Palestinian Scarf Fashion Item
A few even came into her clothing store, Connection One Fashion, which specializes in urban apparel, to ask if she carried them. No one knew their name, and several asked for “A-rab,” “Taliban” or “Bin Laden” scarves.
The epithets gave Thompson a hint of political connotations, but she decided to give them a try anyway. She bought the traditional black and white colors, plus purple, pink, green, red and a few other patterns and displayed them beginning last month for $10 apiece next to jeans, belts and sneakers. They almost sold out immediately.
“Everybody is wearing them on the street,” said Thompson, 41, whose main display in the storefront window is a female mannequin wearing a stylized purple hooded sweatshirt, a matching baseball hat, and a black and white kuffiyeh, the scarf’s traditional name. “They wear anything in style; they don’t even know the meaning.”
The kuffiyeh, traditionally a symbol of Palestinian nationalism, is gaining popularity in hip-hop fashion in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and other cities — and losing its potent symbolism in the process. Mainstream artists like Kanye West, Justin Timberlake and Chris Brown have sported the checkered Middle Eastern scarf in recent months, fueling a long-running debate on the commercial adoption of the politically charged square fabric popularized by Yasser Arafat, Hamas militants and others.
“People like Jay-Z, Jermaine Dupri and other mainstream hip-hop guys wearing it is the new development,” said Ted Swedenburg, a professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas who has studied the kuffiyeh and its place in American fashion. “The tendency is towards diluting the political message.”
The kuffiyeh’s political message took shape when Palestinian peasants wore the utilitarian cloth over their heads in solidarity against British rule in the 1930s. Its place in Palestinian identity was solidified in the 1960s when Arafat and his resistance movement adopted it in its fight against Israel.
Today, the kuffiyeh is the most recognizable symbol of the Palestinian independence movement, provoking both admiration and anger, depending on one’s political beliefs. Palestinian groups such as Fatah and Hamas often wrap themselves in kuffiyehs, black and white or red and white, respectively.
The kuffiyeh’s political roots are often lost as the fashion grows in hip-hop style.
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© Janet Crain
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