The Miss USA 2010 pageant has produced a winner who some say is the first American of Arab-Muslim heritage to win the title. Apparently Miss Rima Fakih also attended a Catholic school and “told pageant organizers her family celebrates both Muslim and Christian faiths. This may reflect her Lebanese heritage, a reminder of the days when Lebanon appeared to be a model for the coexistence of Christians and Muslims in the Middle East. Her pageant victory will doubtless be celebrated as another example of the big-hearted diversity of American life, which it may well be.
Americans would be foolish to assume, however, that it will play so nicely in the parts of the world where radical mullahs stoke the fires of suicidal fanaticism in order to enlarge the cadre of terrorists willing to risk all to wreak bloody havoc in America. The mullahs will not see photos of Rima Fakih in a bikini; or lacy underwear; or doing some racy (albeit fully clothed) pole dancing (to win a local Detroit radio show’s stripper contest), as inspiring celebrations of Muslim womanhood. Ask Sania Mirza, India’s top female tennis star, how some Muslim religious groups reacted to what Donald Trump would see as functional, prim and proper tennis shorts.
People with an ideological axe to grind may pretend that the hatred of America these terrorism recruiters exploit is all about resentment over economic or political grievances. But if the promotion of uninhibited sexuality can cause even a legendary “sex goddess” like Raquel Welch to comment with concern, imagine the threat these grim mullahs will conjure up from images that treat such sexuality as an acceptable aspect of a Muslim woman’s success.
There are many reasons to retreat from the thoughtless degradation of family and sexual relations that has become commonplace in America’s entertainment culture. For my money, threats from Muslim fanatics aren’t among them. (Appeasement is never a good response to such bullies.) But neither should we ignore the fact that millions of people around the world probably share, in a more intense form, the concerns that Americans also feel (and that lead Apple’s Steve Jobs to see freedom from porn as a desirable, user friendly design feature in the products his company has on the drawing board).
The family based kinship community remains the mainstay of individual identity and social life in large parts of the world. In such areas, the casually licentious depictions of sexuality, now almost obligatory in contemporary entertainment from countries like the U.S., are seen as part of a morally damaging cultural assault, not only against individual parents and families, but against the social structure of entire nations and regions.
Did some people associated with the pageant hope to embarrass Miss Oklahoma with a question about Arizona’s immigration law? Did they think to make some point about her lack of diversity training? In her answer she spoke for a lot of people in many parts of America. If they mean to celebrate the results of their contest as somehow positive for people in other parts of the world, they would do well to consider the obtuse indifference to real cultural diversity evident in its carelessly suggestive elements. In the end, good looks aren’t what human societies can rely on to build a common identity. But showing “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” may very well be. Just food for thought.