Don't Hate Her Because She's Beautiful

By David Seminara on May 19, 2010

We tuned in for a beauty pageant and a debate about immigration broke out. After reading just a small sampling of the revolting attacks on Rima Fakih, the Lebanese immigrant who was crowned the new Miss USA on Sunday night, I feel compelled to comment on how misguided her critics are.

Fakih's story should be a cautionary tale for Americans who believe the stereotype that all Muslim women are subjugated, repressed, and confined to their homes. No matter how you feel about beauty pageants, it takes courage for an Arab-American woman to compete in the Miss USA Pageant. You could argue that her story is the ultimate tale of assimilation. And yet, some on the right want to tarnish her achievement by claiming her win was nothing more than a case of affirmative action, while others, including blogger Debbie Schlussel, have accused her of supporting terrorists.

The fact that some are taking Schlussel's far-fetched accusations seriously (one of her claims is that Fakih is "using the pageant to promote Muslim female subjugation") is just a reminder of how anyone, no matter how ill-informed, can develop a following on the internet. There is even one ignoramus who has written of Fakih, "She is Lebanese. And as far as I understand, that's the liberal "politically correct" way of saying lesbian. So the gay agenda has teamed up with the Muslim agenda."

Alrighty, then. I guess there are still plenty of Americans who aren't ready for a Muslim Miss USA from the Middle East. All of the criticism of Fakih will no doubt reinforce suspicions around the Muslim world that Americans have a problem with their faith – even when it is practiced by a stunningly attractive young woman who is obviously no fundamentalist.

I'm at a loss to understand what Ms. Fakih's detractors want from her. Would they prefer if she insisted on competing in an all-encompassing niqab? Or do they simply not want Muslims to have the right to compete at all?

The pageants runner-up, Miss Oklahoma, Morgan Elizabeth Woolard, also deserves praise for deft handling of a toxic question about Arizona's S.B. 1070. The crowd justifiably booed the question, which was posed by the actor Hector Nunez, but (mostly) applauded Woolard's response, in which she supported the law while also expressing her opposition to racial profiling.

Give Woolard credit for her candid response, but did it cost her the title? There is no way to know, but Ms. Fakih certainly appears to have won on her own merits as far as I'm concerned.