Wednesday, January 31, 2007

kufiyaspotting #13: Everlast

Rap artist Everlast, ex-House of Pain, and then a solo artist (most well-known for Whitey Ford Sings the Blues, 1998), is now in a rap (would-be) super-group called La Coka Nostra (boy, not a clever name, eh?). Other members of the La Coka Nostra posse: Danny Boy, DJ Lethal, DJ Muggs.

No surprise, really, to find Everlast sporting a kufiya--he converted to Islam in the late '90s. On his Grammy award-winning song "Put Your Lights On", recorded with Santana in 1999, he sings "La ilaha illa Allah." Everlast appears on the anti-war protest song "Dear Mr. President," from LA rap producer Fredwreck (Farid Nassar). (Thanks, Dave!)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Jerusalem Post on Urban Outfitters Disappearing Kufiyas

(Thanks to Joan for this.)

"US chain pulls 'anti-war' keffiyehs"
Michal Lando, Jerusalem Post correspondent, The Jerusalem Post, Jan. 19, 2007

Urban Outfitters, a popular American clothing store, on Thursday halted sales of a range of keffiyehs, the traditional Arab headdress, which it had been marketing this month as fashionable "anti-war woven scarves."

The firm's CEO, Dick Heyne, e-mailed a pro-Israel activist who had complained about the items earlier this week to stress that the company had not intended "to imply any sympathy for or support of terrorists or terrorism" in selling the keffiyehs and was pulling them.

The scarves, also sold on-line, were priced at $20 in several different color combinations as part of Urban Outfitters' Spring Fashion women's accessories range. "Due to the sensitive nature of this item, we will no longer offer it for sale," a notice on the Web site stated. "We apologize if we offended anyone, this was by no means our intention."

A manager at an Urban Outfitters on 6th Avenue in New York City close to the West Village, who wished to remain anonymous, said the item had been the "number one selling scarf."

The keffiyeh has bounced in and out of American and European fashion trends since roughly the 80s, when women draped them from their necks. But in the last few years the headdress, mostly associated by Americans with the Palestinians and especially the late Yasser Arafat, has reached a height of popularity. An article in the Los Angeles Times titled "'Terrorist Chic' and Beyond," published in April, 2006, featured the keffiyeh as the ultimate in fashionable military gear seen as chic in hip circles across America and Europe.

Many young Americans and Europeans, especially on college campuses, wear the headdress around their necks as a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinians. Increasingly, too, it has become a symbol of resistance in general, invariably featuring at anti-war rallies. It is also widely worn in many cities.

"I just found it amusing that the keffiyeh as a fashion item has become so ubiquitous that it is being sold at a store known for producing the trendiest items," said Daniel 'Mobius' Sieradski, a contributor to Jewschool, a popular Jewish blog. "It's amusing because on one level the Palestinian cause has become very popular, but as it gains popularity it gets watered down."

Jews and Muslims alike had been quick to respond to the Urban Outfitters "anti-war scarves" through their respective blogs with skepticism, anger and amusement.

Earlier this week, Sieradski posted an entry on Jewschool entitled "Strangely familiar 'Anti-War Scarves' now at URBN near you!" where he mocks the selling of keffiyehs as a fashion accessory: "Well, the keffiyeh just got 10 times more passe and 10 times more trivialized, thanks to Urban Outfitters (proprietors of the once famed money grubbing Jew T-shirts) who are now selling a variety of different colored keffiyehs as - get this - anti-war scarves."

(The T-shirt reference was to the company's sale last year of shirts, playing into the Jewish American Princess stereotype, that read "Everyone Loves a Jewish Girl" and featured sketches of shopping bags and dollar signs. At the time, the Anti-Defamation League protested and the designs were changed.)

Last week, Kabobfest, an online forum for Arab-Americans, posted this entry about the UO keffiyehs: "With a great deal of discomfort and a tad bit of pissed-off-ness, I regret to (re)inform the KABOB-o-sphere that Palestine has officially become a trend…That's right folks, for a mere $20.00 (or 75.0127 Saudi Riyal) you too can jump on the socially stupid hipster-doofus bandwagon by rocking your very own "Anti-War Woven Scarf!" (available only at Urban Outfitters… or..err..uh… the Middle East)."

Another blogger, who writes under the name Moi, pointed to another item inspired by the keffiyeh labeled "Damsel Batik Fine Rib Henley" being sold for $28.00 that closely resembles the pattern of the Arab headdress.

