This weekend, Rima Fakih was crowned Miss USA.
As I’m sure you can imagine, I don’t generally give a frig who wins beauty contests. If it was completely up to me, I’d be happy to see them disappear. Nonetheless, Fakih is the first Arab-American, and first Islamic woman, to win Miss USA, and that’s of interest.
The proposed [Quebec] law — Bill 94 — was tabled earlier this year following a controversy over a Montreal woman who refused to uncover her face while attending publicly funded French-language classes for new immigrants.
The bill does not specifically mention any particular religion but says anyone seeking a public service related to security, communication or identification must show their face.
If enacted as it is, said [Pierre Chagnon, head of Quebec’s Bar Association], the law could mean that a Muslim woman visiting Quebec who wears a niqab could be denied information at a tourism office unless she agreed to uncover her face.
I wish I could remember where I saw the link to this story, because whoever posted it said it more clearly than I can: this is discriminating against women for what they wear. I know that France (and by extension Quebec) has a long and complex history of secularization that is difficult for Americans (who have never really separated church and state) to understand fully. And I can entertain arguments that some serious matters of security and/or identification would require something more than being able to see a woman’s eyes.
But language classes? Tourist information? In France, the proposed law will ban the niqab from streets, public transportation, and public places. (In other words, the French law in particular will do what westerners are always crying that Islamic men do: keep women at home and imprisoned.) The Quebecois and French people pushing for these laws aren’t concerned with safety or identification: they’re trying to cut a whole group of women out of the citizenry for what they believe and how they dress. They’re haters, expressing themselves in a French style.
In the U.S., the hatred takes a different form. One standard criticism of Fakih’s victory is that somehow Arab and/or Muslim women have an advantage (yes, really, that’s what they’re saying) in beauty contests. Fortunately, we have the incisive Ta-Nehisi Coates responding:
Whenever a non-white person succeeds at something that is regarded as the province of whites, there’s some sense that the fix is in.
The sense that whites are being cheated in favor of non-whites is as old as slavery itself. White Confederates framed the War as an attempt to cheat whites out of their God-given right to subjugate black people. When colored troops hit the field fighting for the Union, and managed to win a few battles, white Confederates reacted with disbelief, the great diarist Kate Stone said.
The point is that the narrative of white supremacy holds victimhood sacred. It paints whites as the truly put-upon class and asserts that non-white success–black, brown, red, yellow and now “Muslim” — is mostly achieved through vile and despicable means. When reality challenges that view, white supremacy simply moves the goal-post. So in the 19th and early 20th century, blacks were thought of as physically inferior to whites. When blacks succeeded in athletics the logic became that blacks’ “animistic” nature gave them an advantage.
It’s come to beauty pageants, folks. These fools are crying about beauty pageants.
By the way, the assertion in Pipes’ article that Muslim women are winning beauty pageants with “surprising frequency”? Not borne out by Google. At all. All I can find is Fakih and lots of articles about beauty pageants in Arabic countries where one can hardly be surprised if Arabic and/or Muslim women win.
What connects these two stories? They’re both about Islamic women, and they’re both about hatred/bias/discrimination. But together they also illustrate an obvious but almost-never-stated fact about Islamic women:
Islamic women are as different from each other, and exhibit as wide a range of behaviors, interests, preferences, skills, and choices as any other group.