Miss USA, Hyphenated

She stumbled a bit on her evening gown, but ended the night standing tall. Rima Fakih, a 24-year-old Lebanese immigrant from Dearborn, MI, won the Miss USA Pageant Sunday night. Although official pageant records are sketchy, Fakih likely became the first Arab-American to don the crown.

Praise erupted for the minor, albeit significant, cultural milestone. And then, as the blogosphere is prone to do, detractors emerged. Daniel Pipes is a former State Department staffer, who tends to find creeping Islamic influence practically everywhere he looks. With surprising speed, he shot up a blog post asserting that Fakih was actually one of several “Muslim women” picking up crowns in pageants across the globe. Her victory was a dubious sign of affirmative action gone amuck.

But Pipes, and his innumerable online backers and bashers, failed to pick up a tiny, intriguing factoid. Fakih was raised mostly in New York, in a Catholic school. Her family, she told pageant organizers, celebrates both Muslim and Christian faiths. Perhaps Pipes saw this and chose to ignore it, believing that the “Muslim” part trumped all others in her hyphenated identity.

Daniel Burke of Religion News Service smartly points out that Fakih’s family belongs to a larger trend of practitioners that embrace multiple religions, seamlessly tying two faiths together at once. KtB has tackled this before. For some, life as a “half-” is trying and divisive. For others, a half-life can bring a rich fullness. (KtB editor Laurel Snyder wrote a whole book(!) about this issue.)

This artful weaving, however, is not always well received by institutions. In a report from last year, Burke tells the story of Rev. Ann Redding, an Episcopal priest who also practices Islam:

Redding, the Muslim Episcopalian, said her two faiths “illumine each other much more than they collide” and that she “doesn’t feel called to spend a lot of time in theological disputes.”

Her denomination didn’t see it that way. They asked her to denounce Islam, or be defrocked.

Details haven’t emerged about Fazih’s family. (Which is fine: it’s a private matter.) Maybe one family member adheres to one faith, a second to another. Or maybe the family blends the two faiths and traditions together, in their own unique way. They may consider themselves half-Muslim, half-Christian. Or fully both.

Plenty of bloggers rose up angrily against the calls of affirmative-action boondoggling in Fakih’s victory. Adam Serwer, I believe, went for the jugular best:

These people aren’t worried about terrorism — they’re offended by the idea of Muslims being integrated into the most mundane and banal aspects of American society.

They might be equally offended, or confused, by those who wield two faiths evenly? What of a both Muslim and ___? Both Christian and ___? Both ___ and ___? How will we handle that?

Mark Bergen is a contributing editor at KtB. He lives in Chicago and blogs here.