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.
 

 


Malaysia marks coronation of new king

Malaysia marks coronation of new king
Updated 7 sec ago
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Malaysia marks coronation of new king

Malaysia marks coronation of new king
  • Billionaire King Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar pledges to govern fairly during the 5-year term

KUALA LUMPUR: Traditional pomp and cannon fire on Saturday marked the coronation of Malaysia’s billionaire King Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, who pledged to govern fairly during the five-year term he will serve under a unique rotating monarchy system.
Sultan Ibrahim, 65, was sworn in on Jan. 31. Saturday’s coronation at the national palace formalized his role as Malaysia’s 17th king in a ceremony steeped in Malay culture and pageantry.
Nine ethnic Malay state rulers take turns as Malaysia’s king for five-year terms under the country’s rotating monarchy, which began when Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957. Malaysia has 13 states but only nine have royal families, some which trace their roots to centuries-old Malay kingdoms that were independent states until they were brought together by the British.
Donned in black and gold traditional ceremonial outfit and headgear, Sultan Ibrahim and Queen Raja Zarith Sofiah were greeted by military salute before they proceeded to the throne. The heads of the other royal families, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Bahrain King Hamad Isa al Khalifa were seated on a stage beside the throne.
At the start of the proceedings, a copy of the Qur’an was presented to the Sultan who kissed it. The monarch received a gold dagger, a symbol of power. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim then pledged his government’s loyalty and said the royal institution was a pillar of strength for the nation. He then proclaimed Sultan Ibrahim as Malaysia’s new king.

 


Biden’s ability to win back skeptical Democrats is tested at a perilous moment for his campaign

US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a press conference during NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, in Washington.Reuters
US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a press conference during NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, in Washington.Reuters
Updated 20 July 2024
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Biden’s ability to win back skeptical Democrats is tested at a perilous moment for his campaign

US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a press conference during NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, in Washington.Reuters
  • Rep. Mark Takano, the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called on Biden to “pass the torch,” to Vice President Kamala Harris

WASHINGTON DC: Despite a week of campaign stops, interviews and insistence that he is the best candidate to confront Republican Donald Trump, President Joe Biden hasn’t softened the push for him to exit the 2024 race.
Biden has weighty options before him this weekend that could set the direction of the country and his party as the nation heads toward the November election with an energized GOP after the Republican nominating convention to send Trump back to the White House.
Rep. Mark Takano, the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, on Saturday added his name to the list of nearly three dozen Democrats in Congress who say it’s time for Biden to leave the race. The Californian called on Biden to “pass the torch,” to Vice President Kamala Harris.
Harris, meanwhile, earned backing from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who told MSNBC on Saturday that the vice president is “ready to step up” to unite the party and take on Trump should Biden decide to bow out. Warren said knowing that “gives me a lot of hope right now.”
More lawmakers are expected to speak out in the days ahead. Donors have raised concerns. And an organization calling on Biden to “Pass the Torch” planned a rally Saturday outside the White House. Biden has insisted that he’s all in.
“There is no joy in the recognition he should not be our nominee in November,” said Democratic Rep. Morgan McGarvey of Kentucky, one of the Democrats urging Biden’s exit from the race. “But the stakes of this election are too high and we can’t risk the focus of the campaign being anything other than Donald Trump.”
The standoff has become increasingly untenable for the party and its leaders, a month from the Democratic National Convention that should be a unifying moment to nominate their incumbent president to confront Trump. Instead the party is at a crossroads unseen in generations.
It’s creating a stark juxtaposition with Republicans who, after years of bitter and chaotic infighting over Trump, have essentially embraced the former president’s far-right takeover of the GOP, despite his criminal conviction in a hush money case and pending federal criminal indictment for trying to overturn the 2020 election before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
From his beach home in Delaware, Biden, 81, is isolating with a COVID infection, but also politically with a small circle of family and close advisers. White House doctor Kevin O’Connor said Friday that the president still had a dry cough and hoarseness, but his COVID symptoms had improved.
The president’s team insisted he’s ready to return to the campaign this coming week to counter what he called a “dark vision” laid out by Trump.
“Together, as a party and as a country, we can and will defeat him at the ballot box,” Biden said in a statement Friday. “The stakes are high, and the choice is clear. Together, we will win.”
But outside the Rehoboth enclave the debate and passions are intensifying.
A donor call with some 300 people Friday was described as a waste of time by one participant, who was granted anonymity to discuss the private conversation. While the person was complimentary of Harris, who spoke for five minutes, the rest of the time was filled by others who brushed aside donor concerns, according to the participant.
Not only are Democrats split over what Biden should do, they also lack consensus about how to choose a successor.
Democrats who are agitating for Biden to leave do not appear to have coalesced around a plan for what would happen next, for now. Very few of the lawmakers have mentioned Harris in their statements, and some have said they favor an open nominating process that would throw the party’s endorsement behind a new candidate.
Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Peter Welch of Vermont have both called for Biden to exit the race and said they would favor an open nominating process at the convention.
“Having it be open would strengthen whoever is the ultimate nominee,” Welch said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Other Democrats say it would be politically unthinkable to move past Harris, the nation’s first female vice president, who is Black and Southeast Asian, and logistically unworkable with a virtual nominating vote being planned for early next month, before the Democratic convention opens in Chicago on Aug. 19.
Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum, who has called on Biden to step aside, explicitly endorsed Harris as a replacement.
“To give Democrats a strong, viable path to winning the White House, I am calling upon President Biden to release his delegates and empower Vice President Harris to step forward to become the Democratic nominee for President,” McCollum said in her statement.
It’s unclear what else, if anything, the president could do to reverse course and win back lawmakers and Democratic voters, who are wary of his ability to defeat Trump and serve another term after his halting debate performance last month.
Nearly two-thirds of Democrats say Biden should withdraw from the presidential race and let his party nominate a different candidate, according to a new AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, sharply undercutting his post-debate claim that “average Democrats” are still with him even if some “big names” are turning on him.
At the same time, a majority of Democrats believe Kamala Harris would do a good job in the top slot, according to a separate AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.
Biden, who sent a defiant letter to Democrats in Congress vowing to stay in the race, has yet to visit Capitol Hill to shore up support, an absence noticed by senators and representatives.
The president did conduct a round of virtual conversations with various caucuses in the past week — some of which ended poorly.
During a call with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, one Democrat, Rep. Mike Levin of California, told Biden he should step aside. During another with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Biden became defensive when Rep. Jared Huffman of California asked him to consider meeting with top party leaders about the path forward.
Huffman was one of four Democratic lawmakers who called Friday for Biden to step aside.
At the same time, Biden still has strong backers. He picked up support Friday from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ campaign arm and has backing from leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.


