How Arab innovators like ‘pictogram’ creator Rajie Suleiman have contributed to American life

Special How Arab innovators like ‘pictogram’ creator Rajie Suleiman have contributed to American life
These "pictograms" designed by Rajie Suleiman, better known as Roger Cook, are especially helpful in airports and other environments where people may not be familiar with the local language. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 June 2024
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How Arab innovators like ‘pictogram’ creator Rajie Suleiman have contributed to American life

How Arab innovators like ‘pictogram’ creator Rajie Suleiman have contributed to American life
  • The Palestinian-American graphic designer, professionally known as Roger Cook, left a profound legacy with his ubiquitous icons
  • Arab-American inventions in everything from food and drink to medicine and technology have dramatically improved the American lifestyle

CHICAGO: Despite an apparent surge in anti-Arab and Islamophobic sentiments in the US driven by the war in Gaza, Americans live in an environment heavily influenced by the innovations of Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians.

Indeed, Arab-American inventions in everything from food and drink to medicine and technology have dramatically improved the American lifestyle. And yet the community seldom gets the recognition it is due.

One striking example involves the work of Palestinian-American graphic designer Rajie Suleiman, professionally known as Roger Cook, who died in February 2021 at the age of 90 having left a profound legacy.




Rajie Suleiman, also known as Roger Cook. (Supplied)

Cook was a graphic designer who created the ubiquitous “pictograms” that ease the everyday lives of Americans across industries, professions, transport, amenities, and public safety.

Among them are the icons of a man and a woman used to identify public restrooms, symbols for non-smoking areas, public telephones, emergency medical services, parking, no entry signs, and for public transportation including airports and transit stops.

Because they are so ubiquitous, the pictograms Cook designed are often overlooked, yet they serve as efficient identifiers in nearly every aspect of American life — concise graphic depictions that convey meaning across languages, cultures and levels of literacy.

Cook and his business partner Don Shanosky won a government contract in 1974 to design a series of pictograms of small, easily identifiable images that could efficiently inform and direct the public to the services they require.




Roger Cook's works are memorialized in a display at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. (Supplied)

The Manhattan-based graphic designers created 34 pictograms that conveyed meaning through their resemblance to physical objects, according to Cook’s obituary in the New York Times.

These images are especially helpful in airports and other environments where people may not be familiar with the local language. Indeed, they have become known as a “universal language of wayfinding.”

Beyond municipal spaces, pictograms have been adopted by IBM, Container Corporation of America, Montgomery Ward, Bristol Myers Squibb, Volvo, Subaru, AT&T, the New York Times, Bell Atlantic and BASF, among other major companies. 

For their “outstanding achievement in design for the government of the United States,” Cook and Shanosky received an award from then President Ronald Reagan.




Roger Cook (right) accepts an award from President Ronald Reagan on Jan. 30, 1985, as Elizabeth Dole, the Secretary of Transportation, looks on. (Courtesy of the family)

“We held firm to the principle that design communicates to its maximum efficacy without frills, contrivances and other extraneous material that if the core idea is a good one, it will shout loudest when it is not overshadowed by ornamentation,” Cook wrote in his 2017 book, “A vision for my father.”

Somewhat ironically, the designer himself underwent a process of cross-cultural simplification when his name was changed from Rajie Suleiman to the anglicized moniker Roger Cook.

Cook’s paternal grandfather’s surname was Suleiman. However, according to Cook’s obituary, his grandfather “was given the nickname Kucuk, the Turkish word for small, by Turkish occupiers because of his small stature.

“Later, when the British occupied Palestine, they turned that into Cook.”

Many years later, his grandson also had a new name foisted upon him. Rajie’s elementary school teachers found his name too difficult to pronounce, and so chose to Americanize it to Roger. Thus, Rajie Suleiman became Roger Cook.




Roger Cook's sculptures featured items he had collected at flea markets and elsewhere.
(Courtesy of the family)

Despite this imposed identity, Cook and his family never lost sight of their Arab-Palestinian heritage. Cook told the New York Times in a 2004 interview that his own father had died at the age of 94 while listening to the radio in the hope of hearing news of peace in Palestine.

His father’s passion for Palestine and the many family trips they made to the region during Cook’s childhood later inspired him to expand his graphic representations, creating images that reflected the tragedy of the Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948. 

