Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Will Arab Miss USA rebrand America and its Muslims?

Since last Sunday night’s MISS USA crowning of 24-year old Rima Fikah, Arab-American Muslim of Lebanese origin, the controversy over her cultural heritage and possible terrorist links is surging as the national talk of the town. The Atlantic online has even dedicated an “Outrage by Miss Arab USA” blog: http://www.theatlantic.com/

I’m not Arab-American (I’m Afghan born) but as a Muslim immigrant myself, I am excited about the 2010 MISS USA. While I may not go out and aspire to compete for Mister USA or Mister Universe—if there one exists—Miss Fikah gives people originally from my part of the world—a desperately needed make-over from all the ugly clichés. Beyond the sensational hype and visual stimulation of seeing a pretty Muslim woman in a bikini, Miss USA just might also be a boon for the economy.

It's no secret that during the Bush Administration, the US failed miserably to rebrand America especially in the eyes of the 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide, many who still perceive the US as fighting a War against Islam. While anti-Americanism is still fixated on US foreign policy mishaps in the Middle East, the rise of rock-star President Barack Obama, who hails the “Hussein” middle name, lived in the most populous Muslim country, and hails from a patrilineal Muslim ancestry, has softened the widespread American hatred that existed during the Bush years.

Perhaps when Advertising Age announced Obama in October 2008 as their “national brand” choice of the marketer of the year they were on to something. It turns out the in first year as President, Barack Obama boosted the value of “Brand America” (the value of U.S. goods, services, and people, and even the country’s landscape) by just over $2 trillion, according to the National Brand Index.

If perception becomes reality, then it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or billionaire entrepreneur to estimate the unique selling power and novelty of having a very beautiful Muslim immigrant crowned Miss USA—as an enticing PR campaign to entice “brand America” on the global market. It’s hard to know if this is exactly what Donald Trump and other judges had in mind when they made their selections. But what is certain is that choosing the native “Phoenician” cosmopolite, over the nativist Oklahoma contestant, Morgan Elizabeth Woolard, who represents American isolationism with her endorsement of Arizona’s insular immigration laws, definitely was a triumph for globalization.

Miss Fikah is an example of why America should also be judged for its best—and not always for its worst. Fikah, a resident of Michigan, which has the worst US unemployment rate, may just be the best spokesperson to publicize her home state on the international stage. Michigan, coincidently also has the largest concentration of Arab-Americans, with approximately half a million people, according to Zogby International polls.

Beyond what Miss USA will do for American capital investments, Miss USA’s win is also symbolically meaningful for the millions of Muslim Americans who have seen their community denigrated in the post 9/11 “fear mongering” headlines or used as scapegoats of “smear” during election cycles.

After nearly a decade of relentless Muslim bashing, I’m excited that the national media spotlight recognizes Muslim Americans not with suspicion or a dangerous threat to national security but as an appealing and attractive icon—even being depicted as chic objects of sexual desire is positive step in the right direction. In the eyes of the larger American population, Muslims maybe for once viewed through a glamorous kaleidoscope--one that eventually paves the way for greater acceptance of Muslims into all aspect of public life. That’s certainly a win-win deal for American interests and its evolving Muslim community.

Biography Tag Line: Nemat Sadat is a candidate for the master’s degree in Negotiation & Conflict Resolution at Columbia University. He currently blogs for OhMyGov.com. Sadat also has a master's degree in Journalism from Harvard University.

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