Friday, November 15, 2013

Book Review: American by Choice by Farouk Shami

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Book Review: American by Choice by Farouk Shami

By Ray Hanania 
FaroukShamiUp until a few years ago, most Americans probably didn’t know Farouk Shami, despite the wildly successful trajectory of his popular hair care product company, Farouk Systems, which he founded in Houston in 1986.

A Palestinian immigrant who came to America with only $71 in his pocket, Shami was born just north of the City of Jerusalem near Ramallah. He is the epitome of the American immigrant success story. He was dedicated to one goal, creating the best hair product company with the most advanced American technology based on his principles of “Education, Environment and Ethics.”

Today, Farouk Systems employs more than 2,000 people and distributes products in over 100 countries around the world. He used some of his successes to help his community, donating to Palestinian causes and previously serving on the national board of the moderate and respected American Task Force on Palestine in Washington D.C.

A committed American, Shami broke into the public consciousness in a big way, announcing his candidacy for elective office in 2009. Shami set his sights high, using his wealth to run for Governor of Texas in the Democratic primary. He lost to the more seasoned political pro, Bill White, the two-term former mayor of Houston and former Deputy Secretary for Energy in the Bill Clinton administration. White went on to lose the governor’s race to Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

But he became a familiar name when he leveraged his friendship and business associations with the popular New York real estate magnate and TV personality Donald Trump, who introduced Shami in May 2011 episode of Celebrity Apprentice. Contestants were required to come up with a marketing campaign for Farouk System products. That was followed up with a second appearance on the 4th episode of Trumps popular All Star Celebrity Apprentice.

Just weeks ago, Shami reinforced his name recognition as a sponsor and judge on the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant. Farouk Systems was a presenting hair care sponsor of the internationally celebrated beauty pageant. He appeared along with rock superstar Steven Tyler, Olympic Gold Medal figure skater Tara Lipinski and Carol Alt, the former supermodel and health specialist on the far rightwing FOX Cable TV network.

Who is Farouk Shami? Probably one of the best known American Palestinians in the country. And this year, he released his official biography, self-published, “American by Choice” which offers a fascinating look into the immigrant life of a successful American Palestinian, overcoming prejudice, illness and rivalries.

It’s hard to be a Palestinian and not be somewhat controversial. His success has forced mainstream America to accept him as an equal and he often found himself next to controversial leaders including former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, which he discusses in the opening chapter of his book. “I was born in Palestine, but I was made in the USA,” he writes proudly.

In accepting a recognition as “Entrepreneur of the Year” at a Washington D.C. gala, Gingrich acknowledged Shami’s Palestinian heritage, even though in a high profile public appearance two years earlier when he claimed that “Palestinians” were “an invented people,” one of the most ridiculous and politically motivated comments of the 21st Century.

In “American by Choice,” Shami offers a frank story of his family and his life, beginning with his birth in Palestine, introducing us to his parents and his brothers, and their constant travels to the United States. His experiences during the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War are as chilling to read today as they were to live through years ago. Yet through it all, Shami managed to remain loyal to his cultural heritage while committed to his adopted home country, America.

President George W. Bush and former President ...
President George W. Bush and former President George H.W. Bush sit on stage at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing Friday, Aug. 8, 2008, during dedication ceremonies. Both are scheduled to attend opening ceremonies scheduled for later in the evening. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“What a privilege it is for anyone to live in America and experience the American Dream,” Shami writes with pride. 
“Perhaps it means more to me as an American by choice rather than an American by birth. I think many Americans take for granted what this great nation offers them. It is the only country many of them know. There is nothing wrong with that but having experienced the alternatives allows me to see the virtues of America all the more vividly.”

But the real story is Shami’s success as a businessman, something that is shared by many in America. Shami was summoned by then President George W. Bush and he re-equipped the White House hair salon when First Lady Laura Bush would have her hair done. Laura Bush loved the products and treatment so much she recommended it to her in-laws and the next thing Shami knew was he was being summoned by former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, too.

His professional services were also sought by Jordan’s Royal Family, providing hair care products to Princess Alia and meeting her father King Abdullah who gave Shami two Arabian stallions, named Naseer and Hewar. In 2006, Shami organized an international conference in Amman Jordan that brought hairdressers from around the world and from Middle East countries.

Shami offers you a front row seat into his personal and business life, one that is well worth knowing. How Shami built Farouk Systems by hand is an amazing story of entrepreneurial success. It’s not a Palestinian story, a Jewish story or an Irish story, but rather the story of the American Dream.

“American by Choice” is a fast and easy read. It’s written from the perspective of a humble but very proud immigrant American who happens to be Arab. I enjoyed it very much.

Shami has moved across many stages in his life and I expect there will be a Book II someday because clearly, his motivation shows he is not done achieving that Dream that we all share equally. His pride in being Arab comes through loud and clear and should resonate with everyone who identifies with the immigrant experience, which for most Americans is their true history.

American by Choice

$19.99 252 pages
Farouk Shami on
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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Book Review: Flying Carpets by Hedy Habra

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Book Review: Flying Carpets by Hedy Habra

Author Hedy Habra has penned another great read, the book “Flying Carpets” a collection of 21 short stories that take you through Lebanon and Egypt and mysticism, supernatural and Arab culture.
The stories offer a deep insight into Middle Eastern Arabian culture and they entertain in a refreshing style of easy to read writing, something lost on many Middle East writers, especially today. “Flying Carpets” offers a reprieve from the turmoil of the Middle East today and provide a relaxing and sometimes exciting tapestry of friendships, love and rivalries, internal tortures and fears, and travel from Khan Khalili to Achrafieh.
A courageous story about a Christian Girl and Muslim boy fall in love in Lebanon. People wondering about what could have been in life, something everyone does in daydream or reality. And so much more.
If you want to escape the pain of the Middle East conflict, and yet still remain in the Arab soul, Hedy’s imagination and stories offer a great respite. It was a very fast read, something I could have continued to pursue with 100 more stories.
Hedy strives for and achieves the Arab tradition of storytelling, which is far more fascinating that just the stories she tells in the 212 pages of “Flying Carpets.” Ms. Habra (Sabbagh) is of Lebanese origins born in Egypt which explains the settings selected for many of the opening stories. She received a BS in Pharmacy while in Egypt and has her degrees in literature from Western Michigan University, where she is currently a teacher.
I enjoyed it a lot. I think you will too, especially if you live and breath “Arab.”
Flying Carpets
By Author Hedy Habra
212 Pages, $15, softcover
Interlink Publishing