Remarks by Walid Maalouf
Director, Public Diplomacy for Middle Eastern & MEPI Affairs
The Lebanese American Club of Michigan
Saturday, November 20, 2004
When I arrived in America 24 years ago I never thought for a second that I would reach this point in my life, especially, this evening standing here before you as an honoree. While learning about and experiencing the American way of life I came across this saying: "If you dream it, you believe it - If you believe it, you achieve it." This has been my personal motivation day in and day out until this moment.
It was hard to leave Lebanon behind on July 26, 1979 , and, as the Lebanese saying goes; I left with one step forward and ten steps backwards." But coming to America was an opportunity and I pursued this opportunity to the best of my ability. I immediately went to work and organized my life between college responsibilities and the public service I felt compelled to do to galvanize the Lebanese-American community to help save Lebanon from the mess it was in at that time.
From the Metrolina Phoenician Club, which I helped establish in North Carolina in the early 80's, to my increasing participation in national organizations up to 1992, I always advocated unity -- unity among Lebanese Americans and unity among the Lebanese newcomers to this diverse land of ours. From the American Lebanese League and the National Alliance of Lebanese Americans to the Council of Lebanese American Organizations, unity was my goal. I strongly believed that the Lebanese immigrants were an important part of the solution for a free, united and sovereign Lebanon .
Even at the peak of the divisions in the late 80's early 90's I gathered all Lebanese American organizations for a Mass for peace and unity in Washington , DC . They all attended but unity did not prevail.
Unity prevails with strong leadership, with conviction, with determination, with love, with respect for each other and with strength. Right after September 11, in the ruins of the twin towers, President George W. Bush responded to the country saying: "I can hear you, the world will hear you." And in a moment of pride and determination he united the country from Maine to California . He stepped up to the needs and galvanized the country behind its flag, our flag. He mourned with us, he cried with us, he prayed with us and comforted the grieving families, yet he did not falter, he did not yield and he made us proud.
My fellow Lebanese Americans, if we want Lebanon saved, I call on you to unite. We must come together with one voice. We must leave our differences behind and focus on freedom and liberty for our ancestral countrymen and women. We must learn from the past mistakes and stop repeating them for the sake of the dignity and pride of our families back home. We must seize the opportunity and unite, especially after the passage of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 to win Lebanon back into the fold of democratic nations.
As I advocated unity in the past two decades I did not forget the sovereignty and freedom of the Lebanese people. I remained solid with my convictions. While at the United Nations last year I asked Syria to respect the sovereignty of its small neighbor. President Bush said: " Liberty , if not defended can be lost. The success of freedom rests upon the choices and the courage of free people." My friends, recently both the Security Council and the Secretary General have reaffirmed Lebanon 's right to sovereignty and called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon territory including the Syrians and their secret service apparatus. All thanks to President Bush's administration, which is pressing the demand for liberty and full sovereignty for Lebanon on this multilateral stage.
Lebanon has been under occupations for 28 years. Don't you think enough is enough?
What we did at the United Nations was right not only for Lebanon but also for the interests of the United States of America . The new forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East is a fundamental change in the United States policy in that part of the world. Make no mistake about it, today a free and democratic Lebanon is an interest of the United States of America and its security and it is an interest for the entire region.
The war in Lebanon started in the mid 70's with regional players, exacerbating the internal differences among its citizens; but it became an international conflict. So, there can be no resolution for Lebanon unless the international community puts its full weight behind an equitable solution. This will require a higher level of participation of the Lebanese Diaspora and all friends of Lebanon . I always believed in you, and believe you can play a major role in putting Lebanon on the road to true democracy. This is why I am calling on you to unite and I promise that I will not let you down with your message to President George W. Bush and his Administration in freeing Lebanon from its occupiers.
With your help we can bring back hope to the youth of Lebanon . With your help we can bring back dignity to your families and relatives who are still living there. With your help we can achieve the aspirations and the desires of the People of the Cedars; and with your help we will restore the Lebanon you knew to its rightful place in the world community.
I am often asked how I made it to this level. My friends, when you come to America you need to make a decision. Either you want to fully integrate into American society and its political system; or you just want to live here temporarily and on the sidelines. I chose the first. I have worked hard, and participated in the political process, which has led me to where I am today. As you all know, nothing comes easy in America .
America has been good to me and I want to give back. After more than 15 years in the private sector, and, after 9/11, I felt a responsibility to make a difference. I believe in President Bush's initiatives for the Middle East . I want to help him win the war against terrorism and to realize the democratization of the Middle East . These are historic times; change is taking shape. There is no turning back. I believe democracy will lead to peace, to great economic returns, to freedom of the self and the opportunity for personal achievement, to equality, security and self-determination for all the nations in the region.
America 's first Secretary of State and one of our grandfathers Thomas Jefferson said:" In matters of style swim with the currents, in matters of principle stand like a rock" . And so I did. Looking back to the 24 years of work I did from Charlotte , North Carolina to Boston , Massachusetts , and from our Nation's Capital to the United Nations, I do not regret anything I did.
My fellow Lebanese Americans, it has been a great ride, but this is just the beginning and President Bush's second term may well bring the freedom you have been longing for, for more than 28 years, for the land of the Cedars and its people. As the President quoted an old saying on his acceptance speech on Wednesday November 3 rd "Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks".
I wish you unity and I thank the executive committee and the members of the Lebanese American Club of Michigan for the Trail Blazer Award. I don't deserve it, but this award will motivate me to keep serving America , the best ever country on earth, and its cause of freedom and liberty around the world.
Thank you again and May God keep the United States of America the beacon of freedom and democracy.