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If you come to the site regularly, or even occasionally, you realize these daily columns are each an attempt to examine a current issue in depth – six ways from Sunday, as they say – to figure out just what’s going on. That’s why these odd essays average three thousand words or so. You don’t want to leave anything out, or slight any point of view that seems to have some merit. You want to explore everything. You want to get to the bottom of things.

And that’s what an essay is after all – the word derives from the French infinitive essayer, “to try” or “to attempt” – and Montaigne started it, so blame him. He used the term to characterize his “attempts” to put his thoughts, adequately, into writing, as keeping a commonplace book of short bursts of what he hoped was insight just wasn’t cutting it for him. Francis Bacon picked up on this idea and wrote his famous essays, starting the English-language essay tradition. But the idea remained the same. The point isn’t to persuade or advocate, rather it’s to explore an idea or issue – and not cheat by taking lazy shortcuts. And yes, in this age of scattershot sound-bite advocacy and impatience and anger, and outrage real or feigned for political ends, where everyone seems to have the attention span of a gnat, there may be no interest in such things. But that’s fine. A few of us simply enjoy the process – drilling down, thinking things through and seeing where it all leads. It’s kind of fun, in its way. And if not many want to tag along that’s okay too. Others like the clever bumper-sticker stuff. Which you prefer is your business.

But sometimes you don’t want to explore, you just want to get something on record, to note that it actually happened. One day you want to be able to look back and giggle, or sigh – you know, like with your high school yearbook. Was that really you? Did you really look like that, once? Did you really do those things?

And on Monday, May 17, a national controversy erupted that was one of those things that will seem beyond silly soon enough, but for a moment or two seemed really, really important. Well, it seemed really, really important to some people. And that calls for a record that this thing happened, not an essay. Think of it like a snapshot you took on that vacation on Cape Cod, or like those pictures of you in the yearbook. Damn – that really happened.

And this controversy was, as they say, killer:

Donald Trump’s Miss USA pageant sure knows how to make headlines.

Arab-Americans rejoiced Monday over the crowning of raven-haired beauty Rima Fakih, a 24-year-old Lebanese immigrant from Michigan, calling it a victory for diversity in the United States, especially at a time when Arabs suffer from negative stereotypes in this country – and anti-immigrant sentiment is in the news.

Meanwhile, some harsh critics wondered if Trump’s Miss USA organization was trying to send a message, sniping that the victory amounted to “affirmative action,” or implying the first runner-up, Miss Oklahoma USA, suffered unfairly because of an answer she gave supporting Arizona’s new immigration law.

What? Who cares? But this came a year after 2009 runner-up Carrie Prejean and her views on gay marriage were the talk of nation. The hot-button political and social issues of the day had found a new home. And you remember how that went – in the Miss California USA thing one pageant judge, the quite-gay gossip blogger Perez Hilton used his final question to ask Prejean about same-sex marriage laws in the United States, and used his absurdly popular blog to publicize her response:

Well, I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one way or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And, you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman.

That seemed harmless enough, but everyone got their backs up – all the mockery and blog posts meant everyone was picking on her, a good Christian girl, with impressive fake boobs the pageant paid for. Others said she should be stripped of her title – she was an anti-gay bigot. She was on Fox News screaming bloody murder and everyone else was scratching their heads. Later she was stripped of her Miss California USA crown for breach of contract – she wasn’t showing up for events. And there was all the litigation between Prejean and the Miss California organization was settled in November 2009, the month she released her book, Still Standing: The Untold Story of My Fight against Gossip, Hate, and Political Attacks (with a forward by Sean Hannity).

What was all that about, really? But the National Organization for Marriage used footage from the pageant for a television advertisement that warned that same-sex marriage activists wanted to silence opposition – they’re out to get us, or at least to make us all shut up. And Prejean hired a Christian public relations firm, and she presented an award at the Gospel Music Association’s 2009 Dove Awards in Nashville, and spoke at Liberty University – just like Glenn Beck just did.

But of course there had been complications:

The sudden end to a legal battle between dethroned Miss California USA Carrie Prejean and pageant officials was prompted by the revelation of a “sex tape,” according to a source familiar with the lawsuits’ settlement.

It seems when she was seventeen she made a videotape or two, or more, where she’s in the altogether having no end of fun demonstrating the joys of self-stimulation with total abandon when you know others are watching and you can tell them how wonderful the experience really is. Fox News moved into everyone-makes-mistakes mode. Her status as martyr of the evangelical Christian right dimmed a bit, but not that much. It was all very odd.

And now there’s this new controversy with its parallels, including Miss Oklahoma saying what the Christian right wanted to hear – Arizona’s papers-please law harassing any and all Hispanics is way cool – and Miss Oklahoma lost, damn it. And of course there is this:

If all that weren’t enough, photos emerged of Fakih pole-dancing in skimpy shorts and a tank top in a radio show contest in 2007. The show’s producers said they’d been contacted by representatives of the Miss Universe contest requesting more photographs and information. But the show also noted – correctly – that the photos were no more provocative than anything on the Miss USA website.

