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. Justbhappy

    I guess white phobia and myths about other cultures still thrives in this "educated" country. (Lebanon is multicultural and progressive and not as backward as other muslim countries) Her biggest crime so far is pole dancing like Miley Cyrus and describing herself as "ghetto" in a youtube stint. If she is a spy, at least she's be easy to spot because everybody knows who she is. Hmm...I guess spies don't do undercover anymore.

    May 20, 2010 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  2. Tori

    Nothing against her personally but how can she be Miss USA when she's not from here? Can Americans go over there and become Miss Lebanon?

    May 20, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  3. Justbhappy

    Tori
    I don't know if you noticed but Arnold Schwartnegger is FROM Austria but is the governor of California. Go figure.

    May 20, 2010 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jackie

    As someone of Lebanese background (Lebanese father, American mother), I am saddened to see the level of ignorance shown by people like JoeMo and a few others here. I have never in my lifetime seen the level of hate and divisiveness being directed toward Lebanese or anyone else of Arab descent in the US.
    The new Miss America is a lovely girl. Period. For people like Scott on this blog to claim that “he heard on the radio that her family has terrorist connections” is just another sad example of a lot of extremely under-informed people who have no desire to understand a very foreign culture to them. They would rather believe hook, line and sinker whatever conspiracy-laced B.S they hear on Fox, or the hundreds of other media outlets directed at them. So convenient when you don’t have to critically question what you’re being fed, just blindly believe whatever you’re told because it fits into the entertaining box provided.
    These very same media outlets scream, “See, they really are animals”, when people from other cultures, who are being fed the very same BS by their own chosen talking heads, religious leaders, etc. bring violence to our shores. The difference is that they are seeing dead and blown up Iraqi’s and Afghani’s 24/7 and being fed the same mindless, never-ending loop of hate, but against the US. Imagine if Fox News televised dead and bloodied Americans 24/7 caused by a war generated from another country? What if it was constantly drilled into the viewership that the war was evil, wrong, that the foreign country was responsible for the death of thousands of innocent US civilians? Well, guess what? It is happening every day as we speak.
    It’s time for certain Americans to wake up and realize that making stereotype-driven jokes about a beautiful girl in a silly beauty pageant says more about their bigotry than anything else. But what lies beneath it HAS to be addressed. We cannot pretend that Life occurs in a vacuum and that because we are America no one else counts. Because guess what? You can stand up for everything that is right in America, but also realize that actions have consequences, and words do, as well.

    May 20, 2010 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  5. Nick K

    We are all to blame for this headline.

    When we see crap like this we should not entertain it by clicking the link and reading the story. Worse yet we comment on it. CNN.com is free to us because they make money by selling advertising space next to their articles. We encourage them to write this garbage because we read it. Ignoring these hate filled articles means we are not viewing the advertising they are selling and they won’t write them anymore. I will be smarter in the future and not read these stories. Hopefully more people do the same and these ignorant articles will no longer be written.

    May 20, 2010 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  6. Tom, Long Beach, California

    wow, what a bunch of idiots

    May 20, 2010 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  7. yachtboy

    A SPY.? This is Journalism at it worst. CNN owes its readers an apology for such a headline.
    and an apology to Ms. Fakih To impune someone because of her religion / ethnicity by a major U.S. new organization...........There are no words.

    May 20, 2010 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  8. Justbhappy

    Jackie
    Americans are not hateful. We just had our buildings and people blown up to pieces on 9/11 and the last we knew about the culprits is that they shoulted "Allah is Great!" I guess this American "misconception" has turned into a unreasonable phobia in some situations. Two weeks ago the unibrow bomber and last weekend a pageant bombshell. So many bombs is so little time. America is still in a grieving and healing process here and we say downright ignorant crap. But I'm thrilled for Rima. I'm just happy she has brown skin. She looks like a lot of our people in Texas.

    May 20, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  9. Root Cause

    Does anyone else see that these "beauty pageants" are not beneficial in any way shape or form? Basically the purpose of the event is to highly elevate one woman above all others because of her "beauty", talent" and "poise". The message in short denigrates all other women and tells them that they are not the most beautiful because they came up short in these areas. What a tragic situation. How twisted is a society that promotes such an event and concept.

    May 20, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  10. Craig

    I saw a screenshot of this headline and thought it was a joke. Turns out, it's real and CNN is the joke. This sort of garbage reaffirms the decision I made to boycott CNN after you gave Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck shows. CNN used to be a news network. Now, you're Fox News Lite.

    May 20, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wondering

      If you boycotted this site................who is typing with yuor name??????

      OMG!!!
      ALIENS HAVE LANDED!!!

      May 20, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mblond

    how low can you get CNN? garbage news

    May 20, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Michael

    Dear Ms. Nasr,

    As the Senior Editor of a major news blog, even if you are attempting to do a disingenuous "Some people say..." just to gain web hits, you should know that by using a chronically misinformed bigot like Debbie Schlussel as a source for anything, you have failed. Your resignation, or at least admission of journalistic incompetence, would be appreciated but not expected. I expect you'll get a promotion for this. In closing, despite the reassurances from CNN management that you did nothing wrong, I urge you to consider another line of work that carries less of a responsibility to inform people accurately.

    Disgusted,

    Michael

    May 20, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Molly

    CNN is trying anything to bump up their ratings including this pathetic attempt at blogging. Rima is a finance major who is trying to bring attention to her city and state, but all the media wants to do is play up things they can't or don't feel like proving. CNN if you don't want to vanish from the air waves or cyberspace I would carefully rethink your new direction in getting ratings and attention to your website.

    May 20, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Greg

    Oh, CNN. The context without context thing is so, so idiot. I'm assume who ever pooted out this piece once had some professional values, some aspirations as a writer, a journalist, a conveyer of information. Do you cringe as you type this tripe? Do you make promises to yourself that you'll try, once again, to recapture some your old idealism? Or was it always the case you were JUST going to aim for sub-US magazine reportage? There's better writing in the Year in Metal issue of Kerrrrannggg!

    Tell you what. I'm going to go over to Blogspot and start a blog. I am going express the opinion that Miss USA is actually NO LONGER a muslim spy, but has become a neo-confederate Stalinist spy. I'll give you the scoop, too.

    May 20, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. henry porter

    "Miss USA: Muslim Trailblazer Or Hezbollah Spy?"

    Disgusting. Vile. And indefensible, although I'm sure you bigots will try.

    Lest you make the argument, "It was a one-time thing, a simple mistake", let me remind you about "Dep't of Jihad?".

    Once is a mistake, twice is a pattern.

    If this woman had been of Israeli descent, would you have taken a rumor from some anti-semitic web site to make a headline "MIss USA: Jewish Trailblazer or Mossad Spy?".

    You wouldn't.

    That's what shows you're bigots.

    Good luck with being Faux News lite. I'm sure that will work out swimmingly for you. How's your ratings these days, anyway?

    May 20, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
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