Reporting: Los Angeles
MU.S.LIMS HONOR ALEC BALDWIN'S 'COURAGE AND CONSCIENCE'
by Ron Kenner
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, Calif.
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 22, 2004 -- Actor and outspoken activist Alec Baldwin was hailed here Saturday night as one of the "voices of courage and conscience" who speak up for the right to criticize government without being impugned as unpatriotic. Baldwin was honored by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) as the national organization's 13th annual Media Awards winner at the regal Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
The well-known actor received his award before a packed dinner audience of hundreds in the large Regency room at the Biltmore. He has been nominated for Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe awards, and won an Obie in 1992. His name was added to last year's award-winners, actor-director Mike Farrell, author and Los Angeles County Museum of Art curator Dr. Linda Komaroff, and film maker Michael Moore.
"I'm scared for the world we live in," Baldwin told the audience in an impassioned speech. "I'm afraid these people [in the White House] are going to pull through again in November. I can't even begin to tell you what happens if they're reelected in November. After January 1," he warned, "wait 'till you see Patriot Act 2."
Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati, speaking for MPAC and the many Muslims present, praised Baldwin for his dedication to social justice and human rights and for his "inspiring words" in support of truth and the U.S. Constitution.
Al-Marayati, addressing identity issues affecting Muslim-Americans, took the opportunity to deplore the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., to oppose extremism, hatred and prejudice in the U.S., the Islamic world and elsewhere, and to emphasize that what makes a Muslim an American is more than the geography of heritage.
"What makes us American is the Constitution," and particularly, Al-Marayati asserted, the right "to prevent anybody from shredding that constitution." Coming soon after Baldwin's comments, there was little doubt they al-Maryati's were also aimed at the Bush White House.
The MPAC awards program pointed to Farrell, a direcor, actor, activist and star of the award-winning television series M*A*S*H, as last year's honoree "for his outspoken position against the war in Iraq."
Dr. Komaroff was recognized last year for "her work in bringing the second largest Islamic art exhibit to Los Angeles."
Michael Moore was honored in 2003 for his controversial Oscar-winning documentary, "Bowling for Columbine."
Baldwin's was celebrated as "an outspoken supporter of various causes related to public policy, including social justice, environmentalism, the government's support of the arts, campaign finance reform, gun control, and animal rights."
Baldwin's speech, however, was a blast at the Bush administration's role in Iraq and injustices he blamed on the Patriot Act, which he said was creating an atmosphere in which people are afraid to speak out. Even well-known actors contributing large amounts of money to Democratic or liberal causes, Baldwin said, hesitate to criticize members of the administration and government policy.
Maher Hathout, a senior advisor to MPAC's Board of Directors, praised Baldwin's outspoken voice as "a candle in the darkness," adding, "It's getting darker and scarier out there." He pointed to "clouds of fear, intimidation, conformity, and opportunistic authorities trying to block the light in our society until it becomes dark."
Hathout emphasized that Baldwin doesn't "need to speak out" as he does. "He doesn't have a personal interest. He's already a success, a recognized achiever, well known," and, he joked, "white, and nice-looking. What matters to him is America the beautiful. Home of the free. Not a land of zombies, and for that we need to work very hard to keep America the way it should be."
Elaborating on the theme of Muslim-American identity, Hathout spoke of America as a nation of immigrants, adding that Muslims "did not become American by accident." Even now, in the Muslim community in America, "Nobody is leaving. ... Here is not where my grandfather is buried," he added, but where he'd like to see his grandson grow up. "America is so dear, and we cherish those who protect America for our dreams for our grandchildre,. he said."
Baldwin says a different set of dreams moves the Bush administration.
"Reagan wanted to take us back to the 1950s," the actor said. However, the Bush administration "wants to take the nation back to 1750," when many leaders and property owners believed they owned the country, he said.
Baldwin spoke of his father, a school teacher, as a role model, as "one who lived for the world and not just living for yourself... That's what being an American was for him. Not just 'I got mine, and screw you and screw everybody else'."
America has always been difficult for immigrants, Baldwin acknowledged. "There was always the latest wave - Irish, German, Italians, Latins, Asians - seeking freedom, and yet in subtle ways being oppressed until the next wave of immigrants - and then they could relax." They were no longer "the new kid. You are in this position today," he told the Muslim group.
"Are they more American than Muslims? Well, they learn to keep their mouths shut. But the most American thing you can do," he emphasized, "is to criticize your government."
"Let's make our home proud again. Our nation's future depends on the truth. That is really the thread of all that I've related to," the actor explained.
Drawing connections between his acting and his political activities, he noted, "That in the end, in my opinion, is all that art is about: truth and beauty."
Ron Kenner, an author and former Metro staffwriter for the Los Angeles Times, provides book-editing services at RKedit