b1faaf400e9c8210VgnVCM200000e66411acRCRDapprovedthenational/Articles/Migration/2010-05Beauty queens have a few lessons to teach diplomatsa1faaf400e9c8210VgnVCM200000e66411ac____Beauty queens have a few lessons to teach diplomatsDazzle with your dancing? Shock and awe in the swimsuit competition? Diplomats might take a few cues from beauty queens.<p>Diplomacy is too often practised behind embassy walls and by the stodgy few who have seats in formal organisations. But ambassadors, foreign ministers and heads of state too often look like tired conductors of an orchestra. They know all the protocols but have lost their appreciation for the art and theatre of diplomacy. What better place to rediscover this than at a beauty pageant?</p>
<p>Beauty pageants and UN summits actually have several similarities. Contestants of beauty pageants and the most influential representatives of nations (especially democracies), need charisma to win the appeal of the majority. A beauty queen might do so with her tap dancing in the talent competition or by causing shock and awe in the swimsuit competition. Diplomats also dance around the truth or inspire with their rhetorical skills.</p>
<p>Both types of contestants play on the hopes and insecurities of common people. The silver-crowned queen waves her hand and cries in disbelief, bringing hope to the world. Her ultra-skinny figure may motivate the obese to lose weight. It shouldn't matter that her type of beauty is unattainable for most and propels some to depression. The silver-tongued diplomat also speaks of ideals, standards and promises that are unattainable.</p>
<p>When competing for their titles, both diplomats and beauty queens have to answer a set of questions such as: "What will you do with your title?" or "What is your vision for the Middle East?" The beauty contestant might say: "Peace" or "world peace" and the diplomatic representative might say: "Peace talks in the Middle East."
Both kinds of contestants can be so highly emotional that they appear that they may just walk out a building at any moment. This is one area where the representatives at the United Nations appear less civil than those at the Miss USA pageant.</p>
<p>When the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took centre stage at the UN General Assembly Hall to discuss the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty last month, the delegations of the US, Britain and France walked out. Perhaps when there are 50 or more beautiful women sporting bikinis, fewer people will want to leave the building? The UN might give this a try.
As Tunku Varadarajan wrote last week on <i>The Daily Beast</i>, a US-based news and opinion web-site, the crowning of Rima Fakih, a Lebanese American, as Miss USA may have ushered in a new era of "Bikini Diplomacy".</p>
<p>Mr Varadarajan believes that the Shia immigrant's victory was a sign of her assimilation and embracing the "American way". He thinks that her "integration by bikini" represents a successful effort not only to break down prejudices but also to "further American cultural diplomacy".
Ms Fakih, herself, holds similar views. As she told the Global Arab Network in an interview, she would prove that "Arabs don't always try to separate themselves, but instead are integrated into American culture".</p>
<p>Ms Fakih now embodies a kind of hope for enlightenment and positive representation for all Arabs and Muslims who have not been blessed with the "opportunity" that she has had. So sporting a bikini is a way to cultural integration? Is this idea what is behind the discussions of burqa-bans in Europe? Perhaps there is now a clear way to show pride in western culture and the democratic ways of acceptance and equality: wear less.</p>
<p>Not everyone saw Ms Fakih's victory in a positive light in the West. Some accused her of being supported by Hizbollah, while the American academic Daniel Pipes suspected that Ms Fakih's success was a sort of "affirmative action". Mr Varadarajan criticised leftists who criticise beauty pageants and Ms Fakih's victory since her participation was not driven by catering to misogynistic traditions but a "subversion of her own forefathers' cultural norms".</p>
<p>It seems impossible for a beautiful, integrated beauty queen to "go Muslim", as Mr Varadarajan theorised. Does he think that many integrated Muslims in the West are inclined to do this at any moment, and emerge dangerously in his midst?
What would "going Muslim" for a beauty queen entail? Maybe she would start throwing hijabs on everyone or demanding to wear a "burkini" for the swimsuit competition? I doubt that the pageant will have to worry about that happening any time soon.</p>
<p>Beauty pageants might be derided by feminists as a form of exploitation of women and their bodies, but an Arab-American receiving the sparkly tiara has been oddly understood as an act of emancipation, democracy and diplomacy by bikini. Diplomats around the world should take note.
<i>Hissa al Dhaheri is a sociologist living in Abu Dhabi</i></p>