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Keffiyeh: The Politics of Symbolism

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Message Abdus Sattar Ghazali
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Dunkin' Donuts has withdrawn an ad in which Rachael Ray - the talk-show host, cookbook author and magazine editor - wears a scarf that resembles a keffiyeh (a traditional headdress worn by Arab men) - after anti-Islam and anti-Muslim and pro-Israel activists criticized the ad and even threatened to boycott the company.

The ad, which appeared earlier last month on the doughnut chain's web site to promote its iced coffee, was first attacked by Pam Geller, who posted it under the headline "Rachel Ray: Dunkin Donuts Jihad Tool."

"Have you seen Rachel Ray wearing the icon of Yasser Arafat .... and the bloody Islamic jihad," Geller wrote. "This is part of the cultural jihad."

Another Islamophobist, Michelle Malkin, following Geller, wrote on her website: "The keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not so ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities and left-wing icons."

Dunkin' Donuts, after pulling the ad May 24, issued a statement from Margie Myers, senior vice president of communications for Dunkin' Brands: "In a recent online ad, Rachael Ray is wearing a black-and-white silk scarf with a paisley design. It was selected by the stylist for the advertising shoot. Absolutely no symbolism was intended. However, as of this past weekend, we are no longer using the online ad because the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee."

Trendy clothing store Urban Outfitters initially sold keffiyeh-like scarves until Jewish customers protested but reintroduced them with different colors in several global markets. Fashion house Balenciaga glamorized them on the runway.

Before the latest keffiyeh controversy, there was a row over the pop singer Ricky Martin’s sporting of a red keffiyeh to show support for the Palestinian human rights. Other celebrities, such as Collin Farrell, Mary Kate Olsen and Kanye West, have been wearing the keffiyeh.

It is deeply regretted that a small group of dedicated Islamophobists tried to demonize the traditional Arab headdress (keffiyeh) worn by millions of people around the globe.

To borrow Laila Al-Qatami, the Arab Anti-Defamation Committee Communications Director, those making a big uproar about the matter very often seem to have negative comments about anything that's related to Arabs or Islam.

Ms. Al-Qatami added: “It’s a sad commentary when an article of clothing is labeled in such negative and derogatory terms and used as a premise to vilify Arabs and Muslims. That they were incorrect in their allegations did not, as usual, deter their hate campaign against an article of clothing and more generally against Arab and Muslims and specifically against Palestinians”.

The criticism of keffiyeh by Pamla Geller and Michelle Malkin is not surprising as a visit to their blogs will only find anti-Islam, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab tirades.

Ms. Geller has managed to build up a large audience at her blog “Atlas Shrugs” with her ferocious attacks on Islam. In a bid to attract more web surfers her blog now shows the anti-Islam Dutch movie the Fitna.

On the other hand, Michelle Malkin, the daughter of Filipino immigrants, has made a career out of being among the strongest critics of immigration and immigrants' rights. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks she has been one of the most hostile commentators toward the Arab American and Muslim American communities, consistently arguing in favor of discrimination and profiling, and describing the backlash of hate crimes and discrimination against the communities as a "myth."

In her 2004 book - “In Defense of Internment: Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror” - Malkin argued that it was not racism that led to mass internment but rather the result of “secret codes” intercepted and supposedly revealing nefarious plots by a small number of Issei (Japanese aliens) and Nisei (Japanese-Americans).

However, it will not be too much to say that considering the political climate in the post 9/11 America, Malkin’s book is not really about the Japanese but about Muslims and Arabs.

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Abdus Sattar Ghazali Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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