Many of his photos, paintings, and graphics are publicly displayed at the Palestine Museum in Woodbridge, Connecticut, and are currently memorialized in a display at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

“His Symbol Signs’ graphic design work was created in collaboration with his business partner Don Shanosky for the Department of Transportation to standardize way-finding symbols used in public spaces,” Elizabeth Barrett Sullivan, the museum’s collections curator, told Arab News.

“While they didn’t invent pictographs as a mechanism, they were the firm chosen to create this system that has been widely used and replicated.

“As graphic designers, they understood the need for signs that could be recognized without the need for text. The majority of the symbols created in the ‘70s are still in use today, which is a testament to their universality.”




All Flights Cancelled, sculptural assemblage, 2006 by Rajie Cook. (Supplied)

Sullivan said the items in the museum display were donated by Cook’s family two years ago. The display will be a “semi-temporary” exhibit, with plans for it to travel to other institutions in the years ahead.

“We are excited to have his work in our collections and be able to share his story with our visitors,” said Sullivan.

“He was a prolific artist, especially in the last 20 years of his life, with a significant focus on Palestine. He used his art to bring more awareness to the cruelty of the occupation, as well as honoring his own heritage.”

Of course, Arab-Americans have contributed far more than mere signage. Many iconic brands were started as small businesses run by Arab-Americans, among them Haggar, Philz Coffee, Kinko’s, BioSilk hair products, and Joy Ice Cream Cones, to name but a few.

The development of television transmission and liquid-crystal display screens was spearheaded by Lebanese-American Hassan Kamel Al-Sabbagh for General Electric.




Other Arab Americans who have dramatically improved global lifestyle include pop-top tab designer Nick Khoury; coronary bypass surgery pioneer Dr. Michael DeBakey; TV technology developer Hassan Kamel Al-Sabbagh; and iPod and iPhone design leader Tony Fadell. (Getty Images/ Supplied)

In medicine, surgical techniques in heart surgery were pioneered by Dr. Michael DeBakey, the son of Lebanese immigrants, who developed coronary bypass surgery in 1963 that has saved millions of lives.

The popular waffle ice cream cone is claimed by no fewer than four Arab-Americans — Ernest Hamwi, Nick Kabbaz, Abe Doumar and Leon B. Holwey.

Working at Apple Computers under Steve Jobs, himself an Arab-American orphan adopted as a baby, fellow Arab-American Tony Fadell oversaw the 2001 design of the iPod and the iPhone.

And Nick Khoury, a Palestinian-American born in Jifna, led the team at the Continental Can Company in the 1950s that designed and developed the pop top tab that allowed Americans to shift from glass bottled drinks to easy-open aluminum cans.

At a time when conflict is raging in the Middle East, stoking fear, anger and mistrust among communities across the globe, it is easy to forget the many positive contributions made by those who trace their origins to the region.

By acknowledging the many ways in which Arab-Americans like Rajie Suleiman have bettered public life, perhaps a recognition of common humanity will prevail, offering a potential way-finder to peace.
 

 


Bangladesh protesters set state TV HQ ablaze as toll mounts, Internet cut

Bangladesh protesters set state TV HQ ablaze as toll mounts, Internet cut
Updated 15 sec ago
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Bangladesh protesters set state TV HQ ablaze as toll mounts, Internet cut

Bangladesh protesters set state TV HQ ablaze as toll mounts, Internet cut
  • Death toll mounts to 32 as authorities impose “near-total” Internet blackout amid police’s clash with protesters
  • Protesters demand end to quota system reserving more than half of civil service posts for specific groups

DHAKA: Bangladeshi students set fire to the country’s state broadcaster on Thursday as protests against civil service hiring rules escalated, with the death toll mounting to at least 32 and monitors saying a “near-total” Internet blackout had been imposed.

Police fired with rubber bullets at hundreds of protesters, who fought back and chased retreating officers to the headquarters of Bangladesh Television (BTV) in the capital Dhaka.

Demonstrators set ablaze the network’s reception building and dozens of vehicles parked outside, with the broadcaster saying in a Facebook post that “many people” were trapped inside, although a station executive later told AFP they had safely evacuated the building.

A day earlier, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appeared on the network seeking to calm the escalating clashes.

