Attorney Richard C. Shadyac climbed into his powder-blue Lincoln Continental outside his Annandale, Va., offices and turned onto the Beltway leading into downtown Washington, D.C. It was to be a typically busy day for the son of a Lebanese-born supermarket owner. He would keep a mid-morning appointment at the Embassy of Kuwait with popular Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem al-Sabah. He would go from there for a meeting with Helen Haje, the Lebanese-American executive secretary of the National Association of Arab-Americans, and they would lunch at Mama Ayesha's Calvert Restaurant. Then, going to dinner after a long day of legal work back at his desk, he would talk politics over kibbeh nayyeh and kousa mahshi at Palestinian Abdul Abdo's smart little restaurant in nearby Arlington.
He's ibn Arab—a son of the Arabs—Dick Shadyac will tell you, quickly sliding past the fact that his mother was Irish. Born in Barre, Vt., he's also about as American as an American can be. And when it comes to Arab-American affairs, he's involved. "I have a lot of feeling for this country," he says. "I think there's an important contribution to be made to it by those proud of their heritage."
Dick Shadyac, now 45, married to a Lebanese-American wife, and the father of two young sons, leaves no doubt that he's proud of his heritage. And his contribution is becoming more and more discernible as the United States and the Arab Middle East strive to re-knit and strengthen economic and political ties. Articulate, personable, and politically sophisticated, Shadyac has become a self-appointed liaison man between Arab-Americans and official Washington. He's also a behind-the-scenes strategist for many of the political undertakings of Arab-Americans. The reasoning behind his actions: Americans of Arab descent have for too long maintained a low profile, particularly on the political scene. At the same time, potentially influential Arab governments have allowed their interests and ambitions to be misunderstood at the international level, particularly in the United States. That situation gives rise to a unique opportunity for Americans proud of their Arab heritage. It's an opportunity simply to use their own good graces and whatever stature they've attained to promote an understanding in the United States of Arabs in general.
Arab-Americans themselves would be the last to crow about it, but the stature they've attained collectively is considerable. Not surprisingly, greatest strides have been made so far by second-generation representatives, the sons and daughters of naturalized immigrants. "We planned it that way," says 84-year-old Nathan Haddad, who emigrated from the mountains of Lebanon to the mountains of West Virginia in 1910. "Most of us came here with no education, no knowledge of the language, and no money. We didn't expect to reach the top ourselves, but we certainly meant to give our children every chance to do it." Not surprisingly, either, a majority of those second-generation Arab-American achievers has blood ties to Lebanon and Syria. This is partly because some Lebanese and Syrians were religiously oppressed minorities in the Ottoman Empire. But also, as the writings of Lebanese-born historian Philip K. Hitti, professor emeritus of history at Princeton University, suggest, it's because inhabitants of the Mediterranean's eastern shores always have been outward-looking seafarers, even in ancient times when, known as Phoenicians, they ranged to the far reaches of the Mediterranean and perhaps beyond. Commerce-oriented, they always have been receptive to visitors, too. And among their earliest callers were proselytizing missionaries, zealously building churches and establishing church-sponsored centers of learning. It was to be expected, then, that the earliest Arab immigrants to the New World would be those coastal dwellers—the Lebanese and Syrians, and a smattering of Egyptians; they were attuned to seeking distant horizons, to dealing with strangers. And it followed that the vast majority of those emigrants would be Christians rather than Muslims; Christian Arabs could look upon the Christian West with at least a degree of familiarity, but Muslims tended to view it as frighteningly alien.
Sociologist Abdo A. Elkholy of Northern Illinois University, an Egyptian by birth and a Muslim, says in a monograph published by the Association of Arab-American University Graduates that practically all Arab immigrants prior to 1900 were Christians. He notes too that some 250,000 Arabs entered the United States from Lebanon and Syria in the two major migration periods prior to World War II—periods spanning the years from 1900 to 1912 and 1930 to 1938. Most of those were Lebanese, Dr. Elkholy's study shows, and about 90 percent were Christians.
