A EULOGY TO A SYMBOL - King Hussein of Jordan

By Fr. Labib Kobti

At the McKenna Theatre in San Francisco State Univerity.

March 21.1999

All people die, for death is but an inevitable chapter in the scheme of life. Some people, by virtue of their prominence on the world stage, become symbols, representing ideals, representing their people.

Unlike people, a symbol should never die. It is there as a reminder of the possible, and gives to those who look to it, the encouragement to reach unaccomplished goals. When people act in this manner, in recognition of the symbol which catalyzed their actions, it confers on that symbol, eternal life.

This is true of many people. It is true of Abraham Lincoln, the most honored of all American presidents, who held a nation together during it's most difficult period, The Civil War, because he knew it could not exist half free and half in slavery. Many people recognize this truth today about other states in the world.

It is true of Martin Luther King Jr. who acting as a disciple of Mohandas Ghandi, the Mahatma of India, believed in the possible, believed it could be achieved through non-violent means, and believed in the symbols of both Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Ghandi, in carrying forth the memory of what their lives represented to mankind.

For although slavery had ended in the United States with the Emancipation Proclamation at the end of the Civil War, African-Americans were not yet truly free. They had yet to achieve JUSTICE. They had yet to achieve EQUALITY. They had yet to achieve RESPECT.

And although his people overwhelmed their British overlords in numbers, they still remained under the yoke of the Raj till the middle of this century. So Ghandi marched to the sea and started a revolution for FREEDOM.

For their efforts, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Ghandi, were all cut down by assassin's bullets. They all died before their time. In the United States both Lincoln and King are honored with national holidays which symbolize THE POSSIBLE, for the goals they sought are not yet finished.

There are others who are symbols as well. Mother Theresa, pacem en terris, even as I speak, is being considered for sainthood by the Pope. She was a symbol, her life was a symbol, for the care of those unfortunates cast from society. THE POOR among us.

Nelson Mandella, once branded a criminal for his words against INJUSTICE and INEQUALITY, and who spent three decades in an apartheid prison, while his African people lived outside in a larger apartheid prison, never ceased to give up hope. He became a symbol of HOPE to his countrymen and women, battling against the racist laws of the Union of South Africa. He is still a living symbol of the possible, for he is now the President of that self-same country. From convict to president in one lifetime.

Therefore, King Hussein of Jordan, direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammed, was also a symbol for his people - The Arab People - he symbolized what was POSSIBLE. His life ended before it's time, not by an assassin's bullet, although many had tried, but by an implacable foe....cancer. He fought a valiant battle against this foe, yet lost. But he fought other valiant battles and won.

In building a new country, Jordan, out of virtually nothing, he became a symbol of LEADERSHIP.

In his striving for ENLIGHTMENT, for himself and for his people, he remained on the throne, while other monarchs in the Arab world were overthrown or assassinated. He also became a symbol of THE POSSIBLE.

Through his art of diplomacy, he gained the trust and respect of other world leaders, and became a symbol of PEACEFUL RESOLUTION OF CONFLICTS.

And, when because of circumstances beyond his control, he found it necessary to go into battle, he did so without hesitation, as a means of maintaining his ideals.

In stepping forth to make PEACE with his people's enemies, often against the wishes of his own people, as well as other Arab leaders, he was a symbol of BRAVERY.

In his efforrts to bring forth a democratic society, in a part of the world where few exist, he demonstrated his belief in the words "ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL UNDER THE LAW". He symbolized the possibility of democracy to the Arab world.

The meaning of his life was confirmed on the day of his funeral, where friend and foe gathered, in one of the largest showing of dignitaries ever represented to honor one man. More that fifty of Head States showed at his funeral to celebrate what Hussien symbolized for them and the world.

King Hussein died but the symbol should not die. It is up to us to make from the symbol a living stone.

What shall we, the people of San Francisco make of the symbols represented by King Hussein and the others mentioned at the beginning of my talk to you today?

First, we need to build TRUST among each other; between the different communities, associations, organisations, and religions. We are Arabs and we are proud of that. Arabs with the history of about 6000 years should help us to work hand in hand, Arab-Christians since 2000 year, and Arab-Muslims for more than 1400 years. That commonality as ARABS should direct us to work hand in hand, again, for the achievement of the goals King Hussein strived for. Otherwise the symbol dies, as well as the man.

We are Americans and we are very proud of that. We need to build hand in hand this our American nation and show that we have done to this nation more that many other ethnic groups. We are less than 2% but we contributed as if we were 30 per cent. Hussein as an Arab symbol talks eloquently to a lot of those who mistreat us or misinform about us as Arabs.

Secondly, we came to this country in search of rights and opportunities denied to us in the lands of our birth. In this way we are no different than any other immigrants who preceded us, or are here with us now; whether they were from Europe, or Asia, or South America, Africa, or the Middle East. And like all other immigrants, our children and our grandchildren are assimilating, acculturating, into the larger American society. Indeed, many of them think of themselves as Americans and not as Arabs. What are some of the things we can do jointly, to promote our efforts for a better presence in the USA and specially here in the Bay Area? Are we doing enough? Do we feel happy of what and who we are, and what we represent? Do we fear, like others, the loss of our identity, within the greater "melting pot".

In this "unique" celebration today, we are joined by people of different ages, different relgions, different personal goals, and different futures. Will this celebration focus in the minds of those present, the political, social and economic importance of the Arab-American? Will this celebration help us to understand that we are not a minority in need of help, but a thriving community, seeking the same goals that others seek?

in fact, If we do belive on what we are and what we do represent, we can then choose and support our political candidate and not let him or her choose us.

We want to build, as important part of the American Society the future of our children in the Bay Area.

On this day, it is important that we try to understand ourselves better, but perhaps more importantly, to make others understand US better.

No. Symbols do not die. Lincoln, King, Mother Theresa, and Hussein still live.

The death of King Hussein is not to be ignored. His death gives us the unique opportunity, as Arab-Americans of San Francisco, to join together behind the symbol of what he represented, the symbol I repeat, not the person, because the person unfortunatly left us for ever, the symbol; should not die.

This is a legacy, my friends, which must live on for no greater tribute can be paid to a symbol any symbol, than the pursuit of the tasks which was so dear for him and will be for us.

The tasks are to unite our work as Arab-American so as to serve better our people and future genrations, to stand firm in front of the difficulies, strong and brave when it does not work for us, our UNITY as Arab-American should strengthen our hopes for better circumstances, to work for justice, peace and truth in the USA and for our Home Countries, to defend our rights and work equally to build our American nation and our Arab Nations.

At least I hope so.

Commending King Hussein to the all-merciful God, I invoke upon us all here present abundant divine blessings.