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. Palmaghetto

    If Rima Fakih is a spy then Michelle Obama better be on guard. If I were president she'd be holding the keys to the country. Literally.

    May 20, 2010 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  2. Scott

    Yes, and this woman has many relatives tied to terrorist organizations? Not to mention, she was funded by someone that was tied to terrorist organizations. When will the left quit screaming racism and face the facts. That is seriously the only response you all have for someone that doesn't agree with something not said by a white person. Get over the silly race card. She has links to terrorist organizations. It doesn't mean she is a terrorist...but if Miss OK had won and someone found out her dad was a preacher or that her uncle was part of the NRA liberals would be clammering about that. Or let's say Miss OK had won and her uncle was linked to the betcha you all would be going nuts. But since this winner has links to terrorist group its ok...we wouldn't want to offend anyone blah blah blah.

    May 20, 2010 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Deedzzz

      But the thing is Who said she had links to any terrorist organization?
      If she's shiite doesnt necessarly mean she's linked to hezbollah?

      It'd be down right ignorant of you to assume that every shiite in the world is linked to hezbollah and every sunni in the world to al qaeda!

      May 20, 2010 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      You're putting words into my mouth. If my uncle is in the KKK and he had a large part of my upbringing it would be reasonable to assum I had a leaning towards racism. I heard a radio report yesterday that her RELATIVES ...not her had ties to terrorist groups. All I'm saying is that if she WAS indeed funded by such and does indeed have close relatives that are tied to such, then it would reasonable, just it would be reasonable to assume (fairly or not) that I had ties to what I mentioned earlier.

      All I'm asking is that people embrace America. I think she is a gorgeous girl!! I really do! I don't have a problem with her winning Miss USA...even if she wasn't born here but has become a citizen. I'm all for that. But if the allegations are true...I do have a problem with that. I am only going on the reports which I hear. Now, the pole dancing thing is a different issue. If ANY contestant has pictures like that circulating I believe it to be improper for the position she is holding. That goes for Miss OK or anyone. White, black, Native American...whatever, that type of behavior cheapens the award in my opinion and I believe it also goes against the guidelines for the holding the position of honor.

      May 20, 2010 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jack in Raleigh

    When her name is Googled her early biography claims she was born in New York. Now the story is that she came to the States from Lebanon when she was 7. Nowhere in her biography is any statement about naturalization. Where and when did she gain American citizenship? Her confusing personal history could open other lines of inquiry. Is she an Arab/Lebanese- American or just a Lebanese citizen living in the US?

    May 20, 2010 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Deedzzz

      if you check on wikipedia, they do state that she was in born in Lebanon
      and i am pretty sure if she didnt show them a proof that she's an american (with the american nationality) she wouldn't be allowed to take part in neither Miss Michigan nor Miss USA pageant!

      May 20, 2010 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  4. 5TT

    Eric P LOl trust me none of those idiots will ever get elected

    May 20, 2010 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  5. JKD

    This article is absolutely riddled with grammar mistakes and editing errors - even more so than CNN's typical articles. The article isn't that long! Don't you guys have people that you hire - called copy editors - that you hire specifically to make sure that you don't look like uneducated morons while you try to convince the reading public that you know something about your subject?!

    May 20, 2010 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • smartone

      At least I'm not the only one to notice. Seriously, whose job is it to check this crap? Give them the axe. I am certain I could do a better job than this mess.

      May 20, 2010 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jessica

    Wow, did we just slip back in time to the 1950's? Paranoia, Paranoia...they're all coming to get me!

    May 20, 2010 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  7. S. Falls

    I think the neo-conservative blogger is more of a threat to this country then Miss USA...and honestly, I suppose he's another angry white man who has the luxury to write on a computer about how he feels our country is being polluted by foreigners...oh wait, they didn't have computer blogs 1600 through the late 1900s. Yes that's right, the neo-conservative what he fears the most: a foreign-sourced conspirator seeing to take over this land. See? I can play the 6 degrees of FOX news too!