It's the children and grandchildren of those early immigrants—native-born Arab-Americans well schooled in the work ethic and equipped with the education their fathers lacked—who are moving most often now into positions of prominence. Coming up fast, however, is a new breed of Arab-Americans. Increasingly noticeable in the last 15 or 20 years, they are an elite group of well educated young Arabs—Egyptians, Iraqis, Palestinians, for the most part—seeking to become American citizens. Some have come to further their education and have chosen to stay. Others have sprung full-blown onto the American scene, already schooled and ready to vie for leadership in the academic field, in the professions, and in the arts. (See "The Transplanted Ones.")
But in all cases pride in the Arab heritage seems to remain. It isn't always well articulated. "We Syrians are good people!" is the way Mrs. Abraham Azar puts it. Mrs. Azar, with her husband and son Victor, operates The Big-Q Delicatessen—the home of frozen and take-out "qibby" (kibbeh) in Largo, Fla. And even sophisticated Dick Shadyac steps out of character in trying to express his feelings on that score: "I love Lebanon," he says. "And, golly, I'm just so darned proud of Dad and all he's accomplished since coming over here as a kid."
It is difficult to find a field that Arab-Americans have not moved into. Often one family represents several. In St. Petersburg, Fla., for example, Lebanese-American John N. Samaha, formerly with the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Co. in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, has a thriving private law practice; his wife, the former Adalia Malouf, is a painter whose work is gaining widespread recognition, and their 15-year-old son Stephen is the fourth-ranked amateur tennis player in a state that teems with tennis players. But difficult as untapped fields are to find, it's even more difficult for the typical American to identify a second- or third-generation Arab-American with a given field. The high-impact entertainment industry may be an exception: ask almost any American to name an Arab-American entertainer and he's likely to come back immediately with "Danny Thomas." That peripatetic singer-comedian, born of Lebanese parents in Deerfield, Mich., 60 years ago, has become almost as well known for his founding of the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., (see box) as for his stage and television appearances. And he's made no secret of his Arab blood. Close on his heels these days would be his strikingly attractive daughter, actress Marlo Thomas, whose antics as "That Girl" can be seen on television somewhere practically any day. She, too, often speaks publicly, and fondly, of a Lebanese upbringing. The Thomases are highly visible and in positions to refer to their background. So is composer-singer Paul Anka—born in Ottawa of Syrian parents, married to a model with Egyptian ancestry and now headquartered in Las Vegas, Nev.—whose cavalcade of hit tunes includes "I'm Just a Lonely Boy," "Diana," "Crazy Love," "Put Your Head on My Shoulder" and "My Way." Lebanese-American Tige Andrews is just another American as television's "Mod Squad" detective. And only the true lover of serious music is likely to be able to identify Rosalind Elias, the brilliant Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano, as a Lebanese-American. Miss Elias, a Lowell, Mass., native, has been performing on the Met stage for 20 years; her singing in concerts, television appearances, and on records is acclaimed worldwide, but she's been given little opportunity in operatic roles to dwell on ethnic pride.
Similarly, most Americans outside the Arab-American community would be hard put to name a ranking Arab-American in the political field. It's the nature of American office seekers, always acutely aware of the danger of losing an ethnic group's vote, to play up their Americanism. That's safe ground; their own ethnic backgrounds might not be, so they're not publicized. Arab-Americans, nonetheless, notably sons of those early-emigrating Lebanese, are more and more assuming political roles of prominence.
Top-ranking among them, of course, is United States Senator James G. Abourezk, the 43-year-old South Dakota Democrat elected in 1972. Touring the Middle East last year as a member of a Senate Interior Committee fact-finding team, Abourezk spoke proudly on his return of the intelligence, articulateness, and political awareness he found among Arab country leaders
Abourezk, of Lebanese descent, moved up to the Senate after serving two years as a member of Congress, making way for a new man in South Dakota's two-man delegation to the House of Representatives. That new man turned out to be another Lebanese-American. He's Republican James Abdnor, a 51-year-old rancher-turned-politician, who served 10 years as a state senator and two as lieutenant governor in prepping for his present job. So South Dakota, with a population of less than 700,000 has chosen two of its four national spokesmen from among its small Arab-American community.
