Daniel Pipes: Wrong on the Internet

by zunguzungu

(Actually, instead of reading me take issue with a very small aspect of the phenomenon, you should really read Millicent’s anatomical dissection of the entire nationalist-eugenics project that is the American beauty pageant, as well her very nice placement of this particular iteration within that context. Very highly recommended.)

If it’s unsurprising that Daniel Pipes would get freaked out by a Muslim woman winning the Miss USA beauty pageant, it’s perhaps just as overdetermined that I would blog about his response (along with everyone else in the entire blog world). But the interesting thing about his remarkably vapid little column isn’t what he says but his complete lack of anything to say. After all, the cognitive content of his column is this: first noting that a Muslim woman won the Miss USA, he then suggests that there might be some sort of “affirmative action” about it, and then in support of this suggestion he adduces the evidence (via photographs) of several Muslim women winning some beauty pageants, somewhere and sometime.

That’s it. And what’s interesting is the assertions he doesn’t spell out explicitly, but without which his column is just a string of disconnected sentences. Which is where the racism of the column lives: you can only understand the argument he’s making because you catch and comprehend the racist implications that tie the argument together, implications which are unspoken because you can‘t publicly say racist things (quite). Which is why the piece is more than just a hastily trotted off piece of racist pablum (though it certainly is that); its apparent lack of mass testifies to the racist dark matter that forms its gravitational field and holds it together.

But let’s take it apart, piece by piece, something we can do because there’s so little actually written in it (and the fact that the column is little more than text surrounding seven pictures of beautiful women, is quite telling in its own way). First, he writes that,

News that Rima Fakih, 24, of Dearborn, Michigan, won the Miss USA beauty pageant today prompts me to recall some prior instances of Muslim women winning beauty contests in Western countries.

Putting aside Pipes’ suggestively instant recall of past beauty contests in general, something makes the fact of a Muslim Miss USA counterintuitive and a phenomenon worth explaining. And since he’s doing a kind of gross parody of what an intellectual does here, starting with a incongruous fact and then seeking to compile more facts in order to make sense of it, we need to think about what is so incongruous here that it requires explanation. With pictures and links (which I’ve removed), he recounts the following narrative:

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.

Four Muslim women winning pageants in three different countries (including the prestigious “Miss Nottingham”) over the course of five years is “surprising frequency”?  The “surprising frequency” of French Muslim women winning beauty pageants, after all, is that one woman won a single pageant. Which is the point: even one such winner is an anomalous fact that needs to be explained, an embedded contradiction that must be teased out, just as the idea of a single Miss USA being Muslim is sufficiently a problem for him to need to write a column on it. And to finish quoting every single sentence he wrote, we have this final confirmation of his darkest fears:

My suspicion is borne out by the selection of Anisah Rasheed as Miss A&T at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. From the news report about her success:

Excited and jittery, Anisah Rasheed of Roanoke pondered a fashion dilemma that few beauty queens have faced before: Matching her coronation gown with her hijab. … Rasheed, 20, was crowned Miss A&T for 2005-06 on Thursday night in a sparkling fishtail gown—with a tiara glittering over her golden hijab—during homecoming ceremonies at North Carolina A&T State University.

That’s it. That’s the whole column; he wrote 136 words (27 of which were proper nouns) into which he cut and pasted six pictures, a photo-to-text ratio that makes Playboy look like the New Yorker. And his last “my suspicion was born out” is practically a textbook example of how not to cite sources in an argumentative essay, the sort of thing my students learn not to do after only a semester with me: he omits telling us what it proves, what part of the quote proves it, and doesn’t explain how it does so.

As I said, I’m less interested in the intellectual vacuousness of it than in the way he tries to hide that vacuum of thought, the way, for example, he tries so hard to paint something which obviously is not as a statistical incongruity. The hogwash about “surprising frequency,” after all, is intended to suggest that he’s done a statistical analysis and discovered that more Muslim women are winning pageants than we should expect from their demographic fraction — the language of anti-affirmative action backlash — but he’s obviously done no such thing; the fact that he’s citing Miss Nottingham demonstrates how deeply he’s had to dig to find anything that makes the unacceptable fact of a Muslim Miss USA seem like a worrying trend. But that’s how the anti-affirmative action backlash works, the logic being not that, say, black people are getting their fair share, but that they’re getting more than their fair share.

And, of course, this is ridiculous; one Muslim Miss USA winner does not prove anything, and cannot, because the sample size is so small. Unless, of course, the very existence of a single Muslim winner is the burr under his saddle? But the same is true for the entire “affirmative action” claim: what drives that nativist wing of conservativism crazy is not that brown people are getting more than their share, since such has never been the case, but that they’re getting anything at all. But then that’s the dilemma the crypto-white supremacist is in, in this country: the ego-ideal of a beset minority can’t cope with the fact that they are actually no such thing, that white males are, for example, the people who most enjoy wealth and social privilege out of proportion to their numbers.