Arab-American Media Cheer Miss USA Rima Fakih

Arab-American Media Cheer Miss USA Rima Fakih

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Rima Fakih’s ascendance as the first Muslim and first Arab American to win the Miss USA beauty pageant is stirring the hearts and minds of many in the Arab-American media, many of whom believe her coronation could have a lasting impact fighting stereotypes against Arabs across sectors. 1983 Miss USA Winner Julie Hayek was rumored to be the first Arab-American Miss USA (half Lebanese father) but recent reports confirm that Hayek is of Czech and German descent.

Antoine Faisal, publisher, Aramica Newspaper, Brooklyn, N.Y.

At first glance, I didn’t believe it. Of course, I was happy for her and the timing is impeccable. Arabs and Muslims have been longing for an achievement. She is a collective hero. I think it will help the image of Arabs and Muslims, but it depends on what she does, and if she manages to carry herself properly. For example there were winners in the past who had scandals, but I think she’ll do great and may be one of the most media-hyped Miss USAs in the past two or three decades because of her background.

Ray Hanania, Arab Writers Group, host, Radio ChicagoLand, Chicago, Ill.

I was excited when she made the top 10. I thought, ‘You know what, she stands out.’ I realized that when she made it to the top five that she would win. This will open up a lot of doors. It’s a statement of diversity. Very few A-list minorities, such as Asians, African Americans, Latinos, have won the title, and fewer B-list minorities, so we might join the A-list sooner and be treated more equally. We’re just a negative story all the time and there are very few moments for Arab Americans to appreciate a victory like this. She breaks all the stereotypes. By itself, it’s just a beauty pageant, but in the bigger scheme of things, it’s one more nail in the coffin of bias, breaking the barriers. She is Arab and Muslim, and this is important in the wake of 9-11. Rima wears her culture on her shoulders.

Ahmed Tharwat, producer, Belahdan TV, Minnetonka, Minn.

I knew she was going to win, in this post 9-11 time, any Muslim that takes off their clothes is exciting. They (media) want to manufacture a new look for Arab and Muslim Americans. I understand the positive aspect of her winning, and this is the only way to be in mainstream media, positively, but I don’t think the perception of Arabs and Muslim Americans is going to change. This may have a very limited impact, because you can’t change people’s minds just like that. This is something that needs to be discussed through education.

Amani Ghouleh, publisher, The Arab Horizon Newspaper, Oak Lawn, Ill.

I called my kids to come watch it with me and told them she was Arab American. They were jumping up and down. I didn’t think she would win because of her background. She is also an immigrant and Muslim, and came from Lebanon when she was young. The community here is happy and proud of her. This shows the true reflection, that Arab Americans have and can achieve their dreams—she has opened the door. It’s absolutely positive attention for Arabs in mainstream media, but I’m sad to hear the negative remarks already made about her. Any manipulating of who she is must be challenged. The media attention should shift to what Arab Americans are and celebrate their beauty.

Fatima Atieh, publisher, Al Enteshar Al Arabi Newspaper, Los Angeles, Calif.

I was very happy for her and so is the community, but I wasn’t surprised. She is beautiful and intelligent, and that is why she won. She has a vibrant personality, she knows her community, and we are proud of her. However this is not the only achievement Arabs have realized. There are several Arab-American academics, politicians, and leaders making great contributions every day, that go unrecognized because they are Arab. For example, Arab-American Sami Asmar is an important astronaut in American history. Anyone connected to an Arab or Muslim background will be connected to terror in the media. I don’t think the image (of Arabs and Muslims) is going to change because she won. The stereotypes in the media are too deep.

Osama Siblani, publisher, The Arab American News, Dearborn, Mich.

We’re very thrilled this is happening and we’re very proud of her. This is good for our community. We need something to brag about. It gave Dearborn a boost and will do good for Michigan. Of course there is a stigma that we live with. I’m sure America will open its heart and sooner or later, you’ll see Arabs and Muslims elected in more places. This is a giant leap in the right direction, and an immigrant dream come true. She came here when she was 7 years old, she did not change her name, her identity, or her religion, and she made it to Miss USA. At the end of the day, there are people angry that an Arab American is Miss USA, but those are the racists hurting progress. She is Arab American, Muslim, from this community, but she is Miss USA now, and that is what we need to focus on.

Marwan Ahmad, publisher, Arab Voice and Muslim Voice, Phoenix, Ariz. 

I had mixed feelings, more positive than negative, but this definitely sheds light on a member of the Arab American community that is not  stereotypical. I did think her background would have an impact and she might not win, but this shows that the judges are neutral. She has a great opportunity to be a voice for the Arab community and show Americans that she is educated and open-minded. This will be a different side of Arabs for them to see. Rima Fakih is full Arab and clearly looks it.  We’re targeted more now, we’re viewed more negatively. The point is she won and this is an opportunity that needs to be used positively.

Ameera David, Web content producer, writer,, Dearborn, Mich.

I was in complete and utter shock. I couldn't believe this Arab-American girl was now Miss USA. I became excited by the idea that she would help to reshape the perception of Arab Americans and Arabs in general. I thought, ‘This is our chance!’ The community feels marginalized and not equal to everyone else. If they feel they are not treated as equals, how could they expect to be treated as equals in a competition of this magnitude? Miss USA Rima Fakih defies stereotypes -- that Arab, Muslim women are oppressed by men and have no individual rights. They think they condone terrorism and are not patriotic. I think Rima has gotten attention as the 'first Arab American' for a few reasons. One reason is that she was not born in this country. She was born in Lebanon and therefore is an immigrant. Also, Rima being a native of the largest concentrated Arab-American community in America also keys her in as someone very close to her culture and roots.