The paranoid style in comparative politics

The whole beauty pageant brouhaha reminds me that I have an article in the U.K. Spectator about the rise of political paranoia and discontent in the West.  The opening paragraph:

Polio vaccines in Nigeria are part of a Western plot to make African women infertile. Foreign zombies are replacing indigenous labourers in South Africa. Barack Obama was born in Kenya and is a secret Muslim who hates the United States and wants to institute ‘death panels’ to govern the healthcare system. The United States triggered the earthquake in Haiti to expand America’s imperial reach.

Go read the whole thing and see if I'm onto something.... or whether the powers that be have gotten to me already.   

[I'm noticing a trend of zombie references pervading your work.  What's up with that?--ed.  Oh, you're just being paranoid.] 

Daniel W. Drezner

A Very Important Post about.... beauty pageant controversies

Meet the Miss USA winner, Rima Fakih

Last night the Miss USA pageant crowned Rima Fakih the winner.  This is interesting for three reasons:  A)  Fakih is an Arab-American; B)  Fakih's performance in the pageant was a bit underwhelming; and C)  Fakih's victory has triggered a big blog controversy

On the underwhelming performance

In a moment that was replayed during the broadcast, Fakih nearly fell while finishing her walk in her gown because of the length of its train. But she made it without a spill and went on to win....

During the interview portion, Fakih was asked whether she thought birth control should be paid for by health insurance, and she said she believed it should because it's costly.

"I believe that birth control is just like every other medication even though it's a controlled substance," Fakih said.

This prompted Michelle Malkin to argue that the politically correct fix was in

Imagine if those words had come out of the mouth of Carrie Prejean or Sarah Palin.

Between the NYTimes, MSNBC, Jon Stewart, and the late night talkers, we wouldn’t hear the end of it....

Fakih’s cheerleaders are too busy tooting the identity politics horn to care what comes out of her mouth.

Daniel Pipes goes further -- he thinks this is part of a disturbing macrotrend in Western society: 

[Fakih's victory] prompts me to recall some prior instances of Muslim women winning beauty contests in Western countries.

Juliette Boubaaya, 19, was Mlle Picardie in 2009.

Nora Ali was America's Junior Miss in 2007.

Hammasa Kohistani, 19, was Miss England in 2006.

Sarah Mendly, 23, was Miss Nottingham in 2005.

They are all attractive, but this surprising frequency of Muslims winning beauty pageants makes me suspect an odd form of affirmative action.

This has prompted some howls of derision from the liberal side of the political blogosphere, which has in turn provoked counter-howls from the right

Clearly, this is the kind of all-consuming, must-respond debate that your humble blogger has no choice but to work through.

In the interest of being useful to college juniors no doubt pondering a good topic for a senior IR thesis, let's propose three topics that could come from this kerfuffle: 

1)  Has political correctness gotten to beauty pageants?  This is Pipes' and Malkin's thesis.  Malkin at least has an empirical toehold in observing that right-wing contestants might be treated differently than left-wing ones.  Fakih is no former Miss South Carolina --  but if the AP story picked up the contrast between her performance and her victory, well, that justifies some further inquiry. 

Pipes' assertion, however, is just horses**t.  He manages to dredge up the names of five Arab/Muslim women in the span of five years to suggest affirmative action.  Let's be ultraconservative and assume that there are a combined 100 pageants a year in the countries of concern to Pipes.  That means that out of 500 possible contest winners, a whopping 1% of them are Arab and/or Muslim in countries far lower than the percentage of Arab/Muslim populations living in these countries.  That's nothing close to resembling affirmative action. 

2)  How do Arab Muslim beauty pageant contestants define their identity?  Liberty Pundit interprets the issue this way:  "She’s in America. She’s doing what beautiful American girls do. She’s acting Western."  Is this assertion true?  I would anticipate that in-depth interviews of the contestants would be required -- as well as a control sample of non-Muslim contestants to ensure a sufficiently divergent set of cases. 

3)  Is what's good for the pageant good for the winner?   Jonathan Turley notes the recent injection of politics into the pageant interviews: 

As with the Prejean controversy, it continues to amaze me that people inject politics (and frankly substance) in this beauty contest. Usually it is an effort to elevate the competition but at times it is an effort to paint the contestants in a darker light.

Actually, if it's intentional, the injection of politics is pretty clever gambit by the pageant owner, Donald Trump.  After all, political controversy catches the attention of people who otherwise would watch beauty pageants as a guilty pleasure but deny it at a Senate confirmation hearing not watch bueaty pageants.   The Miss America beauty pageant, for example, has suffered declining ratings for years.  If politics livens up the buzz factor for these things, the organizers would be fools not to ask third rail questions on issues like immigration. 

Of course, what's good for the pageant might be bad for the winner.  In theory, Miss USA, like other celebrities, should be able to use their star power to promote their own charities and causes.  However, as I noted here, political controversy is guaranteed to tarnish their luster and reduce their ability to appeal across the political spectrum.  Miss USA winner has some charitable alliances -- but political controversies can harm the star power of the winner. 

I look forward to reading the papers that answer these questions.