(BEIRUT, LEBANON) — The Armenian-Lebanese community in the United States welcomed His Holiness Aram I Keshishian, the leader of the Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church during an official visit this month.
The religious leader’s month-long visit includes meetings with American diplomats and lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and a keynote address to the Armenian Eastern Prelacy’s National Representative Assembly on June 7.
Keshishian, who resides in Antelias, Lebanon, had planned a visit to the United States on October 2012 but canceled because of the conflict in Syria that impacted the Syrian-Armenian community.
His stay in the United States will include stops at several Prelacy parishes, where services will focus on the theme “Faithfulness to Our Armenian Christian Heritage,’’ according to a statement released by the Armenian Prelacy.
“In order to remain rooted in our Armenian identity in the diaspora, we should organize and be renewed as community in the church,” the religious leader said.
Keshishian visited the Lebanese Embassy in Washington D.C. on May 11 to meet with Ambassador Antoine Chedid. They discussed the ongoing political and security situation in Lebanon and the threats Christians face in the Middle East.
Keshishian also met with In Defense of Christians Coalition President Toufic Baakline, and Senior Advisor Andrew Dorani. The Catholicos thanked the coalition for their advocacy on behalf of Christians in the Middle East and for their recent statement on the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
Before Keshishian returns to Lebanon in June, he will visit churches in Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
It is his fourth visit to the Eastern Prelacy — the first one was in 1997.
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(DEARBORN, MI) — It’s no secret that Dearborn-based businessman Ali Jawad likes to stay active. Even during Ramadan, the hands-on and self-made entrepreneur jogs for six miles per day.
In between exercises and frequent soccer matches, Jawad manages Armada Oil, one of Michigan’s largest motor fuel distributors which he founded in 1982. But he rarely speaks of his financial and professional success.
Jawad would rather talk about his philanthropic success and ambitious vision to create a gathering place for Lebanese-Americans in Dearborn, Mich., which is home to the largest concentrated Arab population outside of the Middle East.
But admittedly, philanthropic success didn’t come easy.
As Jawad describes, mobilizing the Lebanese community often presented more challenges than operating a major business.
“On many occasions we told the community that if you lose your heritage, you lose your identity,” he said. “We had many challenges, but it eventually stuck with people.”
From Soccer to Service
In the early 1980’s, Jawad and a few friends started “Dearborn Stars,” a local soccer team created to stay active and pass time. Although it was entertaining and engaging for a couple of months, Jawad was called in a different direction.
“I was reading that all these Lebanese from around the world were starting Lebanese clubs,” said Jawad. “So I looked at the guys and said let’s start one.”
From there, the Lebanese-American Heritage Club (LAHC) was born.
Since 1989, the organization has given over $1.5 million in scholarships for deserving Lebanese-American students.
But it didn’t start that way.
Jawad recalls facing pushback from some community members who labeled him as a “right-winger” for his Lebanese patriotism.
“People started accusing me and putting labels on me,” he said. “But my goal was to end the discussion of politics and stop our self-created divisions.”
That’s when Jawad called on Lebanese youth to come forward and take leadership roles in community activities.
“We told the older generations that LAHC has no Amal, no Kataeb,” he said, referring to opposing political factions in Lebanon. “We told them if you want to get involved in politics, go fight in the Republican or Democratic arena.”
Jawad wanted to see the Arab community more involved in American affairs. He said he emphasized involvement on “both wings” — both American and Lebanese community involvement.
“America is built on immigration,” Jawad said. “But for Arab-Americans we had to double our resources because of all the problems in the Middle East.”
Jawad said “doubling” resources began with encouraging undergraduate and post-graduate education.
“We started giving out four scholarships and it naturally kept growing and growing,” said Jawad. “We started getting American corporations involved and American politicians and it grew to a whole new level.”
Encouraging Future Leaders
Today, LAHC is one of the largest and most respected Lebanese-American organizations in the country. Jawad gives credit to many community supporters who helped craft his vision, including former Consul General of Lebanon Nasrat El Assaad.
But more importantly, Jawad credits future generations of Lebanese-Americans for continuing the organization’s legacy and contributing to its global success.
“My proudest moments is when I see the youth get a scholarship and do something positive,” he said. “I’m always proud to see the next generation go to college, open businesses, and take leadership positions.”
Hussein Hachem, founder of the Youth Leadership Committee of LAHC, is one of them.
“For me, LAHC is a place for common ground,” said Hachem. “It’s a place where we can be proud of our community and grow together.”
Jawad said his vision can only improve in the hands of community members like Hachem. This year the organization will award $103,000 in scholarships to 43 students of high academic distinction at the 27th Annual Awards Gala on May 8.
