Rima Fakih has become an unlikely member of the Islamophobic grab-bag of images. Joining the images of oppressed burqa-wearers and angry men with beards, Miss USA’s victory has become a part of another far-fetched conspiracy. The best part is that we are actually seeing a ridiculous debate about the legitimacy of her victory, and whether or not it is evidence of a secret, home-grown Islamic uprising.
In an article initially entitled “Is Miss USA a trailblazer or Hezbollah spy?” CNN reinforces every possible stereotype in the book while trying to further spark controversy. Fakih is presented as a Muslim woman on trial by conservative criticism because of her sexuality. The article also places East in a battle with West, when Fakih’s victory is not really representative of a “clash of civilizations.”
Furthermore, rather than using her win as an opportunity to show the diversity of beliefs within the Muslim community, CNN uses this as a chance to depict Fakih as a more “open-minded” Muslim woman (read: “good Muslim”), which is utilized to distance her from the faith.
The rhetoric of the Miss USA debate evokes an alarming amount of stereotypes, and it is very troubling how much blatant racism has been involved under the pretence of good old “straight talk”—here’s looking at you, FOX News! Media outlets are painting her win as more evidence that affirmative action is destroying American values. Images of Fakih as the cunning vixen stealing the crown from the doe-eyed blonde Miss Oklahoma made me think of Ursula in The Little Mermaid, dressed as a beautiful brunette, stealing the prince from the sweet and innocent Ariel.
The CNN article mentions that her downfall is either her background or “racy” pictures of her spread across the internet. Both of these ideas are yawn-eliciting. The photographs are hardly controversial compared to the types of photos released of previous Miss USA winners. The only thing different is her ethnicity and religious background. It is interesting, however, that the very people that are obsessed with liberating Muslim women hold them to a completely different moral standard.
Why does Fakih have to defend herself in the first place? She is merely a young woman that competed in a pageant and was successful. Whatever led her to compete is her own business, and she did not compete to become a representative of her religion and ethnicity. In fact, beauty pageants do not really value either of these things directly.
I find the concept of beauty pageants problematic in the first place—thus, I do not find Fakih’s victory as any kind of representative step for Muslims or Arabs. Just as Osama Bin Laden does not represent all Muslims, neither does Rima Fakih. The controversy surrounding her reflects this obsession with trying to find a voice for all Muslims, when in reality the point is that faith does not have a central voice—and that is the beauty of it.
Blogs (such as those that have dubbed her “Miss Hezbollah”) are utilizing her to further create an image of a war brewing and seeping into our American traditions. Instead of attempting to make readers afraid of her tentacles, maybe we should look at the real issue at hand, and that is the changing face of America. Whether it is changing immigration or terrorism, the point is that this debate has absolutely nothing to do with Rima Fakih. So I say, let her enjoy her victory, and leave her alone.