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.