Miss USA: A victory for Muslims?

Last week, Rima Fakih of Dearborn, Mich., became the first Muslim-American to be crowned Miss USA.

Her title is now Miss USA, said Daniel Pipes in the Toronto Star, but we might also want to think of her as Miss Affirmative Action. When Rima Fakih of Dearborn, Mich., was crowned Miss USA in Las Vegas last week, it was a milestone: Fakih, who was born in Lebanon, is the first Muslim-American to win that title. Then again, Muslims have been winning a lot of beauty contests of late, from Junior Miss to the pageant at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. I suspect “an odd form of affirmative action” is at work. “Given the temper of the times and wish to bring Muslims into the mainstream of Western life, judges might well favor the Muslim contestants as a matter of goodwill and social policy.” That urge could explain why the judges overlooked Fakih’s troubling connections, said The Washington Times in an editorial. Fakih received financial support from Imad Hamad, director of an Arab-American rights group who has called Hezbollah terrorists “heroes,’’ and her family is known to have Hezbollah connections. But hey, she looks great in a swimsuit.

Can you believe this bigoted attack? said Adam Serwer in The American Prospect Online. To suggest that a beauty queen is connected to terrorism, through a tactic of guilt by association, is utterly shameless. But it’s also proof that many people on the Right are “offended by the idea of Muslims being integrated into the most mundane and banal aspects of American society.” Instead, we should embrace this “integration by bikini,” said Tunku Varadarajan in The DailyBeast.com. If nothing else, the pageant has demonstrated that Muslims are not some monolithic group that refuses to assimilate into mainstream culture. “Some, in fact, wear bikinis in cheesy beauty contests.”

Pardon me if I’m not cheering, said Nida Khan in HuffingtonPost.com. As an American Muslim woman, at first I was elated that an Arab-American won a contest that serves as “the pinnacle for the standard of beauty in this nation.” But my feelings are mixed. What of all the traditional Muslim women who are not comfortable uncovering their hair, let alone prancing around in a bikini? Somehow I doubt Fakih’s victory will help them feel more accepted; in fact, they’re now considered even “further from the norm.” Can you imagine the outcry if Fakih “pulled out a head scarf last minute and tied it snuggly underneath her crown right before taking the legendary Miss USA victory walk?”

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