Sunday, May 16, 2010

American Arab will bring Arab culture to Miss Universe Contest

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American Arab will bring Arab culture to Miss Universe Contest
By Ray Hanania

For years, Arabs have wondered why more Arab countries have not participated in the Miss Universe competition showcasing the beauty of the Arab Woman.

There are 22 Arab countries yet only two had the courage (or pride in their women) to field entrants in last year’s Miss Universe Contest, which was held in the Bahamas, where string bikinis replace car bombs and women are truly free.

The only two Arab countries that entered contestants were Egypt and Lebanon. But next year, assuming things don’t improve and the religious extremists shout down the secular moderates again, we will have at least three. For the first time in American history, an American Arab of Lebanese heritage will represent the United States in the 2010 Miss Universe Competition.

Rima Fakih of Dearborn, Michigan, was crowned the 2010 Miss USA in one of the country’s top beauty pageants. Miss. Fakih was selected at the annual competition hosted by Donald Trump at the Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Born in 1986 and only 24 years old, Miss Fakih began her rise to international stardom when she won the 2009 Miss Michigan competition last September.

For me as an American Arab, I am so proud to see that for the first time in American history, a contestant of Arab heritage has won.

Although there are many in the Arab World who object to the competition as violating religiously imposed excesses of modesty on women, Miss Fakih has helped to break the glass ceiling showing the world that Arab beauty is something we should be proud of.

Why is it that a woman in the Arab World has the “right” to make the “choice” to wear a Berqa and face veil (niqab) thereby erasing her physical identity in public, but that same Arab woman does not have the right to wear a bikini in public? I think the Bikini is the symbol of true freedom and the berqa is the sign of the modern day oppression of the Arab woman.

Rima Fakih’s victory Sunday night will help break through that barrier.

It’s one of the hypocrisies that plagues the Arab World, brought on by the religious fanatics, the lowest common denominator in the Middle East. And instead of standing up to it, secular Muslims and Christian Arabs – let’s just call them “Arabs” – are doing nothing to stop this growing oppression.

Miss Fakih was not just about her natural beauty, however. She was smart, intelligent and quick in answering tough questions from the judges. She had planned to enter law school following the Michigan competition, but now her victory in Las Vegas means she stands to compete and possibly win the international competition.

In the secular world, these competitions can help change how the world’s people view people of other races. And for far too long, Arabs have been pushed aside by oppressive restrictions and pejorative attacks.

But Rima Fakih of Michigan will help, as an American Arab, to change how the world views our people and our culture.

She is going to become an amazing ambassador of goodwill championing many causes that touch women of all races, ethnicity and religions. She has vowed to take on issues including raising public awareness of breast and ovarian cancer, sicknesses that have taken the lives of far too many women in this world.

She also helps to put the spotlight on the positive side of the American Arab community, which oftentimes only comes to the front pages of America’s mainstream media during firestorms of negative events and news such as in conflict, terrorism and political confrontation.

America is a nation driven by images, communications that range from movies to the mainstream news media, and having advocates stand at the forefront of American public discourse.

It’s only one of many doors that has been opened. But one day, when all of the door sin America and the West are pushed open, the West and especially the American people might come to better know the real spirit of Arab culture through individuals like Rima Fakih.

I am proud of Rima Fakih but I know that in her achievement, she will face the usual criticism from the extremist corners of the Arab World who are blinded by anger discourse.

We need to support her and encourage her and cheer her on because winning the Miss Universe Contests can only serve to shatter the glass ceiling and add to the movement of empowerment for women of Arab culture in the Arab World and in the West.

Mabruk Rima! We are so proud of your achievement.


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