Across the girth of the country, down in Texas, Democrats have kept Lebanese-American Abraham Kazen Jr. in prominent political offices since 1947. Kazen, an attorney in Laredo, was elected to the Texas House of Representatives at the age of 28. He moved up to the state senate in 1952, and to the United States Congress in 1966, and was re-elected yet again in November. He's still manning that congressional office in Washington. In Florida, there's 50-year-old Republican Richard J. Deeb, a St. Petersburg millionaire contractor, who has served as a Florida state senator for the last eight years.
In Oregon, 51-year-old State Senator Victor Atiyeh, whose Syrian father founded an Oriental rug business in Portland around the turn of the century, made a good try for governor. As, on the opposite coast, did 41-year-old attorney George J. Mitchell—another Lebanese-American—who won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Maine. Despite their defeats, Atiyeh, who with two brothers heads the rug business their father began, and Mitchell gained national attention. A member of the Oregon Legislature for 16 years, Atiyeh helped develop the Oregon environmental-protection laws that have served as models for a number of other states. Mitchell, a former executive assistant to Maine's Senator Edmund J. Muskie and one of those helping map the Senator's unsuccessful bid for the 1972 presidential nomination, is a ranking member of the National Committee of the Democratic Party.
Numerous other Arab-Americans hold—and have held—political posts at the state and municipal levels. And, as is the case with those on the higher political rungs, they've fortunately not had to rely on their ethnic strength to attain them.
"Whatever our people have done, they've chosen carefully and done well," says Oregon's Atiyeh, commenting on the Arab impact in America. That same sentiment is expressed in various ways by second- and third-generation Arab-Americans across the country. Pride in heritage and pride in achievement seemingly are complementary forces. Achievement among those of Arab descent has been widespread and varied, certainly, and at times of the highest significance. Consider just a sampling of familiar names:
— Michael E. DeBakey, M.D., born in Lake Charles, La., 66 years ago of Lebanese parents, is internationally acclaimed for the strides he's made in cardiovascular surgery. He is often called the greatest authority on open-heart surgery, the "king" of surgeons and, by those doctors who must try to keep up with him in his Houston operating rooms, "the Texas tornado." Abiding by a lifelong practice of working 20 hours a day, Dr. DeBakey manages to write and lecture extensively on medical subjects and to design or improve upon surgical instruments—he has invented more than 50 of them, including the heart-lung bypass pump that first made open-heart surgery possible—even while keeping up his grueling schedule of surgically repairing hearts.
It is perhaps incidental that Dr. DeBakey also is president of Houston's Baylor College of Medicine, chairman of its department of surgery, and director of the Cardiovascular Research and Training Center at the Methodist Hospital, the Houston facility made famous by his work.
While the public attention centered on Michael DeBakey has left little room in the family spotlight, there are three other children of Shaker and Raheiga DeBakey, each making noteworthy contributions to society. Ernest G. DeBakey, M.D., is a 62-year-old general surgeon practicing in Mobile, Ala. Lois DeBakey, Ph.D., is professor of scientific communications in the department of surgery at Baylor, a position she previously held at the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. Working alongside her at Baylor, while also acting as Dr. Michael DeBakey's personal secretary, is another sister, Selwa DeBakey.
Lois is a prolific writer on scientific subjects, often teaming with brother Michael to publish in medical journals. Very aware of the family's Lebanese roots and the depth with which those roots reach into ancient history, Lois DeBakey says: "We're products of one of the world's finest cultures."
— Ralph Nader, 40, the son of Lebanese restaurant owners in Winsted, Conn., has become known around the world as a modern day Robin Hood—a champion of the little man. Nader is an attorney, having been graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University and with distinction from Harvard Law School. But his practice is that of consumers' advocate, or of a national ombudsman. With scores of highly motivated followers, he steps in on behalf of consumers whenever big business or government is in his opinion treating them shabbily. His most notable crusade, of course, has been that waged against the automobile industry. That one began with publication of his book Unsafe at Any Speed—in which he denounces the design of American automobiles—and launched him full-time into the field. Now he presides over Washington-based organizations with names such as the Center for the Study of Responsive Law, the Project for Corporate Responsibility, and the Public Interest Research Group. He receives more than 100,000 letters a year asking his help in fighting back against business and government practices the writers deem unfair or fraudulent. And a recent Gallup Poll ranked him as the seventh most admired man in the United States.
