WASHINGTON — To win the title of Miss USA, Rima Fakih paraded across a Las Vegas stage in a nearly microscopic bikini. She skirted disaster when she almost tripped in her glittery white evening gown. Finally, she told the judges that health insurance should cover birth control pills.
Fakih, a 24-year-old Arab-American whose family hails from Lebanon, has almost nothing in common with the religious zealots who inspire militant Islam. Yet the tiara had scarcely come to rest on her cascading dark tresses Sunday night when the far reaches of the right-wing blogosphere went ballistic.
Debbie Schlussel, a conservative blogger, charged that Fakih was a radical Muslim because she shares her family name with some officials in Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese Shiite Muslim group.
The Jewish Internet Defense Force, a pro-Israeli website, proclaimed it "a dark day for America."
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Daniel Pipes, an outspoken neoconservative author and former adviser to Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign, wondered about "this surprising frequency of Muslims winning beauty pageants" — he listed five examples in three countries since 2005 — and suggested that the Donald Trump-owned Miss USA pageant had bowed to affirmative action.
Arab community leaders in Fakih's hometown of Dearborn, Mich., have hailed her win as a sign of the diversity of their culture. For all the stereotypes of servile Arab women trapped in a deeply conservative society, Fakih's appearance alongside blond, blue-eyed contestants from Oklahoma and Colorado seemed to validate what Imad Hamad, the director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Dearborn, said was "the richness of America."
Nevertheless, by Monday afternoon "rima fakih hezbollah" had become a suggested search term on Google.
Magnus Ranstorp, a Swedish political scientist and one of the world's leading experts on Hezbollah — Arabic for "Party of God" — said it was "ludicrous" to suggest that Fakih, whose family includes Christians and Muslims, is a Hezbollah sympathizer.
With her low-cut gown and jewel-encrusted bracelet — not to mention the tiny bikini, "She would be flogged if she showed up in any of Hezbollah's neighborhoods in Beirut," the Lebanese capital, Ranstorp said.
If there was any doubt about that, it may have been erased Monday, when pictures surfaced of Fakih dancing in a stripper contest — with $1 bills stuffed into her tight-fitting top — as part of a 2007 Detroit radio station promotion.
Fakih won the contest, according to the "Mojo in the Morning" radio show, and took home prizes that included jewelry, gift certificates, adult toys and "a stripper pole for home use."
Even that revelation, however, did nothing to deter Schlussel, whose biography at debbieschlussel.com says she holds law and business degrees from the University of Wisconsin, and who last week wrote a post titled "Reason 883,254 Not to Eat at Muslim-Owned Falafel Shops."
Fakih was merely engaging in "deception of the infidels to further the cause of Islam/jihad," Schlussel wrote Monday.