Complaints from at least one Jewish organization may have played a part in Urban Outfitters' decision to pull the scarves from their stores.
On Monday, Stand With Us, a pro-Israel advocacy organization, sent letters of complaint to members of the board of directors of Urban Outfitters as well as to company stockholders, with photos of Hamas wearing the keffiyeh and performing a Nazi salute.

"It seems odd that something that has been so publicized as a scarf used by terrorists would be picked up as an anti-war scarf," said Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of Stand With Us, who told The Jerusalem Post she spoke on behalf of herself, not the organization. "I don't think it's an innocent choice. It's either pure ignorance or someone in the buying department with a political agenda against Israel and Jews."

Urban Outfitters' CEO Hayne responded to Taylor with an e-mail that said: "I had not seen the scarf to which you refer but be assured that no one in our organization intended to imply any sympathy for or support of terrorists or terrorism. I have been told that the item in question is being removed from sale. Thank you for bringing this to my attention."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Disappearing Kufiyas: Urban Outfitters Discontinues its "Antiwar Woven Scarf"

Protests, apparently, have resulted in Urban Outfitters decision to discontinue marketing kufiyas in its early spring catalog (see post below). The formerly featured item has disappeared completely, the only trace an apology from UO to anyone who might have been offended by it. The action is reported by Philip Weiss, who implies that people like Abe Foxman of the ADL might be responsible for the protests.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Kufiyaspotting #12: Urban Outfitters Markets Kufiya as "Anti-War Woven Scarf"

Urban Outfitters' "early spring catalogue is now online, and the featured item in Men's Accessories is the (Palestinian) kufiya, marketed as an "anti-war woven scarf" (thanks, Hisham).

If you click on the photo of the male model, you will find the kufiya (only $20), in the classic mode, checkered black-and-white, but also available in red, turqoise (my fave), and brown.

It's remarkable that "anti-war" is now so mainstream that Urban Outfitters feels comfortable using it as a marketing tool. By contrast, back in the late '80s, the Banana Republic catalogue carried an item called the "Israeli Paratroopers Bag." It's also remarkable that despite even though the Palestinians, since the onset of the al-Aqsa Intifada, have been indelibly re-associated with terrorism and suicide bombings, the Palestinian kufiya remains so deeply rooted in hipster clothing style and the outfits of oppositional movements that it remains hip/commercial/"resistive" symbol. Something on the order of Che Guevara t-shirts, full of contradictions, capable of making money, yet still giving off the whiff of danger. Probably it's the hint of danger and the exoticism that, combined, (still) makes the kufiya marketable.

I'd hate, of course, to see wearing the "anti-war scarf" as accessory substitute for actual activism against the war/occupation. (And my friend Joel Gordon reminds me: the kufiya "originally" symbolizes resistance, and in fact, armed resistance (the Palestinian revolt of 1936-39, the fedayeen of the sixties and seventies), not "anti-war."

No doubt this is also related to the "hipness" of things Islamic today; an article by Jill Hamburg Coplan will soon appear in New York magazine, and I'll comment on it when it comes out.

I wrote an article on the kufiya as style back in 1992, in an article in Michigan Quarterly Review, and I discuss its uses, in Palestine and the US, in my book, Memories of Revolt. I've also been attempting to document various "sitings" of the kufiya in this blog.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Update: Tali Fahima freed

After two years in prison, Tali Fahima, an Israeli Jew of Algerian origin, is, essentially, found innocent of the charges of supporting terrorism. (As part of a plea bargain agreement, she plead guilty to the charge of meeting "enemy agents," but all the serious charges were dropped.) Fahima was the target of massive vilification in the Israeli press, called a "terrorist whore." See my earlier post here.

Update 2: More coverage of Tali Fahima, from the Observer and the Guardian.

"My first crime was that I refused to work with Shin Bet, the second was that I insisted on going to see the Palestinians and the third was that I protested against the Israeli policy of assassination," Ms Fahima told the Guardian in her first interview since her release.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fayetteville Vigil: in commemoration of the dead in Iraq

Yesterday, January 2, the Omni Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology organized a vigil to remember the now 3000+ US soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq and the half million or so Iraqis who have died since March 2003. About 40-50 people attended, holding candles and dressed in black as a sign of mourning. (Not, as some kid yelled out of the window at those assembled, to look "cool" and "kinda gothic.") The vigil received front page coverage in today's Northwest Arkansas Times. The group assembled in front of the Federal Building, on College Ave., a major thoroughfare, from 4:30-6:30, and so lots of people driving by saw the event. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and I saw no, zero, negative responses from drivers to our posters and the peace signs we waved. This is an extremely unpopular war--but how to get more people actively mobilized, and how to pressure the Democratic-controlled Congress to stop funding the war?

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