Lebanese beauty queen Amanda Hanna.
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
The disqualification of beauty queens is not unheard of but is usually related to their perceived licentiousness.
In 1984, Vanessa Williams, the first black woman to win the Miss America contest, was forced to resign after photos of her appeared in Penthouse under the headline “Oh, God, She’s Nude!” In 2006, Miss Nevada Katie Rees met the same fate after sexually explicit photos of her kissing other women were posted online. Then-Miss USA co-owner Donald Trump called the photos “disgusting.” There have been other cases that have led to disqualification.
The story of Swedish-Lebanese beauty queen Amanda Hanna is different. She was stripped of her title as Miss Lebanon Emigrant 2017 not because of impropriety, rather due to her openness and independent thinking.
Shortly after Hanna won the title earlier this month, it emerged that she had visited Israel in 2016. Apparently, Hanna used her Swedish passport to travel here as part of a school trip (Lebanese are prohibited from maintaining ties with Israel). What seemed to incense the Lebanese organizers of the beauty pageant and the Lebanese tourism minister was Hanna’s Facebook post describing her impressions after the visit to Israel.
“It turned out that I was wrong,” Hanna wrote, referring to prejudices she had about the Jewish state.
“I’ve gotten to know people who have come to stand close to me and I have developed in particular as a person.
It has been a wonderful trip and I am incredibly happy that I participated.”
Any perspective that deviates from the stereotype of Israel as an evil, rapacious nation is regarded as inimical by those who control public discourse in Lebanon.
In contrast to other countries in the region, Lebanon is relatively liberal. The press is fairly free and a lot gets past the government’s censorship bureau, from sexually explicit material to messages that could inflame sectarian tensions. However, what remains constant and bleakly authoritarian is the blanket ban on anything positive related to Israel – whether it be commercial or social ties, cultural exchange or even an innocent visit.
The Lebanese government’s decision earlier this summer to ban screenings of Wonder Woman is another example of the uncompromising rejection of anything Israeli.
In 2015, Miss Lebanon Sally Greige was nearly stripped of her title after a picture was taken of her during the Miss Universe pageant in the US together with Miss Israel Doron Matalon and went viral. The only way Greige could deflect criticism at home was by claiming that Matalon had forced her way into the photo at the last minute.
This policing of thought and minds regarding Israel is not unique to Lebanon. Throughout much of the Muslim world it is unacceptable to mention Israel publicly in anything but a negative context. This holds true for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Under the circumstances, the chances for normalization between Israel and its neighbors are practically nil.
Opinions expressed by Hanna about her positive experiences with Israel and Israelis are immediately stifled.
Not only do women like Hanna have to objectify their bodies, they also have to subordinate their minds and beliefs to Lebanese propaganda.
Rima Fakih, the first Muslim to win the Miss USA crown, nearly lost her title due to allegations that she partied too much and engaged in pole dancing.
Fakih, who was born in Lebanon to a Shi’ite family but chose to convert to Christianity for marriage, sought to dissuade people from seeing Miss USA as an ideal.
“Miss USA is not like ‘world peace’ and all that..., she is a real human being who can make her own decisions.”
There is much about beauty pageants that is distasteful.
But Lebanon has turned objectification into an art form. It is an opportunity to not only objectify women but to deprive them of autonomy of thought and mind.
Fakih is undoubtedly happy to be living in a country that allows her broad freedoms. Hanna is probably asking herself why she left Sweden.