“Our first demand is that the prime minister must apologize to us,” protester Bidisha Rimjhim, 18, told AFP.

“Secondly, justice must be ensured for our killed brothers,” she added.

Widespread Internet outages went into effect, with websites for the Bangladesh home and foreign ministry, as well as the Dhaka Tribune and Daily Star newspapers, not available in the evening.

Bangladesh was experiencing a “near-total” Internet shutdown, outage monitor Netblocks said, posting a graphic online showing connectivity plummeting late Thursday from around 90 percent to about 10 percent.

It said the latest outage “follows earlier efforts to throttle social media and restrict mobile data services” — key communication tools for protest organizers.

Near-daily marches this month have demanded an end to a quota system that reserves more than half of civil service posts for specific groups, including children of veterans from the country’s 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.

Critics say the scheme benefits children of pro-government groups that back Hasina, 76, who has ruled the country since 2009 and won her fourth consecutive election in January after a vote without genuine opposition.

Hasina’s government has ordered schools and universities to close indefinitely as police step up efforts to bring the deteriorating law and order situation under control.

Her administration is accused by rights groups of misusing state institutions to entrench its hold on power and stamping out dissent, including by the extrajudicial killing of opposition activists.

Mubashar Hasan, a Bangladesh expert at the University of Oslo in Norway, said the protests had grown into a wider expression of discontent with Hasina’s autocratic rule.

“They are protesting against the repressive nature of the state,” he told AFP.

“Protesters are questioning Hasina’s leadership, accusing her of clinging onto power by force,” he added. “The students are in fact calling her a dictator.”

The premier appeared on BTV on Wednesday night to condemn the “murder” of protesters and vow that those responsible will be punished regardless of political affiliation.

But violence worsened on the streets despite her appeal for calm as police again attempted to break up demonstrations with rubber bullets and tear gas volleys.

At least 25 people were killed on Thursday in addition to seven killed earlier in the week, with hundreds more wounded, according to an AFP tally based on hospital data.

Police weaponry was the cause of at least two-thirds of those deaths, based on descriptions given to AFP by hospital figures.

“We’ve got seven dead here,” an official at Uttara Crescent Hospital in Dhaka, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, told AFP.

“The first two were students with rubber bullet injuries. The other five had gunshot injuries.”

Nearly 1,000 others had been treated at the hospital for injuries sustained during clashes, the official said, adding many had rubber bullet wounds.

Didar Malekin of the online news outlet Dhaka Times told AFP that Mehedi Hasan, one of his reporters, had been killed while covering clashes in Dhaka.

Several cities across Bangladesh saw violence throughout the day as riot police marched on protesters who had begun another round of human blockades on roads and highways.

Helicopters rescued 60 police officers who were trapped on the roof of a campus building at Canadian University, the scene of some of Dhaka’s fiercest clashes, the elite Rapid Action Battalion police force said in a statement.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric appealed for “restraint from all sides.”

“We urge the government to ensure a conducive environment for dialogue. And we encourage protesters to engage in dialogue to resolve the deadlock,” he told reporters.

“Violence is never a solution.”

Before the late near-total Internet shutdown, junior telecommunications minister Zunaid Ahmed Palak told reporters that social media had been “weaponized as a tool to spread rumors, lies and disinformation,” forcing the government to restrict access.

Along with police crackdowns, demonstrators and students allied to the premier’s ruling Awami League have also battled each other on the streets with hurled bricks and bamboo rods.

Rights group Amnesty International said video evidence from clashes this week showed that Bangladeshi security forces had used unlawful force.


Migrants encounter hazards of food delivery on the streets of NYC

Migrants encounter hazards of food delivery on the streets of NYC
Updated 3 min 45 sec ago
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Migrants encounter hazards of food delivery on the streets of NYC

Migrants encounter hazards of food delivery on the streets of NYC
  • Asylum-seekers have gravitated to working food delivery in New York and other major cities

