May 20th, 2010
09:31 AM ET

Is Miss USA a Muslim trailblazer?


She's always wanted to be a beauty queen and her dream came true with one of the biggest titles - Miss USA 2010 - Rima Fakih.

As soon as the announcement was made, the labels appeared. She was described as Arab-American, Lebanese-American, Muslim-American. She became the center of controversy overnight after pole dancing photos surfaced and spread across the globe just as fast as an outlandish rumor started by a U.S. neo-conservative blog that she's a spy for the Shiite Lebanese group Hezbollah, designated by the U.S. and E.U. countries as a terrorist group.

It's hard to gauge which claim could possibly hurt the new Miss USA more: the racy pictures or the unfounded rumors alleging she is affiliated with Hezbollah. One thing is certain, the Internet feasted on the story and different groups with different agendas jumped on the opportunity this story afforded them.

Miss USA to Behar: Pole-dancing pictures were all in fun

"To say that she is a Muslim is inaccurate. No Muslim woman can call herself a ... Muslim and be on stage with her bikini," Ghazal Omid, a Muslim scholar, posted on her Facebook page.

Blogs and posts from those with knowledge of the Middle East pointed out that Rima Fakih and her behavior - be it the beauty pageant she entered in 2008 for Miss Lebanon Emigrant or little-known activities such as the pole dancing competition, don’t match up with the conservative Islam Hezbollah preaches.

Fakih's modern looks and open-minded interests are indicative of a portion of Lebanon's population that is Western-oriented and non-conservative even if they belong to the Shiite sect of Islam.

The opinion on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon's urbane capital, echoed this one from Teddy Hajjar, a Lebanese interior designer.

"Just because her religion is linked to what some people call terrorist movement has nothing to do with it," he said.

Hajjar also said that Fakih participated in the contest based on her looks and she won on merit, therefore politics should be left out.

A Hezbollah member of parliament, on the other hand, dodged questions about Fakih and the Miss USA beauty pageant.

According to Hassan Fadlallah, Hezbollah evaluates women in a different way.

"We have a viewpoint based on religion, schooling, moral and societal values, which differs from all the other manners that are presented in the world,” Fadlallah said.

Regardless of which city Fakih was raised in, he concluded, “the matter doesn’t differ to us because the criteria through which we evaluate women are very different from those of the West and other nations."

Many opinions and many more claims and counter claims are online and in traditional media. But the topic that's getting the least coverage is the significance of the Miss USA title and the role this young woman will play as its holder.

Very few comments are discussing how someone with Rima Fakih's background can play a constructive role in bridging the gap between East and West. For now the West calls her Eastern, and the East calls her Western, and despite all criticism, she is celebrated in many corners of her country of origin, and her country of naturalization, as the beauty queen she's always strived to be.

Update 1:20 p.m.: An earlier version of this post had a headline we thought was too provocative.

soundoff (221 Responses)
  1. Veelo

    "Fakih's modern looks and open-minded interests are indicative of a portion of Lebanon's population that is Western-oriented and non-conservative even if they belong to the Shiite sect of Islam."

    What a ridiculous statement. 'Even if they belong to the Shiite sect of Islam' – is that the inferior, more barbaric sect? I'd say I'm disappointed in CNN, but I'm not surprised.

    May 25, 2010 at 10:56 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Mitwali

    lets not lose sight of the fact that this is a frivolous article about a frivolous subject matter by none other then the most superficial "news" network in the world.
    if anyone is to blame for the garbage that is spewed here onto the world it is Octavia Nasr who herself is Lebanese and as such decided to dredge all her Christian right wing exclusively Lebanese prejudices and unloaded them onto an atypical shia girl from Lebanon.

    May 25, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dot

    The reason they picked this Arab/Muslim gal was purely "political correctness" Miss Ok was flat out the obvisous winner, but this Fatima or what ever her name is it was purely political!!!!!!!!!!!!! ok Dot

    May 30, 2010 at 1:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
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    i like the voice of queen latifah, it has a mellow sounding stuff in it. **'

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    i just thought that queen latifah is one of the best comedians out there, she is really funny ':`

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