Commentators on the right were all over that anyway – that was not much different than a naked seventeen-year-old girl grinning at the camera and purring now watch me do this, or something.

But the AP reports the other side:

In any case, Arab-Americans were elated by the victory of Fakih, who was born into a powerful Shiite family in southern Lebanon and whose family said they celebrate both the Muslim and Christian faiths.

“With all the stigma that goes around – especially after 9/11 and how people portray Muslims and Arab-Americans – it’s just a great way to knock down all those barriers,” said Dewnya Bakri-Bazzi, 22, a Muslim law student from Dearborn…

Abed Ayoub, the legal director for the Washington-based Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, called the win significant. “It shows our country’s diversity and the opportunity it offers all citizens.”

He decried the negative blog postings as “disgusting.”

“Rima had a great event,” he said. “Her religion and race was not an issue during the competition, and I hope not during the judging either. She won on beauty, elegance and eloquence.”

There’s much more at the link, but you get the idea. And there’s this:

Fakih was born in Srifa, a village in southern Lebanon that was heavily bombed during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. She moved to the United States with her family in 1993 and attended a Catholic school in New York. Her family moved to Michigan in 2003.

What is the big deal here?

See Michelle Malkin for that:

She nearly tripped over her gown.

She called birth control a “controlled substance.”

She argued that contraceptives should be covered by health insurers because they are “expensive” – and then said you could get them for “free” from your OB/GYN’s office.

Yep, dumb. But this was not the four-hour orals where you defend your PhD thesis. It was a beauty pageant. But Malkin sees a conspiracy to deny the white American girl the honor of being Miss USA, and we know that because the runner-up got a question on the Arizona immigration law in which she echoed the de facto conservative position, which is always the American Truth:

Miss Oklahoma USA, Morgan Elizabeth Woolard, was named first runner-up after handling a question about Arizona’s new immigration law. Woolard said she supports the law, which requires police enforcing another law to verify a person’s immigration status if there’s “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country illegally.

She said she’s against illegal immigration but is also against racial profiling.

“I’m a huge believer in states’ rights. I think that’s what’s so wonderful about America. So I think it’s perfectly fine for Arizona to create that law.”

Malkin:

Looks like the Miss USA pageant didn’t want to risk the wrath of the open-borders mob. Or of that ranting, conservative woman-bashing nutball and former Miss USA judge, Perez Hilton.

But it’s more than that, or so argues the fetching blond and blue-eyed Debbie Schlussel:

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 Shiite 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. I was on top of this story before anyone, telling you about who Fakih is and her extremist and deadly ties.

Schlussel claimed prior to the pageant that Fakih was part of some vast terrorist conspiracy:

Rima Fakih, Miss Michigan USA, who will compete in Sunday Night’s pageant broadcast on NBC, is a Dearbornistan Shiite Muslim who is a supporter of Hezbollah and used the pageant name at a forum promoting Islamic subjugation of women. She was born in the Hezbollah stronghold of Srifa in South Lebanon, which Israel was forced to attack in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war because it was a site of Hezbollah weaponry. Her devout Muslim family comes from the Hezbollah-controlled South Lebanon. Intelligence sources confirm that at least three of Fakih’s relatives are currently top officials in Hezbollah and that at least eight Fakih family members were Hezbollah terrorists killed by the Israelis in past Israel-Lebanese wars and interventions. Some of her family members were originally in Harakat Amal [the Shiite Amal militia], which is now essentially a part of Hezbollah. There’s a reason that even Al-Manar TV – Hezbollah’s official TV network – is high on Fakih in the Miss USA pageant.

It’s all a plot – see this and this – it was Miss Oklahoma’s response to a question about Arizona’s immigration law that guaranteed that Fakih would win. It was a set-up!

So noted – but there’s not much to say. See Jonathan Turley:

It is a sad commentary on our contemporary politics that an Arab-American cannot simply win such a pageant without unleashing such a torrent of hateful conspiracy theories. I do not even like such pageants but it is astonishing how little it takes to vent such anger and prejudice. Of course, even a scarf on a donut commercial in enough to trigger a national boycott today…

You remember that – a woman wearing a black and white scarf in the Dunkin’ Donuts ad that led to a boycott, followed by Dunkin’ Donuts saying they really didn’t secretly support Hezbollah and they were really, really sorry and hoped people would go back to buying their donuts. Yes, the scarf vaguely resembled some sort of Yasser Arafat scarf, but it was a coincidence, and they’d fired people and changed ad agencies and it would never happen again – ever.

But it is odder this time, considering Daniel Pipes – the founder and director of the Middle East Forum, and founder of Campus Watch, an organization which claims to critique poor scholarship concerning the Middle East, but which has been characterized by some critics as a way to harassing scholars critical of Israel.