“You never know when you start something where it will end up,” said Jawad. “Sometimes you see success from the angels.”
UPDATE: Harlan apologized on Thursday saying: “In no way did I mean to imply that because of our community’s make up, there was a higher risk of ISIS threats.”
(DEARBORN, MI) — WDIV-TV Local 4 news anchor Carmen Harlan upset many Michigan Muslims after making a comment on the state’s alleged ties to ISIS during a broadcast on the Detroit NBC affiliate on Wednesday.
When asked about a possible “ISIS threat in Michigan”, Harlan said “given the fact that we have the largest Arab population outside of the Middle East, I guess this should not come as a real surprise.”
Many Arab organizations have voiced concern over Harlan’s comments, urging the TV station to apologize.
“This shocking lapse of professional conduct was directed against law-abiding citizens who strive to create vibrant, diverse communities wherever they live,” said Fatina Abdrabboh, director of the Michigan American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
“Naturally, this type of analysis is very problematic for our community as we watch the impact of blanket indictments on the Arab-American and Muslim community that have nothing to do with the ISIS phenomenon at all.”
The threat of ISIS in Michigan has not been authenticated by security officials, according to media reports.
“These offensive comments based on an unconfirmed threat only stir up animosity toward Michigan’s Arab community,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “Comments like these are an example of racial profiling at its worst and Carmen Harlan should apologize immediately.”
The Campaign to TAKE ON HATE, led by the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC), a program of ACCESS, urged Harlan to apologize on air.
“Carmen Harlan’s comment about the Arab American community is appalling, offensive and dangerous,” said Nadia Tonova, director of NNAAC. “As a reporter, she has a responsibility to remain objective in her reporting and not draw conclusions for her audience. We request that WDIV immediately address this racially charged comment.”
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(DETROIT, MI) — A U.S. delegation of Free Patriotic Movement leaders concluded a two-day political workshop in Birmingham, Mich. on Sunday, which included an evening dinner attended by Consul General of Lebanon Bilal Kabalan.
Kabalan voiced his future plans to invite opposing Lebanese political factions to unanimously gather for a meeting.
“We have plans to bridge the various Lebanese political chapters in Detroit,” said Kabalan, during brief comments in Arabic. “This is an important and democratic asset to Lebanon to have so many differing beliefs.”
The final day of the workshop hosted political supporters of the March 8 alliance, including guests of the March 14 alliance, for a dinner at The Community House in downtown Birmingham.
Suehaila Amen, coordinator of the two-day conference, said the purpose was to restructure the Lebanese American Council of Democracy (LACD), which is largely managed by Tayyar leaders.
“This is an opportunity to bring together leaders from around the nation to reshape the mission and vision of this organization,” Amen said. “It’s also to make the group more social than political.”
Salim Sessine, local Lebanese-American businessman who organized the conference, said workshop attendees agreed to structure independent statewide organizations of LACD.
“We want to create one national board,” Sessine said. “Then there will be independent statewide chapters which will remain as separate entities.”
Conference attendees discussed the security situation in Lebanon and the ongoing presidential vacuum, which they say threatens Christians in the Middle East.
“Christians are currently in a fragile role in the region,” said Tony Faddoul, who came from New York for the conference. “But that issue is a uniting factor among many of the Lebanese political groups.”
Faddoul said FPM’s political strategy desires to protect Christians and rally the Lebanese diaspora to maintain their roots in Lebanon.
“We’re from a generation used to all the climax,” he said. “We heard of flourishing moments from our parents, but we haven’t had the chance to experience them. We instead emigrated to other countries.”
Wedad Elhage, who immigrated to the United States in 1980, said she’s pleased to see diaspora communities remain involved in Lebanese politics.
“I’m so proud to see different factions of our community here,” Elhage said. “As emigrants we came to the United States to achieve our dreams and have hopes to return our country and live freely.”
(ANN ARBOR, MI) — Dr. Akram Khater, director of the Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies, said Lebanese-Americans have a responsibility to preserve their history of immigration to the United States.
“We have to build a place for ourselves here,” said Khater, during a keynote address at the Lebanese Collegiate Network student convention in Ann Arbor, Mich. on Apr. 11. “We have to carve out a place in American history for the Lebanese and for the Arabs in general.”
Khater said Lebanese-Americans have established an influential role in American immigration history.
“We belong in (the USA) because our values are American values, and American values are ours,” he said. “We didn’t just assimilate.”
The Khayrallah Center was launched in 2014 at North Carolina State University after receiving an $8.1 million endowment from Lebanese-American businessman Moise Khayrallah.
The center aims to study Lebanese history in the United States, and to preserve stories of early Lebanese settlers.
