Bombshell Beauty: The International Bangover Following an Arab-American Miss USA

It was one of those victories that nobody could make any real sense of.  Twenty-four-year-old Rima Fakih from Dearborn, Mich. won the 2010 Miss USA Pageant on May 16 in Vegas and automatically, the blogosphere erupted with the combined firepower of ideologues on various sides of the US culture wars spouting pronouncements and journalists in the Middle East suddenly interested in an event that ordinarily would have been ignored as trivial, carnal and Western.  Why the fuss?  Fakih comes from an immigrant Shiite family with roots in Lebanon, specifically, the southern village of Srifa, near the port-city of Tyre.

One of the loudest voices was the blogger Debbie Schlussel who immediately dubbed the Michigander, “Miss Hezbollah” and started her article by trying to write off the win as affirmative action by PC judges: “It’s a sad day in America but a very predictable one, given the politically correct, Islamo-pandering climate in which we’re mired.”  It was hard to know what was more delightful about Schlussel’s statements: the predictability of her claim that the win was predictable, or the crazed, jumping-up-and-down desperate, “I-said-it-first” garbage she blurted out next: “The Hezbollah-supporting Shi’ite Muslim, Miss Michigan Rima Fakih –- whose bid for the pageant was financed by an Islamic terrorist and immigration fraud perpetrator –- won the Miss USA contest. I was on top of this story before anyone, telling you about who Fakih is and her extremist and deadly ties.”

What were these extremist, deadly ties?  Well, apparently her last name, Fakih, is shared with Hezbollah members and, according to Schlussel, this makes the Midwesterner a “Lebanese Muslim Hezbollah supporter with relatives who are top terrorists and ‘martyrs’ in the group.”  Schlussel helpfully offers:  “If you don’t have relatives that have died killing some Jews and relatives who’ve murdered hundreds of Americans, you really don’t deserve to be Miss USA.”

Hmmm….  If we want to find out about what Hezbollah thinks of Fakih, why not go to the actual source.  Here’s a statement from a Hezbollah spokesperson, Hassan Fadlallah: “The criteria through which we evaluate women are different from those of the West.” What an endorsement.  She’s got to be working for them.

Beirut Online quotes Swedish political scientist Magnus Ranstorp who calls the suggestion of terrorist ties “ludicrous” says, “She would be flogged if she showed up in any of Hizbullah’s neighborhoods in Beirut.”

“My family comes from a Muslim background, and we’re not defined by religion,” said Fakih in an interview with HLN’s “The Joy Behar Show”. “I would like to say we’re a spiritual liberal family.”  What does she mean?  In an article titled “The Not-So-Radical Roots of Miss USA“, Foreign Policy‘s Hanin Ghaddar says that in Lebanon, claims that Fakih has connections to Hezbollah are seen as slander.  Both her American family and Lebanese relatives celebrate Christian and Muslim holidays, right next to each other.  In the entrance of her relative’s home in Lebanon, a Quran and the Bible are placed next to each other and the family is riddled with marriages between Christians and Muslims.  So far things are sounding very extremist.  It gets better:  “Their house is distinguished from the neighbor’s by a big U.S. flag hung from its balcony, surrounded by ribbons and flowers … Fakih’s 62-year-old aunt, Afifa Fakih — the only woman in the household wearing a veil — explained, ‘We love America … without the USA, Rima wouldn’t have fulfilled her dreams. She made us all proud, and for that, we thank the Americans.’ ”

Although there is certainly discontent about her bikini and pictures that surfaced of her fully-clothed in a Detroit pole dancing competition, many Lebanese are proud of Fakih’s win.   The Lebanese President Michel Sleiman congratulated Fakih on his Facebook page. “This is none of their business,” said Aunt Afifa about the Hezbollah snub, “Who cares about what Hezbollah thinks? She is our daughter, not theirs, and Lebanon is proud of her.” (Foreign Policy)

Before her Miss USA win, Fakih said in an interview with Global Arab Network that she hoped a win “would prove that Arabs don’t always try to separate themselves, but instead are integrated into American culture … There are Arabs that are caring, that are good people, and who love the country they live in. I think it would make the Arab image a more positive one.”