Friends of the Naders, though, say Ralph is miscast as the family genius. That distinction, they say, rightfully should go to his older sister, Laura, a highly respected professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, who has taught at Yale and Harvard Universities. Fluent in Arabic and Spanish, she has researched extensively in the Middle East and in Mexico. And those projects have resulted in published studies pertaining primarily to the interchange of ideas between rural and urban societies and to relationships between social groupings and the legal procedures they employ. When speaking publicly, however, Laura Nader (she is also Mrs. Norman Milleron) is most likely to detail the contributions of the Middle East to "this planet" and those of Arabs to the United States. "I use this subject with Arabs as well as with others," she says. "The Arabs often need the reinforcement." Another Nader daughter, Claire, is a social scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Tennessee; and another Nader son, Shafee, is a Washington businessman.
— George A. Simon, SO, born in Detroit to immigrants from Damascus, has played a large role—with his 48-year-old brother Joseph—in the industrialization of Latin America. He's currently concentrating on Brazil, but his companies have projects going in other parts of South America and Europe as well. The brothers control U.S. Equipment Company, U.S. Manufacturing Company, and U.S. Forge Company, among others, with capability in the automotive, steel, and heavy machinery industries. These provide the bases from which the Simons build and completely fit out factories for such clients as Ford and Kaiser. Their own manufacturing operations range from production of fiber liners and filters for use in cars to heavy piston carriers and industrial forgings for trucks and locomotives.
Joseph Simon has developed and patented a cold-form process for making truck-axle spindles, a process that makes possible greater strength at less than ordinary cost. George Simon, stepping outside the business world, has set world records as a hydroplane racer. But, however far afield their interests reach, the Simons are intent upon maintaining a close-knit home life. George Simon is the father of 10 children, Joseph of nine. Their families live close together in fashionable Grosse Pointe, Mich., with their mother's home nearby. No Simon child may enter the Simon businesses without first having worked at least five years elsewhere—and then, he's told, he will be hired only if he truly qualifies for the job. "You must cultivate your children," George Simon philosophizes in the best tradition of his Syrian upbringing. And he adds a bit of homily on another subject about which he feels strongly: "Successful people are never measured monetarily, but in terms of the happiness their work provides."
— Najeeb E. Halaby, 58, born in Dallas, Tex., of Lebanese parents, is moving along a career route that might well be the envy of any red-blooded American boy. An attorney who turned test pilot during World War II, he became a deputy assistant Secretary of Defense under President Eisenhower and moved on to become Federal Aviation Administrator under President Kennedy. From 1961 until 1972 he negotiated and helped implement provisions for civil air operations between the Soviet Union and the United States, a task tied to the F.A.A.role and to his later stint as president and chief executive officer of Pan American World Airways. Truly an internationalist, Halaby now heads Halaby International Corporation, with offices in New York, Beirut and Hong Kong. The firm engages in development and finance in the Eastern Hemisphere, including joint ventures in the Middle East. Attorney Halaby also specializes in international law, particularly as it pertains to relations between the United States and the Middle East.
— William Peter Blatty, 46, the son of Lebanese immigrants to New York, is the author of The Exorcist, the controversial novel about demonic possession which on film has become the biggest money maker in the history of motion pictures. First published in 1971, the book raced onto the best seller lists and remained there 55 weeks. As "the shocker of the year," it sold more than 250,000 copies in hardback editions, more than 4,000,000 copies in English paperbacks, and then went into French, Spanish, German, Italian, Hebrew, Greek, Turkish, Japanese and Swedish translations. It's still selling, and at last count had grossed more than $1,000,000 for Blatty. Blatty's screenplay for The Exorcist won him an Academy Award. Production rights brought him $641,000 outright. And he was assured more than 25 percent of the profits generated by box office queues that for several months appeared to be unending.
The Exorcist, Blatty admits, has succeeded commercially beyond his wildest expectations. It's also overshadowed earlier Blatty novels, largely comedies, which some critics consider superior works. Those include Which Way to Mecca, Jack? John Goldfarb, Please Come Home and Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane. Blatty has also written numerous screenplays, including A Shot in the Dark and What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?
