LEBANON: First Muslim Miss USA winner derided as 'Miss Hezbollah USA' by conservatives
Some right-wing American bloggers are convinced Rima Fakih is the latter.
When the sparkling tiara was placed atop the Lebanese-born Shiite Muslim's long, dark tresses on Sunday night, making the 24-year-old marketing executive from Dearborn, Mich., the first Muslim woman to win the Miss USA contest, it was just much for some conservative commentators.
Fakih happens to have the same last name as some officials in the militant Lebanese Shiite political party Hezbollah, causing right-wing blogger Debbie Schlussel to dub the beauty queen "Miss Hezbollah USA" and accuse Fakih of being a radical Muslim financed by "Islamic terrorists."
"It's a sad day in America but a very predictable one, given the politically correct, Islamo-pandering climate in which we're mired. The Hezbollah-supporting Shi’ite Muslim, Miss Michigan Rima Fakih -- whose bid for the pageant was financed by an Islamic terrorist and immigration fraud perpetrator -- won the Miss USA contest," Schlussel wrote in one of her many recent posts condemning Fakih.
In one blog post, Schlussel attempts to trace Fakih's alleged Hezbollah family ties, juxtaposing pictures of Fakih wearing a bikini and ripped black stockings with images of "martyred" Lebanese Shiite resistance fighters and Hezbollah logos.
However, Schlussel's theory of Fakih being a die-hard Hezbollah supporter who is engaging in "deception of the infidels to further the cause of Islam/jihad" in part by wearing raunchy outfits was quickly dismissed by other analysts.Magnus Ranstorp, a Swedish political scientist and an expert on Hezbollah, called the scenario "ludicrous," according to an article published in the Miami Herald.
And just like many other large Shiite Lebanese clans, the Fakih family consists of a diverse mixture of ideologies and religious views, with some members supporting militant groups like Hezbollah and the Lebanese Amal movement while others are secular Shiites and even Communists, reported the Associated Press.
As for Fakih herself, she says her family celebrates Muslim and Christian holidays, and, despite Islamic strictures requiring modesty for women, relatives encouraged her to compete in beauty competitions. The pageant winner has reportedly lived in the U.S. since 1993 and used to attend a Catholic school in Beirut during her early childhood.
Her victory in the Miss USA contest -- despite nearly stumbling on the long train of her white evening dress -- has been hailed by the Arab American community. Fakih, with her immigrant tale, has been described by some as the poster girl of modern America.
The beauty queen is now also the pride of her southern Lebanese hometown of Sfria, located in a country where beauty and glamour are of high importance.
"She is an honor to us, a honor to all of southern Lebanon," her paternal aunt Afifa Fakih Said in Srifa was quoted as saying by Agence France Presse.
"We are so often described as terrorists and killers, but we Shiites love life and beauty -- and mainly the beauty of the soul, which is what is so special about Rima," she continued.
As for Hezbollah, one of its party members, Hassan Fadlallah, offered the following comment on Fakih's victory in an interview with Lebanese television on Tuesday:
"The criteria through which we evaluate women are different from those of the West."
During the pageant, Fakih displayed the kind of modern sensibilities that are anathema to Muslim fundamentalists. She strutted across a Las Vegas stage at the Miss USA contest wearing a minimal orange and gold bikini. She told the judges that birth control pills should be covered by health insurance.
But allegations that Fakih is a radical Muslim probably should have been debunked on Monday, when revelations that she once won a pole-dancing contest emerged in the media.
Pictures show Fakih sliding up and down a pole at a strip club in Detroit three years ago wearing red hot pants, a blue tank top and high heels. One photo shows her wearing a bra stuffed with dollar bills.
It was not immediately known whether the organizers of Miss USA were aware of Fakih's participation in the 2007 "Stripper 101" contest at the Coliseum Gentlemen's Club, but the Detroit-based radio show that published the photos on the Internet after Fakih's Miss USA win claim they had been contacted by pageant representatives, reported Britain's the Daily Mail.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photos, from top: Lebanese-born Rima Fakih, the first Muslim woman to win the Miss USA pageant, has been dubbed "Miss Hezbollah USA" by some conservative American bloggers because her last name is the same as some officials in the militant
Lebanese Shiite political party Hezbollah. Credit: Isaac Brekken / Associated Press