LISTEN to Dr. Khater’s remarks:
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(DETROIT, MI) — Fox News commentator Walid Phares will visit Detroit, Mich. next month to attend a banquet hosted by the Lebanese American Chamber of Commerce on May 29.
The organization announced they would honor Phares with the “Pillar of Baalbeck” award during a banquet entitled ‘An Evening with Walid Phares.’
Phares immigrated to the United States in 1990 from Lebanon, and quickly rose to become a leading commentator on global terrorism and Middle Eastern affairs.
Phares has testified before committees of the U.S. State, Justice, Defense and Homeland Security, the United States Congress, the European Parliament, and the United Nations Security Council.
Since 2007, he has served as an expert on terrorism and the Middle East for FOX News and previously held a position as terrorism expert for NBC from 2003 to 2006.
The Lebanese American Chamber of Commerce ‘Evening With’ events have previously hosted many other newsmakers, including MSNBC personality Raghida Dergham, CNN personality Octavia Nasr, filmmaker Nadine Labaki, Central Bank of Lebanon vice governor Raed Charafeddine, and Beirut Marathon Association founder May El Khalil.
The Chamber says they will announce details of the banquet in the coming weeks.
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UPDATE: The University of Michigan called their decision a “mistake” and returned to their original plan to show the film at the same location and time. Meanwhile, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, said the decision to drop the film violated “freedom of expression.”
(ANN ARBOR, MI) — Arab-American students from the University of Michigan protested the university’s Center for Campus Involvement on Monday, after the center announced they would screen the controversial film, “American Sniper.”
A petition started by sophomore Lamees Mekkaoui garnered 280 signatures on Tuesday, which prompted the university to cancel plans and respond to the controversy.
“Student reactions have clearly articulated that this is neither the venue nor the time to show this movie,” said the Center of Campus Involvement in a prepared statement. “We deeply regret causing harm to members of our community, and appreciate the thoughtful feedback provided to us by students and staff alike.”
“American Sniper” has come under fire by left-leaning audiences for its “polarizing” views on the Iraq war. The film has also been accused of presenting a positive portrayal of snipers, who allegedly took pleasure in killing Iraqis.
The film follows the story of a U.S. Navy SEAL in Iraq, who is fighting to “protect his comrades,” according to the film’s synopsis.
Many Arab-Americans have expressed outrage over the Clint Eastwood film, calling it a “disturbing” portrayal of Muslims in American media.
“Middle Eastern characters in the film are not lent an ounce of humanity and watching this movie is provocative and unsafe to MENA and Muslim students who are too often reminded of how little the media and world values their lives,” said a collective letter to the university from “Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) and Muslim Students” on campus.
“The University of Michigan should not participate in further perpetuating these negative and misleading stereotypes.”
Film critics have also responded with mixed reviews, including many insiders who call it “patriotic.”
The university has since cancelled the event, but a student activities representative said the screening will be rescheduled to include a panel discussion.
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(DETROIT, MI) — Former President of Lebanon Amine Gemayel visited the Lebanese community in Detroit on Saturday, after making stops in Washington, DC and Boston earlier this week.
Gemayel was a guest of local business owner Toufic Souaid, who hosted a luncheon for the former president attended by local Lebanese-American leaders and party representatives.
WATCH highlights of Gemayel’s visit to Detroit:
Gemayel spoke exclusively with Lebanese Examiner Managing Editor Charlie Kadado about the ongoing political climate in Lebanon, and the role of Lebanese expatriates in helping to mend security conflicts.
“(Members of the diaspora) should plead the cause of Lebanon through the governments, the media, and the various leadership where they are,” he said. “The diaspora is very important for Lebanon’s existence and pluralism.”
Gemayel’s remarks come three days after he spoke to Boston College and called 2014 “a year of existential crisis” for Middle East Christians. He adds that Lebanon’s pluralism provides a “unique” blueprint for other Middle Eastern countries.
“Lebanon is an example for a harmonious coexistence among the various religious communities,” said Gemayel. “That’s what we’re trying to protect.”
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(DETROIT, MI) — The Michigan Chapter of the Future Movement political party held a banquet on Thursday, commemorating the 10-year anniversary since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, who was assassinated on Feb. 14, 2005.
Hariri was a celebrated political icon and business tycoon, who was known as a voice of moderation and advocate for an independent and prosperous Lebanon.
The Michigan political group hosted Mirna Meneimneh, Expatriates Sector General Coordinator for Tayyar Al-Mustaqbal in Lebanon, who also attended a luncheon welcoming former President of Lebanon Amine Gemayel on Saturday.
Meneimneh said the late premier’s efforts will continue under the “promise” of his son, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
WATCH Future Movement Michigan President Ibrahim Hakkani talk about the commemoration:
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