A recent Blatty book, I'll Tell Them I Remember You, reaches back to his impoverished New York boyhood, when his mother sold her homemade jellies on street corners to keep the Blattys eating. Like The Exorcist, it too asks the reader to believe in the supernatural—to believe, anyway, that his mother sends him messages from the grave. William Blatty has left New York street corners far behind. He now lives alongside a trout stream just outside Aspen, Colo., where it's pristine Rocky Mountain peaks—not grimy tenements—that he sees outside his windows.
— Helen Thomas, 53, born in Winchester, Ky., to Lebanese parents, is official White House correspondent for United Press International. And after 32 years in Washington, dealing with officials ranging from the president on down, she still can say of her grocer father: "He was the most intelligent man I've ever known."
Television viewers of presidential news conferences have become as familiar with Helen Thomas' face as they have been for years with her newspaper byline. She questions with directness and incisiveness, with a manner that less prepared reporters note enviously. The first woman wire-service reporter ever assigned to the White House, she has dealt closely with Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford. Accompanying President Nixon on his historic visit to China, she says, was the most exciting assignment of her journalistic career.
Miss Thomas (she's Mrs. Douglas Cornell at home) takes issue with Arab-Americans who remain more Arab than American. "We should value our heritage, certainly," she says; "but I've considered our ability to assimilate our greatest strength." She'd like to see more Arab-Americans in government, "but they should be there because of their ability, not because of some deliberate ethnic move." Some who are, or were, there, Helen Thomas notes, are the State Department's Philip Habib; William J. Baroody, Jr., special consultant to the president, and Major George Jowan, assistant to former presidential aide General Alexander Haig.
— Joseph Robbie, 58, born in Sisseton, S. Dak., to a Lebanese father and an Irish mother, is the managing general partner—that is to say principal owner—of the Miami Dolphins. That professional football team, worth an estimated $20,000,000, would hold the world football championship, if there were such a thing. Not only did it win last year's prestigious Super Bowl game, it has put two Super Bowl wins back to back. But Robbie is no athlete. He's an attorney and a one-time political figure who just happened to see the possibilities in a Florida football franchise when, in 1965, the National Football League made such a franchise available.
Robbie, who began practicing law in Mitchell, S. Dak., in 1946, was named chairman of his state's Democratic Party in 1948. There followed a sustained drive in which he campaigned, unsuccessfully, for the South Dakota governor's office, won a two-year term in the state legislature, and then lost two bids for a U.S. congressional seat before finding his niche as the financial brains behind one of the winningest athletic teams of all times.
That sampling is of necessity limited, and intentionally varied as to field of accomplishment. Along with Robbie in sports, for example, it might also name Abe Gibron, the 49-year-old head coach of the Chicago Bears professional football team, who himself starred as a player for the Cleveland Browns, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Bears. And Bill George,44, an assistant coach of the Bears, who has been voted into the Football Hall of Fame after 14 years as guard and linebacker with the Chicago team. And W. N. (Nick) Kerbawy, a one-time schoolteacher who in seven years as general manager of the Detroit Lions led the team to three National Football League championship and four Western Division titles. And Salameh Hassan, the Chicago boxing trainer, who works with the world heavyweight champion Mohammed Ali (born Cassius Clay). All are second-generation Lebanese-Americans, achievers, proud of their heritage, yet thoroughly assimilated into the mainstream of American life.
George Coury, the financier and philanthropist living in Coral Gables, Fla., likes to tell how his father came from Lebanon in 1891—at age 18—with a single French gold piece as his grubstake. George himself made it into the financial field by leaping from a job as restaurant busboy to one as brokerage-house errand boy. But it was not long before his financial and real-estate dealings put him in position to be the first Arab-American to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. Remembering those early days, Coury now maintains a scholarship fund to send deserving Arab-American youths to the University of Notre Dame.
Detroit attorney Michael Berry's start was similarly low key. When his father, Mohammed Berry, came from Lebanon around 1913, he considered himself fortunate to find work as a railroad laborer. But he was breaking ground for his son. Now Michael Berry, 54, heads a firm of 16 attorneys (including two other Arab-Americans), is deeply involved in Democratic Party politics, and takes an active role in Detroit's Muslim community.