And he has a record:

In The Nation, Brooklyn writer Kristine McNeil describes Pipes as an “anti-Arab propagandist” who has built a career out of “distortions… twisting words, quoting people out of context and stretching the truth to suit his purpose.” James Zogby argues that Pipes possesses an “obsessive hatred of all things Muslim” and that “Pipes is to Muslims what David Duke is to African-Americans”. Defending Pipes, Jacoby noted that “Pipes has devoted most of his life to an appreciation and understanding of Islamic culture.” Christopher Hitchens, a fellow supporter of the Iraq War and critic of political Islam, has also criticized Pipes, arguing that Pipes pursues an intolerant agenda, “confuses scholarship with propaganda” and “pursues petty vendettas with scant regard for objectivity.”

Pipes’ views gained widespread public attention when they triggered a filibuster in the United States Senate against his nomination by President George W. Bush to the board of the United States Institute of Peace. … While defending Pipes’ nomination, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer distanced Bush from Pipes’ views, saying that Bush “disagrees with Pipes about whether Islam is a peaceful religion.”

And now Pipes writes this on his blog, about several Arab women who’ve won beauty pageants – “They are all attractive, but this surprising frequency of Muslims winning beauty pageants makes me suspect an odd form of affirmative action.”

And he’s done the research – he has the names and dates, and in the Guardian, Michael Tomasky says this:

But this is so shopworn. Yes, Daniel. There is some measure of affirmative action in beauty contests. Why should there not be? It’s not as if there’s any way to prove objectively that a blond and blue-eyed, tall-drink-o-water Southern gal is more beautiful than a Lebanese-American woman from outside Detroit. I feel fairly confident that back in the all-white days, judges exercised affirmative action then too: hey, we haven’t had a New Englander or Midwesterner or redhead or shorter girl in a while…

In point of fact, Rima Fakih, the winner (who is indeed quite a stunner, as many Lebanese women are), beat out a blond, blue-eyed woman from Oklahoma by the name of Morgan Elizabeth Woolard.

So what? And he suggests the whole thing could be offset by this from the Detroit Free Press – “Fakih’s family is itself a blend of cultures and religions, including both Christians and Muslims. Though Muslim, Fakih’s parents celebrate Christmas and have a painting of Jesus in their home.”

And Tomasky goes on to reiterate a comment he has often made about assimilation and popular culture:

As I said then and will say again today, the main reason most Americans have reflexively supported Israel over the decades has to do with the way Jews have made contributions to American life, especially through popular (and to some extent high) culture.

The more Arab-American women who win beauty pageants… the more attitudes will change. This stuff will never replace politics of course, but it can influence it.

And Josh Marshall comments:

Pipes – on the basis of seemingly no evidence at all – thinks this is an example of some sort of perverse affirmative action. But what strikes me as really odd about this is that what usually gets folks like Pipes most up in arms is the hijab – as a symbol of female subordination and anti-modernism, a point that has a lot to say for it. But most of these women Pipes now has a separate beef with are – like most beauty pageant winners – spending a decent amount of their time waltzing around with almost their whole bodies exposed (i.e., in bikinis). So the whole thing leaves me a bit confused. It strikes me as an example of rather successful Westernization.

But what if Donald Trump is a “dhimmi” – a non-Muslim subject of a state governed in accordance with Sharia law? Trump himself is a tool of militant Islam – or so says that Debbie Schlussel. And to that, Steven Taylor at Outside the Beltway says this:

I am not an expert on Sharia law, but I am pretty sure that posing in public in a skimpy two-piece bathing suit is pretty much forbidden. As such, the way in which the victory of Ms. Fakih in the Miss USA contest is evidence of Trump kowtowing to radical Islam is beyond me. Now, Schlussel might have a point if Trump had replaced the bikini with a burqa.

Actually, rather than (as Schlussel claims) “Hezbollah laughing at us” it seems far more likely that this will inflame the rage of some radical Islamists who will see this as further evidence of the corrupting influence of the West.

Indeed, my first reaction when I read that a Muslim had won was that it should be evidence that the Muslim faith can exist in the West without problems rather than evidence of capitulation to Hezbollah. Of course, I also knew that it would probably make some people’s heads explode.

And see Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog with this:

Wow, the evil Muslims who (the right-wingers tell us) are trying to force our innocent womenfolk into burqas and our men into suicide belts sure have a subtle way of achieving their nefarious aims. Not only did their latest agent of infiltration, newly crowned Miss USA Rima Fakih, appear in the pageant in a bikini and in publicity stills in slinky lingerie, and not only did she once enter a radio contest as a pole dancer … but MSNBC reports that she attended Catholic schools in both Lebanon and America.

I’ve doubted the wisdom of the right-wingers, but hey, I’m convinced – what else could all that possibly be but a super-subtle way to lull us all into submission so the SOBs can force us all to pray to Mecca? Right? Isn’t that the most logical explanation?

And Adam Serwer sighs:

The level of anger is just so plainly disproportionate to the matter at hand as to be self-implicating. These people aren’t worried about terrorism – they’re offended by the idea of Muslims being integrated into the most mundane and banal aspects of American society.

Of course they are, and one could write a long essay on the nature of xenophobia – or, alternatively, just take a snapshot, a picture for the yearbook, so one day you can look back and giggle, or sigh.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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