And that is perhaps the best outcome possible for the Miss USA pageant that both liberals and conservatives love to hate: a case has been made for looking at Arab culture outside of the context of religious extremism.  Just as Fakih’s family transcends sectarianism and embraces both Muslim and Christian traditions, wins of this nature speak to a more human side of us.  It proves that whether we are from Dearborn or Beirut, we can all come together in praise of superficial beauty and tacky tiaras.

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Bjorn Karlman

16 thoughts on “Bombshell Beauty: The International Bangover Following an Arab-American Miss USA

  1. I put Debbie Schlussel’s comments right up (or down) there with the Birthers. It would be much easier for them to come out and say they are white supremacists rather than trying to “intellectualize” their prejudices.

  2. This is pretty obscure stuff. There was A LOT more hatred by the left towards Carrie Prejean last year than hate for Rima Fakih from the right this year. The only issue I heard in regards to the Miss USA pageant was that Miss Oklahoma should have won, but that was very minimal and had nothing to do with Rima Fakih. Even if she had terrorist relatives, it is meaningless. She is not a terrorist. Guilt by association is a fallacy.

  3. Yeah, I don’t know where to place her. With all the insistence on being the first to launch the Hezbollah accusation she looks like she just wants to drive traffic…

  4. Well, we’ll see how long the controversy lasts… Prejean’s stance against gay marriage would probably not have landed her in the longer lasting hot water that her partially nude shots and breaches of contract caused…

    What did you make of Miss Arizona’s defense of the immigration law? Schlussel seemed to think that was heroic…

  5. I think it was Miss Oklahoma that got the question about the immigration law. It seemed like a very good answer, but I don’t really think they should ask political questions at these events. Politics is too subjective and taboo. You may as well ask one on religion or race. They should stick to other issues.

  6. Ooops.. yeah, you are right. Interesting that Oscar Nunez from The Office asked that… I LIKE that they ask subjective questions that need some thought.. add some substance to these things!

  7. I don’t know about that. I think asking subjective questions may encourage the girls to give vague people-pleasing answers. That’s what politics are for.

  8. Yes they do. But not just because they are lunatic conservative but because they get as much attention as they do. That is the issue. I can’t decide if these guys are just inflammatory dullards or if they are brilliant students of human nature that understand how to make a story go viral… Schlussel certainly succeeded if that was her main aim.

  9. The problem I have with the questions is that there have been two years in a row now where a political question was asked and the girl answering the question lost, some say because the judges disagreed with the answer. You can ask maybe more generalized questions with big consequences. Like…how would you improve education in the US, or how can you prevent natural disasters, like the earthquake in Haiti from being so devastating…stuff like that. Not this, are you a Republican or a Democrat type questions.

  10. I don’t really know. Maybe there were more political questions that didn’t make headlines. Of the political questions I am aware of, it definitely seems to be biased one way. However, the question doesn’t matter as much as the judges reaction to the answer. If the contestant gives an intelligent answer that the judge disagrees with, they should still give her a good score. I don’t know how the scoring works for Miss America though, and I am not sure if there is website where you can find the vote totals. If there is, there should be a way to tell if political bias played a role.

    So for instance, if every single judge had Michigan and Oklahoma either one or two…with the exception of a couple judges who gave Oklahoma zero’s…and that cost Oklahoma the crown, then that would be an obvious bias. That is just an example though, I have no idea if that is what happened.

  11. I don’t really know. Maybe there were more political questions that didn’t make headlines. Of the political questions I am aware of, it definitely seems to be biased one way. However, the question doesn’t matter as much as the judges reaction to the answer. If the contestant gives an intelligent answer that the judge disagrees with, they should still give her a good score. I don’t know how the scoring works for Miss America though, and I am not sure if there is website where you can find the vote totals. If there is, there should be a way to tell if political bias played a role.
    +1

  12. Education is the key. Some of the most amazing books I have read are about Afghans and their wonderful culture. After reading so much about them, I really was able to see that it is only a very diminutive number of people from these countries that are extremists. I fell in love with the Afghan culture after spending time reading about who they really are. It gets me so mad when people just judge and judge. Sometimes even with the factual information they still want to hold on to their negative ignorant beliefs about other cultures and groups.

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