NEW YORK: Brad Song thought he was about to get his e-bike stolen a second time in a less than a month after delivering an order for Chinese food app Fantuan Delivery. Seven strangers surrounded the Chinese immigrant and knocked him off the scooter. He was rescued when a nearby motorist revved his engine, scaring the assailants.
His brakes were damaged and a phone used for navigation had its screen shattered, but, while the February attack in New York rattled Song, his bike and body emerged intact.
Asylum-seekers have gravitated to working food delivery in New York and other major cities, drawn by an abundance of customers and ease of getting started. But the job carries hazards, particularly thieves who target food delivery bikes. Newly arrived asylum-seekers have been easy targets. Some work without legal permission, which can make them fearful of seeking help in an emergency.
Dissatisfied with the police response, many delivery drivers have banded together.
Juan Solano, who migrated from the Mexican state of Guerrero in 2017, founded E l Diario de los Delivery Boys en la Gran Manzana, a group of delivery workers who help retrieve stolen e-bikes, often with the help of monitoring devices. Launched during the pandemic, the group has more than 50,000 followers on Facebook and a WhatsApp channel to alert delivery workers of robberies in real time.
Solano, 35, started working in food delivery during the pandemic with his nephew, Sergio, who had his e-bike stolen twice.
Thieves appear to target isolated areas near bridges that connect Manhattan to other boroughs, especially those with lighter police presence. They prey especially on those traveling alone.


White House: Biden expecting to meet Netanyahu next week

The Israeli and US governments have tentatively scheduled a meeting between Biden and Netanyahu on Monday. (File/AFP)
The Israeli and US governments have tentatively scheduled a meeting between Biden and Netanyahu on Monday. (File/AFP)
Updated 23 min 28 sec ago
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White House: Biden expecting to meet Netanyahu next week

The Israeli and US governments have tentatively scheduled a meeting between Biden and Netanyahu on Monday. (File/AFP)
  • Netanyahu will be in Washington next week for a July 24 address to a joint session of the US Congress
  • The two leaders have had strained relations for months over Netanyahu’s handling of the Gaza conflict

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden expects to be able to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week depending on his recovery from COVID-19, the White House said on Thursday.
Netanyahu will be in Washington next week for a July 24 address to a joint session of the US Congress. The two governments have tentatively scheduled a meeting between Biden and Netanyahu on Monday.
Vice President Kamala Harris will also meet Netanyahu while he is in Washington, a White House official said.
Biden, under pressure from some fellow Democrats to not seek reelection due to a disastrous debate performance against Republican Donald Trump on June 27, tested positive on Wednesday for COVID-19 and is recuperating at his beach house in Delaware. His current plan is to return to Washington on Sunday.
The two leaders have had strained relations for months over Netanyahu’s handling of the Gaza conflict where more than 38,000 people have been killed in Israel’s pursuit of Hamas militants responsible for the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel in which 1,200 people were killed.
“We have every expectation that the two leaders will have the chance to see each other while Prime Minister Netanyahu is in town,” said White House national security spokesperson John Kirby, without mentioning a specific date.
“Obviously we need to make sure that the president’s health and his recovery from COVID takes priority and if and how that might affect the discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu, we’re just not in a position today to be able to help,” he told reporters.
The United States has been working with Qatar and Egypt to try to arrange a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict in order to free hostages held since Oct. 7 and get more humanitarian aid into the enclave
A US official said US Middle East envoy Brett McGurk was traveling to the Middle East on Thursday for consultations on the Gaza conflict, with stops planned in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, a US official said.
No deal appeared imminent. Kirby said McGurk’s trip was part of regular consultations.
Netanyahu’s visit would be his first visit to the White House since he returned to office in late 2022.
The Biden administration may have eased on one point of contention last week when it said it would resume shipping 500-pound bombs to Israel, though it said it would continue to hold back on supplying 2,000-pound bombs over concerns about their use in densely populated Gaza.
In June, Netanyahu had criticized the United States for withholding some weapons, prompting Biden’s aides to express disappointment and confusion over the Israeli leader’s remarks.
The invitation for Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress was orchestrated by the House of Representatives’ Republican leadership, which has accused the Democratic president of not being supportive enough of Israel’s strategy in the Gaza war.
Addresses to joint meetings of Congress by foreign leaders are a rare honor generally reserved for the closest US allies or major world figures.
Netanyahu’s speech could highlight differences over Israel policy between Biden and some progressive Democrats, especially if some of them follow through on their threat to boycott the Israeli leader’s appearance.


