article

05.17.10

Miss USA's Defense

Right-wing blogs are flaming Miss USA winner Rima Fakih, the first-ever Muslim to win the crown. Benjamin Sarlin talks to the pageant's organizer, who slams the critics' "ignorance."

Right-wing blogs are flaming Miss USA winner Rima Fakih, the first-ever Muslim to win the crown. Benjamin Sarlin talks to the pageant's spokeswoman, who slams the critics' "ignorance." PLUS, watch the 7 best moments from the pageant.

Organizers for the Miss USA competition are pushing back against an explosion of right-wing criticism aimed at yesterday’s winner, Rima Fakih.

A number of conservative bloggers, including Daniel Pipes, a Bush appointee to the U.S. Institute of Peace and adviser to Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign, are slamming the Miss USA organization for rigging the contest in the name of political correctness. In a blog post, Pipes said he suspected “an odd form of affirmative action” at hand and published a reader email accusing pageant organizers of promoting black and Hispanic contestants at well. This was quite tame in comparison to blogger Debbie Schlussel, who labeled Fakih, who represented Michigan, “Miss Hezbollah.”

None of the bloggers provided any evidence that the competition’s judges were corrupt. A spokeswoman for the Miss USA competition, Lark-Marie Anton, told The Daily Beast that Fakih’s critics were way off base and the contest was conducted fairly.

“I don't believe this has anything to do with affirmative action and I am saddened by the ignorance surrounding her multicultural heritage.”

"The panel of judges selected Rima as the winner,” Anton said in an email. “I don't believe this has anything to do with affirmative action and I am saddened by the ignorance surrounding her multicultural heritage.”

Added Anton:

“The United States is the land of opportunity and she is the epitome of what it means to be American. We are a melting pot of cultures and her family has the entrepreneurial spirit that defines coming as an immigrant to this country to make a better life."

Last year’s Miss USA competition was marred by a culture-war controversy as well, when social conservatives rose to defend Miss California Carrie Prejean after she said that “marriage should be between a man and a woman” in response to a question from celebrity blogger and pageant judge Perez Hilton. Pundits in conservative media, like Fox News’ Gretchen Carlson, are raising a similar issue this year, pointing to an answer by runner-up Miss Oklahoma in support of Arizona’s recent immigration law to suggest—again without evidence—that politics may have played a hand in her loss.

As Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall notes, the attacks from Pipes and similarly minded bloggers on Muslim beauty contestants is odd given that one of their chief criticisms of Islamic culture is the treatment of women in countries like Saudi Arabia, such as the required use of veils, burkas, and hijabs to cover themselves. Fakih, who sported a bathing suit during the competition and answered a question on whether birth control should be covered by health insurance, hardly looks like a Trojan Horse for radicalism.

But we’ll let readers decide for themselves whether Fakih is unqualified. Here’s a picture.

Other Links from Around the Web:
Miss USA: ‘I Didn’t Do Anything Wrong’ ( Today)
Miss USA’s Sexpot Hypocrisy ( Salon)

Benjamin Sarlin is Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.