Queen for a Day? How 'Bout Five Minutes? Wanted: Beauty queen. Must be lovely, intelligent and have a safe place to hide.
NPR logo Queen for a Day? How 'Bout Five Minutes?

Queen for a Day? How 'Bout Five Minutes?

"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful" has a whole different meaning in Iraq. The winner of the Miss Iraq beauty pageant -- I mean scholarship program -- has gone into hiding after she was called "queen of the infidels" by religious extremists who threatened to kill her. The runner-up did not want the tiara either. The third place beauty also said no thanks. So the sash, for now, is draped across the shoulder of the fourth-place contestant.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay has heard stories like this before. And Jamie says she's had to walk an awkward line herself as a female reporter in Baghdad.

"In Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban fell, the new Miss Afghanistan was threatened and she had to deal with a lot of criticism for appearing in a swimsuit.

"In Iraq it's weird, because Iraqis like to talk about themselves as secular, modern people and I often get roused on by our staff when I go out all wrapped up in my headscarf and long dress. Abdullah, one of our reporters, told me the other day that I looked 'more decent than Iraqis do.' But then you have people who insist you not let a wisp of hair show. I think it's important to note that for every fundamentalist who wants a woman to walk two steps behind him, there's someone who doesn't. There definitely is a fear here. Militants blow up liquor stores and attack barbershops for giving 'western' haircuts.

"But even after all the time I've spent here, I'm not quite sure what to do."