecturer on business and success, Nido Oubein! When he came to the United States as a teenager, he could barely speak English. He went on to become president of the National Speaker's Association and the youngest member inducted into the International Speaker's Hall of Fame.
In education, Jack Shaheen, emeritus professor of Mass Communications at Southern Illinois University and author of books like The TV Arab, has also been CBS News consultant for the Middle East. Columbia professor Edward Said is a well-known literary and social critic, as well as a respected music reviewer, whose column appears in The Nation. Recently retired, David Adamany was the longest-serving president of Wayne State University in Detroit.
The writer-publisher Steven Naive, the author of 3 national bestsellers, shared the Pulitzer Prize for biography with Jackson Pollack for "An American Saga.
In science and medicine, one of America's most famous pioneers is the Houston surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey, who invented the heart pump. Today he's chancellor of Baylor University's College of Medicine.
Two winners of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry are Arab-American. Dr. Ahmed H. Zewail, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, is the 1999 winner. The 1990 winner is Harvard's Dr. Elias Khoury.
Geologist George A. Doumani's explorations helped prove the theory of continental drift. He has a mountain peak named after him in Antarctica. Another American geologist, Dr. Farouk El-Baz (born in Egypt), helped plan all the Apollo moon landings and later pioneered the use of space photography to study the Earth.
We've all heard this quote before: 'Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. A famous quote by an Irish-American President, John F. Kennedy, that inspired an entire generation. These words were first written by, among others, the Arab-American author of The Prophet Kahlil Gibran. And what sentiment, so beautifully expressed by Gibran more than 70 years ago, has inspired Americans of all heritages.
We Arab-Americans are proud of our heritage and proud to be Americans. It's this pride that keeps us all asking: What can we do for our country, the good old USA?