Haters Gonna Hate: the Backlash Against Miss USA

Rima Fakih, an Arab Muslim immigrant, won the Miss USA Pageant Sunday night:

She beat out four blondes and set off a whirlwind of media coverage stemming from her “stripper” past to her Shi’a background.

On the positive side, one idealist commenter compared her to Barack Obama. Another went so far as to say her win shows the “real face of Arab Americans, not the stereotypes you hear about.” Ah, yes, not the burqa–the bikini! Trading one stereotype for another is not progressive, but whatever.

Many in Arab-American community, as well as many American Muslims, supported Fakih’s win. While some Muslims voiced their concern over the message it sends, ironically, it’s the American Christian right who’s angriest.

Conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel calls her Miss Hezbollah and says terrorists financed Fakih’s win. She spun this incredible story while calling Donald Trump a “dhimmi,” whining that Miss Oklahoma was unfairly set up by liberals who don’t know what’s right for America.

On Fox’s morning show, Gretchen Carlson — a former beauty pageant winner — also took issue with the Arizona immigration question directed at Miss Oklahoma, saying her loss was reflection of the discrimination against conservatives and that Fakih’s win was a result of our “PC society.”

And as this Miami Herald article points out, The Jewish Internet Defense Force proclaimed Fakih’s win “a dark day for America.” Their headline: “New Miss USA: Islamic Fundamentalism in a Bikini?” Of course! Islamic fundamentalism and bikinis go incredibly well together.
And Daniel Pipes did not disappoint with his typical Islamophobic commentary, accusing Fakih (and other Middle Eastern and Muslim beauty queens) of being part of an affirmative action Muslim conspiracy:

“They are all attractive, but this surprising frequency of Muslims winning beauty pageants makes me suspect an odd form of affirmative action.”

Ahmed Rehab, the Executive Director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations in Chicago, asks a better question: why must a Muslim person’s faith come up the moment that person breaks through the mainstream in any conceivable way, regardless of relevance or context? Comedian Dean Obeidallah offers a sober explanation over at The Huffington Post: some on the far right love to hate us more than they love the ideals of this country.

As so many in our community have pointed out, Fakih’s win is complicated because it’s not just Arab but Muslim—the political backlash of that identity is something even beauty queens can’t escape. The argument at Altmuslimah sheds light on the ambivalence many Muslims feel about her win, which provides a nice segue to Richard Adams’ post at The Guardian.  Adams says Fakih’s win manages to be “both a step forward and a step backwards at the same time, depending what you think of beauty pageants.”

I think that’s something we can all agree on.

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