Rima Fakih may have won Miss USA just this week, but seeing a polarity between the world she came from and the world she just conquered is a bit simplistic. Newsweek's Christopher Dickey reminds everyone that there is a lot more nuance going on here than bikinis versus burkas:
Burqas in European headlines, bikinis in American ones: which one tells you more about the aspirations of Muslim women? One appears to be primitive and repressed, the other modern, cosmopolitan, and liberated. But the answer is not really so obvious at all. The real test of modernity, including our own, is tolerance. And to the extent that we see Muslim women mainly in terms of dress codes, we're only revealing how much we in the West have let stereotypes take over our view of the vast and complicated culture in which they actually live.
His own experiences reporting in Lebanon, where Fakih was born, concludes contradictions such as the "bearded radicals [who] held Americans hostage at the Beirut airport in 1985" and "Shiite women tanning in their bikinis at a beach club just a couple of miles away." In between is an entire spectrum of choices about religion, personal modesty, and politics.
Dickey interviews Lebanese women writers to get their take on the way the two extremes are represented, including Amal Ghandour, "a Stanford-educated Shiite whose family comes from near Fakih's family's hometown and whose personal taste in clothing runs toward hip London designers."
What's ironic, says Ghandour, is that many of the women who wear the niqab, like some who wear bikinis, see themselves essentially as prizes in the eyes of the men they want to attract. "One decides to veil, the other decides to flaunt," says Ghandour, "but both have internalized the idea of being sex objects as central to their identity."
Can you blame them given how obsessed everyone around them is with their attire and their bodies?