With Middle Easterners becoming the boogeymen of the world, it’s worth remembering that, despite all the mayhem ravaging their countries and the extremist movements that kill them on daily basis, many of them have used their talents for the greater good and contributed to the betterment of humanity and made America great in their own way.
1. Gebran Khalil Gebran:
Gebran Khalil, who has a monument commemorating him in the heart of Boston, is one of the most celebrated writers in the United States. One of the most influential and top-selling books in the world, The Prophet was written by the Lebanese immigrant from Bcharre. It has been translated to 40 languages, has never been out of print, and has been the center of multiple adaptations the last of which was an animated movie by Salma Hayek.
2. Tony Fadell:
The name may not be a household item for many, but what Tony Fadell has created has not only revolutionized the way we look at music, it also changed our relationship with our own homes. The iPod, that device with the click-wheel that, only a decade go, changed the entire music landscape was his creation. He later on founded Nest Labs, which created the Nest Thermostat. He’s Lebanese.
3. Michael DeBakey:
Dr. Michael DeBakey, who passed away a few years ago, was a true medical pioneer for the entire world. As medical students, we memorize his classification of aortic aneurysms and use it as a standard. He created a multiple of medical devices that have become essential in cardiothoracic surgery. He was also one of the first physicians ever to do carotid artery bypass grafts, a surgery which was revolutionary at the time and is still cutting-edge today. He was also Lebanese.
4. Donna Shalala:
Mrs. Shalala was United States Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001. She was the president of the University of Miami, a private university in Coral Gables, Florida, from 2001 through 2015. She is, until now, the longest running secretary of health and the first Arab American to be as such.
One of the most successful female singers around the world, and arguably the most successful latino singer is Shakira whose hits “Whenever Wherever” and “Hips Don’t Lie” have made her a household item is originally Lebanese. Her father is from Zahle and her maternal grandmother from Tannourine. Hashtag Batroun pride.
6. Edward Said:
The late Edward Said was a professor of literature at Columbia University, a public intellectual, and a founder of the academic field of postcolonial studies. A Palestinian-American, his father was a U.S. army veteran. Known for the book Orientalism, a critique of how the Western world perceives The Orient, he transformed the academic discourse in Middle Eastern studies and in the studies of cultures.
7. Reem Acra:
Reem Acra is one of the most important fashion designers around the globe today. Based in New York, she has become one of the most awaited on any red carpet. She lately made headlines by dressing up First Lady Melania Trump for her pre-inauguration dinner with her husband, U.S. president Donald Trump.
8. Zaha Hadid:
The late Zaha Hadid was an Iraqi architect whose works have spanned the entire globe. From football stadiums to parliaments to university faculties, she is as controversial as she is iconic. Zaha Hadid was one of the top architects in the world and the leading female architect at that.
9. Charles Elachi:
Mr. Elachi is a Lebanese professor of electrical engineering and planetary science at the California Institute of Technology. From 2001 to 2016, he was director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and vice president of Caltech as well. He was one of the key figures in NASA’s space explorations from the 1990s onwards and has been inundated with more awards than one could count.
10. Ilhan Omar:
On the day Donald Trump was voted president, Ilhan Omar became the first Somali-American person (and woman) to win a legislature seat. She was born in Mogadishu, but her family fled after dictator Siad Barre was toppled in 1991 and Somalia collapsed into violence, famine and religious fanaticism. She fled to a Kenyan refugee camp, from which she was resettled in the U.S. four years later. Soon enough, she moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she now serves in the state legislature.
Twelve-year-old Omar knew little English and grew frustrated that teachers continuously overlooked her in class. She once showed pluck when a maths teacher ignored her raised hand when asking pupils to solve a number puzzle.
11. Helen Thomas:
The child of immigrants from Tripoli, Lebanon, Helen Thomas was an American author and news service reporter, member of the White House press corps and opinion columnist. She was a columnist for Hearst Newspapers from 2000 to 2010, writing on national affairs and the White House. She covered the administrations of eleven U.S. presidents — from the final years of the Eisenhower administration to the second year of the Obama administration.
12. Whoever Created Hummus:
Yes, seriously. We gave you hummus. Have some respect. You may have ruined it with celery (don’t do that), but you still got it from us no matter what the Israelis do or say.
13. Steve Jobs:
A little bit of a stretch, but Steve Jobs is technically the son of a Syrian (Muslim) immigrant who, under Trump, wouldn’t have been born given that his father wouldn’t have been allowed into the country. Lucky for the world, that did not happen back then. Steve Jobs went on to found one of the leading tech companies in the world, which gave us the Macintosh, the iPhone, iPad, and a slew of other devices that have become the benchmark of technology today. Period.
Bonus – Jesus:
Jesus was a Middle Eastern man, whose mother was veiled, and who probably wouldn’t have been allowed entry to the countries banning people on their place of origin. It is through him that Christianity was given to the world. As such, Christianity is a Middle Eastern export. You are welcome.
Food for thought:
Great people come from all places. Where you come from has no bearing on the kind of person you will end up becoming if you are given an equal chance at making it. Let’s not put people in boxes based on where they come from, ban them from fulfilling their true potential out of fear and cower away in bubbles because we’re too comfortable there. The next big thing could be in the mind of those we hide away.