    May 20, 2010 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  8. Guest

    It's like winning the lottery. Nothing good will EVER come from winning the USA pageant!

    May 20, 2010 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  9. Petey

    I too am a spy...FOR LOVE!!!!!

    May 20, 2010 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  10. Dustin

    So being Lebanese makes that person a spy? Complete buffoonery. It's rhetoric like that from the extremists that destroyed the credibility of the Republican Party in the first place. And as for the so-called conservative Muslims out there condemning Miss Fakih for "not being Muslim enough," maybe it's because your countries are "too Muslim" and why people with any common sense emigrate elsewhere. It all boils down to grown men and women behaving like a bunch of schoolyard bullies.

    May 20, 2010 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  11. Roxana

    The lady is lovely but she didn't exactly shine in either the poise or her answer to a random question – though her response was clearly adjudged politically acceptable. It is fairly obvious that her selection was a 'statement' of inclusiveness (ie: political). Criticism from conservatives is not going to threaten Miss Fakih's life. It is not impossible that her co-religionists, with their very different ideas on what is suitable for a woman, will. Let's hope she has good security.

    May 20, 2010 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  12. Scott

    Let's also not forget that Miss OK was given a loaded question on the new immigration law. Miss OK answered it flawlessly (listen to the recording) and said she stood for states which she received thunderous applause. Miss Michigan tripped on stage (normally a disqualification), get's a question about health care (which I will concede is also a tough question), but she answered it with no grace and stumbled over her words and made no sense. Miss America was once a position held in high regard...and pole dancing photos have no place in this honor.

    May 20, 2010 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Deedzzz

      oh come on, does it REALLY matter who wins?
      its just a silly beauty pageant!
      its not like you're going to hear anything about her again!

      May 20, 2010 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Point well taken Deed. It doens't matter a whole lot to me. I did see bias in the questions and since this award is big for a lot of peope (again, not so much me) it should be administered fairly. If this person is to represent that USA in a global setting though, I would like for it to be the best person possible. She is definitely beautiful and if the ties to terrorist groups are not true, then I hope she wins Miss Iniverse! that would be awesome

      May 20, 2010 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • abdo

      Well, if you watched the pegeant, you would have known that the delegates had to pick the questions out randomly from a fish bowl. That way, no cheating is possible. Miss Oklahama just had bad luck with picking a tougher question to answer. Not only that, but as with most pageants and especially with Miss Universe and Miss USA, the judges don't necessarily judge the delegate based on the answer she gives, but rather on HOW she asnwers the question. They're looking for specific qualities like confidence, personality, down to earthedness and such. I know this is why Rima won. And as for you being a conservative, so is Rima in a lot of ways. If you watched the pageant, Rima was asked about her car, (a FORD) and she said, "I always buy American." And if you watched the behind the scenes footage of Rima right after she was crowned, which you can look up on youtube, Rima was asked a similar question on birth control pills and she said she forgot to mention that she thought they were a good thing because "they prevent abortions." And if you watched her interview on fox business news, which you can also find on youtube, she said "Miss Oklahama answered the question correctly," and that "we should protect our borders." Please don't stereotype her. Give her a chance. She's American like Me and others of Arab background. We are more complex than you think.

      May 22, 2010 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
  13. Margaret

    What a shame this woman has to endure such ignorant remarks from people around the globe. She's a beautiful girl, I wish her all the best, and I'm proud to have her represent the United States in the Miss USA pageant.

    May 20, 2010 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  14. Bonnie

    This nonsense is what I'd expect to see in the National Enquirer, not CNN.

    May 20, 2010 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  15. Mark B

    Geez – who proofread this? There are typos all over the place....

    "The opinion on the streets Beirut, Lebanon's urbane capital, "

    "A Hezbollah member of Parliament, on the other, hand dodged questions "

    May 20, 2010 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • oh oh

      who cares, get a life. you come to read the news to point out spelling/grammar mistakes?

      May 20, 2010 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
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