Mr. President, trustees and faculty, students and friends, ladies and gentlemen: This is a terrible time to be both an Arab and an American. Those of us who are both, live, in effect, a standing civil war. We are enemies on two counts. In America the Arab is mostly a terrorist and fanatic. In the Arab world the American is an imperialist interested in world domination. And to make matters worse, these two worlds, at their most extreme, are irreconcilable. Think of Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz in one world, then think of Sheikh Ahmed Yasin and Marwan Baghouti in the other. What possible traffic would there be between them? What conceivable link could bridge this hideous chasm?
Yet it's important to remember that no single political ideology or system exhausts, or can account for all the possibilities in human society. There are values, institutions, histories, and individuals who defy simple characterization; these are men and women whose personal circumstances cross national and religious boundaries. There are ideas that travel and communicate with each other despite all efforts to restrict them. This doesn't mean that all conflict and antagonism can be resolved or spirited away. It does mean, however, that coexistence can occur without violence or rage, and that a decent commerce between all kinds of difference is made possible, and indeed preferable.
The American University of Beirut has historically been a place where such coexistence and understanding have always been central. In some ways it is an impossible institution, so deep and antithetical are the currents and counter currents out of which it is built, American and Arab. And yet for over 160 years it has somehow worked. One marvels at its genius for surviving with such brilliance and style. Its men and women have enabled and embodied its educational mission, despite all odds and unimaginable difficulties.
So on this day of festival celebration, when hundreds and hundreds more graduates go out into the world, I feel profoundly honored to join with so distinguished a group of new fellow doctors of the University, admitted to its ranks and permitted to enjoy and share in the luminous arc of its abiding presence.
Looking back over the years, and even centuries, I can see how, without ever having been a formal member of the AUB community, the University has been a part of my life. Innumerable members of my family and my wife's family (including my wife Mariam herself), all of them Arab, have been students, teachers, and administrators here, and quite a few still are. Intertwined with this American university is a remarkable Arab country, perhaps the only one where such an institution could have flourished.
I am too grateful to say in detail what a great deal this doctoral degree honoris causa means to me. Of one thing I am most certain: by binding me formally to the AUB, your granting me the
honor of becoming an organic member of your ongoing work as a great university in the Arab world, you have permitted me the opportunity of making Arabs and Americans feel not just the differences that separate them, but more importantly, the human bonds of common inquiry, scholarship, and humane comprehension that tie us together.