Nevertheless, when Dearborn, Michigan’s Rima Fakih won Donald Trump’s Miss USA competition in May of 2010, I couldn’t help but crack a smile. Although my hostility towards the very idea of a beauty pageant never waned, I strongly felt that Rima’s victory challenged Americans to question popular depictions of (physical) beauty and their own preconceived notions about Arabs, Muslims, and sexuality. Don’t misunderstand me. Rima is, of course, physically beautiful according to typical American standards; she would not have become Miss USA otherwise.
However, she is clearly not your average white-bread beauty queen. Between her name, thick black hair, and olive skin, she couldn’t help but distinguish herself from the rest of the competition the moment she stepped on stage. As a result, I have to admit that, even though I have never met her, I’m proud of Rima and happy that she won. Her victory may have helped other Arab American women feel more confident (not that any woman needs a beauty contest to feel vindicated) or, at the very least, may have encouraged young women everywhere to disregard society’s stereotypes about how a “typical” woman – from any culture – should behave.
On February 22nd, I was perusing MLive.com, one of my go-to sites for all things Michigan, when I saw an article about Rima Fakih. To my horror, I learned that Rima decided to try her hand at another “competition”: USA Network’s “Tough Enough.” Yes, that’s right. Rima Fakih wants to become a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Diva.
I can think of few things that are more degrading than being a WWE Diva. Nevermind the trashy outfits and the soft-core porn performances that take place in front of thousands of drooling idiots. I just can’t imagine that any self-respecting person would choose to go and work for the likes of Vince McMahon, the scumbag that owns WWE.
With McMahon at the helm, WWE is a war-mongering racist corporation that unashamedly supports America’s occupation of Iraq and has a history of discrimination against Arabs and Muslims. Although there have been countless Arab and Muslim characters on WWE, there are two that clearly stand-out: the Iron Sheik (not to be confused with Will’s hip-hop stage name) and Muhammad Hassan, aka Mark Copani.
According to his biography, the Iron Sheik left behind a life of amateur wrestling in Tehran and made his WWE debut in 1979 (what a coincidence…). Known by his signature move called the “Camel Clutch,” the Iron Sheik won the WWE championship in 1983 and then moved on to tag-team wrestling in 1985 (go figure, his partner was Mocow native Nikolai Volkoff). The Iron Sheik also never missed an opportunity to be as obscene as possible, and tried his hardest to portray Iranians as ignorant and racist. For example, some of his more famous quotes are: “I’m a real Shia Muslim,” “He is a cheap Jew son of a bitch,” and “I born in Iran but made in America.” To be sure, the Iron Sheik’s complicity in the denigration of his Iranian identity makes him just as much responsible for WWE’s racist programming as Vince McMahon.
Raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark Copani’s father is Palestinian and his mother is Italian. He assumed the stage name Muhammad Hassan in December 2004 and was at the center of controversy following a July 2005 performance on UPN’s Smackdown. To make a long story short, Hassan knelt near the ring in “prayer” while five masked men attacked the Undertaker after he defeated Daivari, an Iranian American wrestler that poses as an Arab American. After choking the Undertaker unconscious, the masked men knelt down in “prayer” while Hassan lifted the Undertaker’s head up for the camera “in a scene that looked eerily like a beheading.”
Worse, the episode’s controversy wasn’t due to its clearly racist content. The show happened to air the same day as the July 7th bombings in London, which sent viewers into a frenzy over WWE’s “insensitivity.”
If WWE’s racist exploitation of Arabs and Muslims through characters like the Iron Sheik and Muhammad Hassan aren’t enough to dissuade Rima from becoming a WWE Diva, she should consider what happened to Stephanie McMahon, Vince’s daughter, when she appeared on WWE for the first time. When Stephanie entered the ring to the crowd’s chants of “Slut, Slut, Slut,” she singlehandedly revealed WWE for what it is: a sleazy, sexist, ignorant free-for-all that caters to America’s innermost patriarchal tendencies. And while one could argue that WWE should not be judged by its fans’ actions, we must remember Linda McMahon’s response to ABC’s Bill Weir when he asked her about the incident involving her daughter. According to the Huffington Post article, McMahon said that the incident was “simply a symptom of the show being a ‘soap opera,’” adding that, “It was acting. WWE is the longest running weekly episodic program in television, so sure, there are some storylines that are better than others.”
Rima, I understand that your publicist(s) may be putting pressure on you to take this WWE gig. I understand that, considering the poignant anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment that pervades American popular culture, you may have found it difficult to secure opportunities from other mainstream avenues. I also understand that you are trying to get paid, a not-so-easy thing these days, especially if you’re still living in Michigan.
Yet, I urge you to reconsider your decision to participate in USA Network’s “Tough Enough.” While I realize that one must make sacrifices in order to “make it big” in the world of show-business, glitz, and glamour, being a WWE Diva is one sacrifice that you need not make. In fact, it may be one of the biggest mistakes of your life.
(This post first appeared on kabobfest.com and can be found here)