British foreign secretary’s concern over former PM Johnson’s meeting with US presidential hopeful Trump

British foreign secretary’s concern over former PM Johnson’s meeting with US presidential hopeful Trump
Updated 18 July 2024
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British foreign secretary’s concern over former PM Johnson’s meeting with US presidential hopeful Trump

British foreign secretary’s concern over former PM Johnson’s meeting with US presidential hopeful Trump
  • Lammy admitted to LBC presenter Tom Swarbrick that he had not been aware the meeting was taking place

LONDON: British Foreign Secretary David Lammy expressed his concern on Thursday about a meeting between former UK prime minister Boris Johnson and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Speaking on the LBC radio morning show, Lammy admitted to presenter Tom Swarbrick that he had not been aware the meeting was taking place.

Johnson posted a picture on social media of him meeting Trump at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, after which he said the former president was “on top form” and that they had discussed the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The foreign secretary was asked if Johnson had followed protocol by informing the UK Foreign Office of his meeting with Trump, to which Lammy replied: “I’m not sure that Boris Johnson consults either Keir Starmer or us on his plans. And I certainly didn’t know.”

Lammy refused to be drawn when pressed by Swarbrick on whether the meeting went against “UK national interests” or not.

“The record will show that I had a friendship with Barack Obama, prior to him becoming president of the United States of America, and about a year or so into office, he was dealing with David Cameron (as prime minister),” he said.

“I would never have done anything to prejudice the UK national interests at that time. So the point you’re making is a serious one. I would hope that all former prime ministers would act in the UK national interests and not cut across us, particularly two weeks into office.

“You know, I’m not interested, actually, in the past. I’m interested in the future.”


Scientists discover cause of Gulf War syndrome in landmark study

British soldiers from the First Stafford, well known as the “Desert Rats,” stand in a trench on January 6, 1991.
British soldiers from the First Stafford, well known as the “Desert Rats,” stand in a trench on January 6, 1991.
Updated 18 July 2024
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Scientists discover cause of Gulf War syndrome in landmark study

British soldiers from the First Stafford, well known as the “Desert Rats,” stand in a trench on January 6, 1991.
  • Thousands of 1991 war veterans suffered chronic fatigue, PTSD, joint pain and headaches
  • Findings a ‘significant step forward in understanding this baffling and complex illness’

LONDON: Exposure to chemical and biological agents has been identified as the cause of Gulf War syndrome in a landmark study, The Times reported.
In what was described as a “world-first discovery,” scientists found that thousands of soldiers suffering from the syndrome had faulty cell function due to contact with the hazardous agents.
The mysterious illness was first identified in the wake of the Gulf War, with victims suffering from symptoms including post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue, joint pain and headaches.
Many struggled to find medical help and claim compensation as doctors were left baffled by the illness.
Up to 33,000 British veterans who served in the war may be suffering from the syndrome.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence has long argued against the existence of the illness, referring to a 2003 study that found no research identifying a unique syndrome linked to military service in the Gulf.
Scientists in the US have also blamed sarin, the nerve agent, for causing the symptoms, after Iraqi chemical weapons caches were bombed during the war, causing aerial exposure.
But the latest study, in the journal Plos One, could open a path for the syndrome to be recognized as a unique illness.
Veterans who suffered from Gulf War syndrome had an “impaired ion channel function in their cells,” said one of the study’s researchers, Etianne Martini Sasso of Griffith University in Australia.
The impairment resulted in an inability of the body to properly transport calcium.
The element plays a crucial role in muscle contraction, nerve function and hormone regulation.
“The findings from our research provides clear scientific evidence that the health problems experienced by Gulf War veterans can be directly linked to their exposure to specific hazardous agents during their service,” said another of the study’s authors, Prof. Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik.
Discovering the link between exposure to hazardous agents and impaired ion channel function is a “significant step forward in understanding this baffling and complex illness,” she added.
The former Conservative government in the UK imposed a six-year limit on civil cases involving injury or death, preventing veterans of the 1991 war from claiming compensation.
Veterans can still claim a war pension, however.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: “We are indebted to all those who served our country in the Gulf wars and have already sponsored significant research into the effects of this conflict on veterans.
“We continue to monitor and welcome any new research that is published around the world and financial support is available to veterans whose illness is due to service through the MoD war pensions and the armed forces occupational pension schemes.”