Sunday, January 10, 2016

"Leftist" campaign against the kufiya in Germany (the Anti-Germans)

I was recently informed of a 'left' tendency in Germany, known as the Anti-Germans (Antideutsch) that is motivated, in part, by a very radical critique of German anti-Semitism, and whose expression includes strong support for Israel.

An important element of that tendency is a struggle against the kufiya, known in Germany as the Palituch (short for Palästinensertuch) or Palestinian scarf, and widely worn by German lefties, as well as Middle Easterners. (My first recollection of this phenomenon is when I saw the 1978 documentary Germany in Autumn (Deuschland Im Herbst) by Werner Fassbinder, Alexander Kluge, Edgar Reitz, and Volker Schlöndorff. It concerns the terrorist events involving the Red Army Faction (RAF) and the PFLP, and ends with scenes of the funeral for the three RAF members, Ingrid Schubert, Gudrun Esslin, and Jean-Carl Raspe, who committed suicide in prison in October 1977. I remember very vividly the fact that several in the crowd of German far-leftists were wearing kufiyas. You can see a few clearly at 1:43:59, if you check out the film (no English subtitles) posted on YouTube. (I don't mean to suggest that the RAF is representative of the German left, but rather that this was my first visual experience of the phenomenon.)

The Anti-Germans launched a campaign against the kufiya over ten years ago, and their chief claim is that the leader of the Palestinian national movement during the Mandate period, the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin al-Hussayni, was responsible for making the kufiya a Palestinian national symbol, when he ordered all Palestinian men to put on the kufiya during the 1936-39 revolt. In fact, as I discuss in my book, the order came from the rebel command, not from Hajj Amin. The Anti-Germans then go on to raise the issue of the Mufti's support for Nazism and implication in the Holocaust. Leaving for the moment the question of the exact nature of the Mufti's involvement in Hitler's atrocities against the Jews, the move that the Anti-Germans make here is entirely coherent with longstanding mainstream Israeli propaganda against Hajj Amin, which recalls him simply as a collaborator with the Nazis and thereby metonymically associates the entire Palestinian people with Nazi anti-Semitic crimes against humanity. By implication, anyone who puts on a kufiya in solidarity with Palestinians is lending support to anti-Semitism. The Anti-Germans have devoted a webpage to their campaign against the kufiya, which you can view here. Note that they claim as well that putting on the kufiya also shows some kind of affinity with al-Qaida.

The Anti-German campaign against the kufiya has gone so far as to provide justification to a Berlin club called ://about blank to deny entry to anyone wearing a kufiya. The pretext is that the club tries to avoid the promotion of any national symbol in the club, but as critics of the ban have noted, it seems to be applied most stringently to kufiyas. You can read more about the policy of ://about blank and the protests against its policy here, in a 2013 article by John Riceburg in Exberliner, entitled, "Do cool kids wear a Palituch?"

Manchester artist Hannah Blank, now resident of Berlin, refused to perform at ://about blank due to their policy, and issued a very fine statement about her reasons for boycotting. Below are a couple exemplary bits:

In keeping with the essentially white-supremacist modern desire for the “multicultural” homogenization of peoples (always according to the baseline of dominant whiteness), About Blank has banned tokens of cultural or national specificity. In practice, this just means that people are not allowed to enter wearing the keffiyeh. The argument is that it has become symbolic not only of the Palestinian liberation struggle but also of neo-Nazi anti-semitism. The problematic conflation of these two symbolic meanings of the keffiyeh also ignores that it is also a garment of predominantly Arab origin and use. The origin of anti-semitism is not Arab but European. Forcing an Arab garment, sometimes associated with Palestinian liberation, to stand in for contemporary anti-semitism suggests a strange dissociation on the part of white Germans. Is anti-semitism a problem of Palestinian liberation, or, rather, is the colonization of Palestine a problem partly created by European anti-semitism?...

This small matter of a scarf is worth dwelling on because it evokes the way that white Europe, despite centuries of astonishing innovations in violence, somehow manages to perceive itself as the ethical and temporal metric of history. This habit blunts analysis and licenses bigotry. Despite the best efforts of your governments, you have no automatic right to legislate the meaning or disposition of non-white lives and cultures.


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