Chicago banker A. Robert Abboud had a less austere start; it was his grandfather who made the trek from Lebanon. Now Abboud, vice chairman of the board of First Chicago Corporation, the holding company for the vast First National Bank of Chicago, can say: "I started with a distinct advantage—I was part of two cultures." And he's trying to assure his three children the same advantage. His family and his parents share 16 acres in a Chicago suburb, where the parents often speak Arabic and grow the vegetables that go into his mother's Middle East cooking.
International Business Machines' Jerrier Abdo Haddad, too, had something of a head start. His father, Abdulmassih Abdo Haddad, a well known journalist in Lebanon, came to the United States around 1910 with Kahlil Gibran, the brilliant Lebanese poet. (Interestingly, Gibran's works—particularly The Prophet—are being rediscovered and widely quoted by U.S. college students, 43 years after his death). J. A. Haddad, with IBM almost 30 years and a vice president since 1967, led the engineering team that developed the first IBM electronic calculator to be mass produced, as well as the first large-scale production computer, the IBM-701. Haddad thinks in terms of science; and while he is the fully assimilated American, he feels a loyalty to his Arab heritage. Not surprisingly, then, he would like to see the development of a pan-Arab institute of technology—an institute designed to train young people to meet the engineering, agricultural, and physical science needs peculiar to the Middle East. "You can't successfully buy technology," Haddad says; "what you buy goes to waste. It's necessary to develop an educated base to support technology."
Down in Miami, Anthony R. Abraham—automobile dealer, real-estate developer, advertising executive, and insurer—offers a prime example of assimilation and loyalty to heritage. Moving south after having had a full career in the Chicago area, he presides over his still-growing empire from an office that might have been lifted intact from Beirut or Cairo. The atmosphere is so Middle Eastern, in fact, that the occasional wall-hung newspaper advertisement proclaiming Abraham's faith in America seems a bit out of place. It shouldn't, however. Tony Abraham bills himself as the world's largest Chevrolet dealer (19,300 new and used units sold in 1972, roughly 23,000 in 1973). At the same time he's serving as president of the World Lebanese Cultural Union, an organization whose aim is to perpetuate worldwide the richness of the Lebanese culture. "Where else but in America?" he asks.
That question could be asked more widely, for would-be fulfillers of the American dream abound. Deep in the heart of Texas, the sons of early-immigrating Lebanese peddlers now put the Farah and Haggar family names on high-quality trousers sold around the world. In Charleston, W. Va., Fred Haddad, inheriting his father Nathan's interest in retailing, started from scratch to build Heck's, Inc., a mushrooming retail complex that at last count included 35 discount department stores and 65 women's sportswear shops stretching from Michigan to Florida. In Miami, cardiologists Richard Elias, M.D., and Eugene J. Sayfie, M.D., transplanted from that West Virginia hotbed of Lebanese-Americans, have become key practitioners in the Miami Heart Institute. In Beckley, W. Va., and St. Petersburg, Fla., brothers N. Joe and Farris Rahall, whose father—like Fred Haddad's—was an early backpacking peddler, head Rahall Communications Corporation, with radio stations in Beckley, Indianapolis, Ind., and Allentown, Pa., and radio and television stations in St. Petersburg.
A great deal of similarity runs through their backgrounds, whether they be doctors, lawyers, or industrial chiefs. And there is that unexplainable compulsion to succeed, to achieve. These are the native sons, the native-born Arab-Americans. Already their names are part of the American amalgam. And some are marrying the Joneses and the O'Malleys and the Tonellis and the Rodriguezes and the What-have-yous. But however disguised the names might become, pride in the Arab heritage remains. As Anthony Abraham asks, "Where else but in America?"
Mr. Harsham, a veteran reporter, writer and editor, has worked for or contributed to the Louisville Courier Journal, the New York Times, Time, Life, and Money. Midway in his career he took time out to study Middle East affairs at Columbia's Advanced International Reporting Program.
Mr. Azzi, who mixed reporting with photography in criss-crossing the U.S. for this issue, now represents Magnum in the Middle East, contributes often to the National Geographic and appears regularly in Aramco World. He has also free-lanced for Time.