Since the late 1800s, Arab-Americans have been part of the social fabric in the United States and a great contributor to America’s success. Today, millions of Arab-Americans shaping the nation include the most diverse backgrounds from all walks of life: from elected leaders Chris Sununu and Donna Shalala to news anchors Diane Rehm, Hoda Kotb, and Jim Avila; from scientists Elias Zerhouni and Farouk al-Baz to fashion designers Joseph Abboud and Reem Acra; from business entrepreneurs Tony Fadell and Ray Irani to university presidents Nido Qubein and Fadlo Khuri; from CEOs Farouk Shamie and John Mack to sports stars Bobby Rahal and Khalid Khannouchi.
The contributions of Arab-Americans to the American lifestyle are often gone unnoticed. Khalil Gibran’s masterwork The Prophet was the top best-seller in the United States since its publication in 1923. Shortly following the arrival to the United States in 1895, Gibran enrolled in a school for immigrant children to learn English. The rich environment in Boston’s art and culture was an inspiration for Gibran who devoted his time to develop his skills in crafting creative drawings. His teachers saw a bright future for the young talent and introduced him to the well-known artist, Fred Holland Day, who became a mentor to Gibran.
Another impressive Arab-American voice in literature was Ameen Rihani. A successful poet and writer, Ameen Rihani captivated the minds of millions through verse and prose, both in Arabic and English. Rihani’s legacy lives on through his words, which signify a cultural bridge between the United States and the Arab World, bringing two lands closer together through art. His talents for speech-craft made him influential as a political activist. Rihani had the political acumen that enabled him to speak in support of ending the First World War.
In the 20th century, Arab-Americans were active beyond literary field. Among prominent figures that shaped American history was Najeeb Halaby, the first pilot to successfully complete a transcontinental jet flight. Halaby was an influential government official, business man, and aviator whose history of personal exploration lead him to find success in a variety of fields. Halaby’s contribution to the world was one of greatness, transcending the typical boundaries and pioneering forward. Halaby went on to study at Stanford University and received a degree from Yale Law. He joined the Navy and fought oversees in World War II. His efforts later were recognized by the President of the United States and he was awarded a medal of honor. Halaby supported the creation of the Department of Transportation and served as the State Department advisor of aviation to King Ibn Saud. In addition, he served as the second administrator to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Philip Habib assisted in the conflict zones of the 1950s, addressing the needs of the country during times of crisis. He served as the Ambassador to South Korea and the Undersecretary for Political Affairs. Most noteworthy, Habib worked tirelessly to free opposition leader Kim Dae-jung after he was kidnapped in 1973. Habib retired from the service after suffering a major heart attack.
However, when President Ronald Reagan asked him to serve as the special envoy to the Middle East, he gladly accepted. Habib negotiated the PLO evacuation from Beirut and was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan for his diplomatic efforts. The Senate Foreign Relations chairman also nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize. Habib then served as the special envoy to Central America to address growing concerns in Nicaragua during the Reagan administration. Philip Habib helped draft the outlines for peace and democratization in Costa Rica as well.