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A beauty and the internet beasts.

Summary: As soon as the name of the latest Miss America surfaced, the inevitable wave of ignorant speculation and crude stereotyping began to crest. As soon as the name "Rima Fakih" shot across the internet, the internet fired back, with the news item that "Rima Fakih Hizbullah" has become the latest search "hit" on google.The selection of Miss Fakih, who hails from the

Editorial

As soon as the name of the latest Miss America surfaced, the inevitable wave of ignorant speculation and crude stereotyping began to crest. As soon as the name "Rima Fakih" shot across the internet, the internet fired back, with the news item that "Rima Fakih Hizbullah" has become the latest search "hit" on google.

The selection of Miss Fakih, who hails from the deep south of Lebanon, wasn't a huge surprise. The bookmakers had her as a 16/1 favorite, odds that were better than those of most of her competitors. If one has a sound understanding of the history of the United States, a country that exhibits fascinating strains of both racism and multiculturalism, the result wasn't that shocking.

In any case, the upshot is that the president of the US and its national beauty queen, in 2010, happen to share the same "middle" name: Hussein. If someone had predicted this in 2001, polite nods and smiles would have followed, along with curiosity about the identity of the planet that the person inhabited.

Unfortunately, the responses to Fakih's win in this iconic beauty pageant have also been predictable. Local conspiracy theorists might think such events are a "fix." Despite the controversies that might mar individual events, in general, such competitions are a long, drawn-out process, based largely on merit.

That a young woman of Lebanese origin managed to win the event tells us much about the drive of individual Lebanese in the diaspora: this is where, freed of a stifling sectarian and corrupt system, they can make their mark as individuals, and, hopefully, make positive contributions to society, and not just their pockets.

Rima Fakih as Miss America has also generated the instant, crude "smear campaign." It wasn't just an American reaction, since a leading French satellite station also made the instant link: Fakih = Hizbullah. There are Hizbullah officials from that family, so ... voila.

Such negative spin is ludicrous, but it must be combated, and the simple fact that Fakih is a fairly typical Shiite girl who happened to go to Catholic school is the simplest of all talking points to counter the ignorant view that Muslim means "hater of all things non-Muslim."

However, our local politicians' general silence might be the most worrying element of all. Rima Fakih is an achiever and an ideal candidate to help promote Lebanon. On a night when one Miss America candidate defended the Arizona immigration law, Miss Fakih wasn't afraid to say on national television that health insurance should cover birth control pills. A Lebanese-American beauty queen with something courageous to say on the issues?

Our politicians should begin planning now for a way to invite Rima Fakih to Lebanon this summer, since her success and independence could inspire us all.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:May 20, 2010
Words:541
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