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Monday, October 27, 2003

Miss Afghanistan & "Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!"

On Friday, with the headline "AMERICA 100, TALIBAN 0," Prof. Glenn Reynolds a/k/a InstaPundit posted a cheesecake photo of a young woman named Vida Samadzai who is competing as "Miss Afghanistan" in the Miss Earth 2003 International Beauty Pageant in Manila.  His only text read, "This says it all!"  I gather that he offers the fact that this attractive young woman is now free to compete in an international beauty pageant as proof that Afghanistan's liberalization is proceeding apace after its liberation, whereas under the Taliban's regime she'd be relegated to a back room, a burqa, and anonymity.  Prof. Reynolds updated his post to say that "Weirdly, this post got me a lot of critical email."  He adds:

I'm not a "conservative." I'm strongly pro-bikini. I don't believe in "traditional family values" as a political platform. I'm more in the Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy! category.

The original link back to the Hindustan Times offered several more pictures of Ms. Samadzai and other contestants, all taken during the swimsuit competition.  As I've been composing this post, however, that link appears to have gone sour, with the subject page having been removed.  Instead, there's a new article up reporting that "President Hamid Karzai's minister for women's affairs has condemned Miss Afghanistan."  (Although the 10-picture slideshow is gone, the news article does reprint a picture very similar to the one that InstaPundit ran, plus one of Ms. Samadzai along with Miss China and Miss France.  Hoorah for the Indian press!  Solely in the interest of enabling full, informed, and fair-and-balanced commentary on this issue, I've swiped republicized all three photos here.)

The Hindustan Times' caption with its original story provided some fairly pertinent information that Prof. Reynolds may have missed:

The 25-year-old Kabul born beauty left Afghanistan in 1996 to live in California. Samadzai who is taking up international business at University Cal State Fullerton plans to visit Kabul soon.

Miss AfghanistanI know that it's quite common for young women competing in beauty pageants to compete for cities, regions, states, or countries with which they may have only the most attenuated ties, and I don't fault Ms. Samadzai for competing on behalf of her native country from her present home in California.  Nor do I fault her for escaping the Taliban's regime in 1996 or for seeking an education at Cal State-Fullerton.  But her participation in this contest as a representative of Afghanistan would seem far less likely to be a publicity stunt if she currently lived there, and that participation says almost nothing about what's happened in Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. 

I, too, am strongly pro-bikini, democracy, and whisky (I prefer the variety from Scotland for reasons having nothing to do with its lack of the "ey" ending), and I agree that Ms. Samadzai and the other contestants who were pictured in the slideshow are indeed very sexy.  (Miss Australia in particular took my fancy.) 

Miss China, Miss Afghanistan & Miss FranceBut reading Prof. Reynolds' post, and then the Hindustan Times caption put me immediately in mind of the "beauty pageant" depicted in "Miss Saigon" for reasons that will be immediately obviously to anyone who's seen that play and that would take too long to explain for anyone who hasn't.  Suffice it to say that the play views America's participation in the Vietnam war through profoundly cynical French eyes; among the operatic lines assigned to the male romantic lead — an American marine who falls for the young virgin being auctioned at a Saigon brothel — is, "Christ! I'm American — how could I fail to do good?" 

The comparison between Miss Afghanistan and eponymous character of "Miss Saigon" falls apart after even a little reflection — as do most of the parallels between the war we fought in Vietnam and the current War against Terrorism, as fought in the Battle of Afghanistan or the Battle of Iraq.  And beauty pageants aren't uniquely an American phenomenon, no more than fascination with the youthful female form is.  The Miss Earth Pageant, for example, is a Filipino Johnny-come-lately to the beauty pageant biz.

Miss AfghanistanUltimately, "Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!" is useful shorthand for a set of liberties that we champion and promote, and as President Bush has noted in recent speeches, these values ultimately belong to free people everywhere — to accept or reject as they choose.  But at the most extreme margins — the transition from burqa to bikini, for example — there are likely to be some reactionary reactions; and one wonders when, if ever, "Miss Afghanistan" is likely to be a current resident of that country. 

In the meantime, IslamOnline.net reports that unnamed Afghanis believe that Dubya is behind this — it's an ploy to influence his re-election campaign, they say.  (Seriously.)

Posted by Beldar at 07:29 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink

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