Press Release
May 9th, 2001

To: The Honorable General Colin Powell
Secretary Of State
2201 C Street, NW.
Washington, DC 20520

Re: Khalil Gibran Gala by AAI

Dear Secretary Powell
On behalf of the American Maronite Union (AMU), I congratulate you for accepting invitations by Middle East Descent Associations in America, as a way to express the Administration's encouragement of American ethnic initiatives towards their mother countries. Such a cooperation between the Executive Branch and American Ethnic Communities will certainly help our Government to shape up the best policy possible towards many issues worldwide of great concerns to many Americans. We all know that Americans from Middle East descent are very sensitive of the issues regarding their heritage and the questions of Justice and Peace in the region.

In these regards, allow me to raise a sensitive issue, not only to the one million and a half Americans from Maronite descent but also to the entire two million strong Lebanese American communities. On May 7, 2001 you have participated as a guest speaker at the Third Annual Khalil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards Gala organized by the Arab American Institute. While we certainly would not be opposed to any party that would honor Khalil Gibran, we express our concerns as to the identification of this great Lebanese-American as an "Arab-American."

That the Arab-American Institute (AAI), or any association, would honor Gibran as a man of great contribution to American and Lebanese literature and arts is an initiative that we applaud, but that the AAI would claim a Lebanese Maronite to the Arab community is a matter that we reject and resent. Gibran Khalil Gibran is an emigrant who was born in the town of Besharri in Northern Lebanon. He was born as a Lebanese Christian Maronite, from Syriac-Aramaic descent. His family belongs to a community and a village that have been Aramaic and Maronite for over 1,500 years. Not only his community and his people have been from Syriac-Maronite descent and spoke their native tongue -Syriac- for centuries, but his ancestors were among the most valorous fighters against Arab invasions. Becharre and the surrounding areas have defended themselves for centuries against the Umeyades, Abbasides and Mameluke, let alone the Ottomans. Besides, Gibran's work was centered on his sentimental attachment to Lebanon as a nation, and to the struggle for the Lebanese against the Ottomans and Arabs who denied Lebanon's independence. By reading his celebrated poem dedicated to the genocide against Mount Lebanon's people, one would understand that Gibran was not but a Maronite and a Lebanese American dedicated to the freedom of his mother country.

Identifying Gibran as an Arab American would be as if you would identify any Irish-American as an English-American, and therefore would be considered as an insult to Gibran himself and to his community. We, as Maronite-Americans and Lebanese Americans, strongly reject all politically motivated attempts to steal our symbols and claim them to other ethnicities and causes. Furthermore, we resent that Gibran's name would be associated to a fundraiser to which a high US government official would be invited to speak.

Such events would be using the US Government to legitimize this ethnic discrimination against the Maronite and Lebanese communities and their dispossession of their own ethnic symbols in America.

Dear Secretary
We invite you, on behalf of all American Maronite to visit (or send an emissary from the US Embassy in Beirut) the House of Gibran Khalil Gibran in his native town of Becharre and see for yourself as to who was this great American-Lebanese star. We invite you to talk to his descendents, the people of his town, the local cultural committee that is officially in charge of promoting Gibran's roots. You will then realize that the man under whose name the American Arab Institute was fundraising, was a man whose identity and feelings were from roots, which the AAI
attempts desperately to replace by another alien identity. Our US Government, which preaches pluralism and tolerance, must not become the tool to let this dispossession occurs.
I remain ready to assist you or your office in acquiring all necessary information about Gibran's ethnic and cultural identity.

Sincerely yours
Tom Harb
American Maronite Union