More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza
Updated 20 July 2024
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More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza
  • Rides will run across London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales

LONDON: For three weeks, more than 1,200 people will be cycling in cities across the UK, calling on the newly-elected Labour government to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and to end arms sales to Israel.
The Big Ride was founded in 2015 by activists seeking to combine a passion for cycling with solidarity for Palestine.
This year’s events start on Saturday and run until Aug. 10 in London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales.
The grassroots organization will also be raising funds for Palestinian charities, including the Middle East Children’s Alliance, The Amos Trust, and the Gaza Sunbirds para cycling team, which continue their work in Gaza amidst the ongoing conflict.
Ellen Logan, one of the organizers of The Big Ride, said: “For years we’ve witnessed the daily oppression of the Palestinian people — discrimination, subjugation, and inhumanity. And now we’ve spent the last 10 months watching a live-streamed genocide. Everyone should be outraged and campaigning for an end to this violence.”
Logan added: “We use our bikes and freedoms to raise awareness and provide crucial aid for children and disabled cyclists on the ground in Gaza.”
A recent letter published in British medical journal, The Lancet, estimated the actual death toll in Gaza could be as high as 186,000.
British actress Maxine Peake, who is participating in the cycling event, said: “The Big Ride for Palestine has been raising awareness of this for nearly 10 years now. This year, more riders than ever have signed up, so please join a Big Ride near you.”
 


Monsoon rains pound India financial hub

Monsoon rains pound India financial hub
Updated 20 July 2024
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Monsoon rains pound India financial hub

Monsoon rains pound India financial hub
  • A woman died and four others were injured after sections of a four-story building came crashing down in Grant Road
  • Monsoon rains lash much of India from June to September and are vital to replenishing rivers, groundwater in the country

Mumbai: Monsoon rains pounded India’s financial hub of Mumbai on Saturday, causing the partial collapse of a residential building that killed at least one person, a municipal official said.
A woman died and four others were injured after sections of a four-story building came crashing down in Grant Road, an affluent suburb in the south of the city.
“The woman who died was not a resident of the building,” a spokesperson for the city’s municipal body told AFP.
The spokesperson did not confirm whether any residents of the building were missing or had been trapped under the rubble.
Images posted on social media showed rescuers clearing the rubble in the rain.
Monsoon rains lash much of India from June to September and are vital to replenishing rivers and groundwater in the country but the deluge also causes widespread destruction.
Building collapses are common during this period, with old and rickety structures buckling under days of non-stop rain.
In 2021, in the western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, 200 people were killed by monsoon-triggered floods and landslides that also forced a quarter of a million to evacuate their homes.
 


Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount
Updated 20 July 2024
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Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount
  • Supreme Court hearing on contentious job quotas expected on Sunday
  • At least 103 people dead, including 44 killed in Dhaka on Friday alone

DHAKA: The Bangladeshi military was deployed to the streets to impose a nationwide curfew on Saturday, after more than 100 people were killed in clashes between police and students protesting government job quotas.

The curfew follows a communications blackout that has left the country of 170 million cut off from the world. Television channels were off air and most local news websites were down as the government shut internet services a day earlier.

“Army members will operate in aid to the civil administration under the guidance of district administrators and city commissioners,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kamal told Arab News.

In the capital, the military joined riot police and thousands of Border Guard personnel after the Dhaka Metropolitan Police banned all gatherings amid increasing numbers of casualties.

Students have been demonstrating since the beginning of July against a rule that reserves a bulk of government jobs for the descendants of those who fought in the country’s 1971 liberation war.

At least 103 people have been killed in the past five days and thousands injured, according to a count based on reports in the local media. On Friday alone, at least 44 people were killed in Dhaka, which saw intense clashes between protesters, government supporters and security forces.

Air Commodore (Rtd) Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, a security analyst, told Arab News that the nationwide military-backed curfew and the amount of violence across the country were “something unprecedented.”

He was referring to reports that numerous administration offices were set on fire and government vehicles vandalized on Friday. On Thursday, the headquarters of a state-owned television station was set ablaze.

“We have not seen such vandalism earlier in the country where many significant government establishments were vandalized and set on fire,” Choudhury said.

The government abolished the controversial quota system after student protests in 2018, but the High Court reinstated it in June, triggering protests.

An appeal hearing is expected at the Supreme Court on Sunday morning.

Under the quota system, 56 percent of public service jobs are reserved for specific groups, including women, marginalized communities and children and grandchildren of freedom fighters — for whom the government earmarks 30 percent of the posts.

These quotas, which reserve hundreds of thousands of government jobs, hit young people directly.

The country’s unemployment rate is the highest among people aged between 15 and 29 — more than a fourth of Bangladesh’s population — who constitute 83 percent of the total unemployed.