(AFP) – May 19, 2010
CHICAGO — The controversy began as soon as the glittery diamond tiara was lowered on Rima Fakih's dark tresses.
Is she the first Muslim Miss USA? Will she be able to keep the title after photos surfaced of Fakih winning a pole-dancing contest?
And -- on the conservative blogosphere -- is she a secret Islamist extremist?
Fakih, a Lebanese immigrant from Dearborn, Michigan who was raised in both the Christian and Muslim faiths, is clearly no fundamentalist.
But her willingness to parade around in a microscopic bikini on national television did not stop conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel from insisting that Fakih was a radical because she shares her family name with some officials in Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese Shiite Muslim group which Washington lists as a terrorist organization.
Hours after Fakih's Las Vegas win Sunday night, the ill-sourced and illogical rumor went viral, with "rima fakih hezbollah" becoming a suggested search term on Google.
The idea is "ludicrous," said Magnus Ranstorp, a Swedish political scientist and one of the world's leading experts on Hezbollah.
"She would be flogged if she showed up in any of Hezbollah's neighborhoods in Beirut," Ranstorp said.
Arab-American and Muslim groups hailed Fakih's win as a sign of the diversity of their culture and their role in American society.
The photos of Fakih gyrating on stage in a 2007 "Stripper 101" contest -- not nude, although she was rubbing up against a pole in a tight t-shirt and super-short shorts -- cast a pall on celebrations.
Fakih won the contest during an all-female class sponsored by a local radio station, which insists that she should be able to keep her crown.
Times have certainly changed since Vanessa Williams -- herself a trailblazer as the first African-American to win the Miss America crown -- was forced to relinquish the title in 1984 after nude photos of her were published in "Penthouse" magazine. Fakih never took her clothes off.
Pageant officials, who courted controversy by having this year's contestants pose in far more revealing lingerie than in previous pageants, have so far declined to comment.
Fakih's blog and twitter accounts have also remained mum.
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