By Hassan Y. Yassin*
We love the US without any “buts.” When one loves, one is committed for the long term. Your country has always shown great vision and tolerance. Even when the US has moved toward isolationism, it has always responded when needed. Two world wars proved this, as well as America’s vision, its great ability to provide assistance, and its desire to do good.
Alexis de Tocqueville, America’s first great observer, said it himself, alongside a warning: “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” Your country has never lost its greatness and remains good. The US has tremendous amounts of accumulated goodwill earned through the good it has done worldwide.
American acts of goodness are forever stamped on world history. For example, US troops entering Milan during World War I were greeted with flowers and a rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Gen. George Patton was similarly greeted by crowds waving American flags in Palermo during World War II, despite the threat of retaliation by Benito Mussolini.
American exceptionalism has been noted and appreciated worldwide. US soldiers handing chewing gum to children and introducing Coca Cola to the world have become enduring images that tell of a global aspiration to be more American.
These uniquely American qualities create a special ability to lift people up and share the values that the US stands for. It must recognize, cherish and nurture this ability; it is what makes the US different, and what has allowed it to introduce hope to so many dark places. Your friends worldwide remind you of President John F. Kennedy’s famous words: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
Perhaps now it is our turn to offer what help we can to the US. Firstly, we want to remind you of the strength and greatness that emanates from America’s goodness. It possesses a transformative power in the world. Do not forget that. We can help you move beyond your disappointments, real or imagined — that is what friends are for.
The language of hope, tolerance and vision spoken by Martin Luther King can be our common guide. His “I have a dream” speech has proven its transformative power over the decades, becoming the true American Dream and reaching far beyond by extending its arms worldwide. Likewise, Kennedy’s establishment of the Peace Corps was an expression of US compassion and its can-do attitude.
I have witnessed Americans in the jungles of Africa and other remote places helping the poor, sick and uneducated. Every Peace Corps member bore the torch of American kindness and understanding, expressed not in words but actions. I can think of no other country like this. As the US helped the people of the world, many — especially those you have welcomed on your shores — have given back to America.
I spoke to a visiting professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Riyadh recently, who told me 40 percent of MIT’s professors today are immigrants. I decided to research further, and found out that in addition to extensive foreign faculties, almost a quarter of US universities have foreign-born presidents.
Last year’s six Nobel prizes affiliated to American universities were all awarded to foreign-born professors. Almost half of science and engineering degrees are received by foreign-born students, and of US science and engineering workers, a third are foreign-born.
America has been, and always will be, the great melting pot that draws strength from its diversity, and from the broad and deep connections that Americans have to countries and cultures worldwide. This is what we love about the US.
We do not hear so often about Arab Americans, but there are a great many of note. The most famous may be former US Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who brokered the Northern Ireland peace agreement, and John H. Sununu, former President George H. W. Bush’s White House chief of staff.
In the military, we find former CENTCOM Commander Gen. John Abizaid, Korean War hero US Air Force Col. James Jabara and Maj. Gen. Fred Safay, who fought alongside Patton, alongside many more anonymous soldiers. In the business world there is John Zogby of the Zogby polling institute; chairman and CEO of Fresh Del Monte Produce, Mohammed Abu-Ghazaleh; and George Shaheen, founder of Andersen Consulting/Accenture.
Caltech’s Dr. Ahmed H. Zewail and Harvard’s Dr. Elias Corey are Arab Americans who separately won Nobel prizes for chemistry. The great comedian Danny Thomas is perhaps one of the best known, as he also founded St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, which exemplifies the best of the US and the world. Let us not forget Khalil Gibran. These and many others are woven into America’s fabric, and are part of its strength and durability.
There is no country like the US, because it holds unique values that it expresses daily worldwide. It welcomes the world and gets the best from the world back. This is the US I have always known, and it is the US that, whatever appearances may be, still exists. Its strength lies not in isolationism or protectionism, but in everything it has done and can still do for the world.
We will be eternally grateful for what Americans have given of themselves, and as a friend of the US, I hope there are many more things for us to be grateful for in the future. It is our duty as friends to hold up to America a mirror of hope, not one of despair.
*Hassan Y. Yassin worked closely with Saudi petroleum ministers Abdullah Tariki and Ahmed Zaki Yamani from 1959 to 1967. Yassin headed the Saudi Information Ofﬁce in Washington from 1972 to 1981, and served with the Arab League observer delegation to the UN from 1981 to 1983.
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