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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Anonymous said...

URBN has already pulled the "Anti-war woven Scarf" from the catalog.

I'm not surprised they pulled it, since Kufiya's make you look like a radical chic douchebag.

Anonymous said...

For some years, the wearing of the keffiyeh has been almost ubiquitous amongst British soldiers, who exclusively refer to them as shemaghs. Their use by the British Army dates back at least to the Second World War when Special Air Service troops, amongst others, wore them while operating in the deserts of North Africa. After the war, their use by the Army continued with the keffiyeh being worn in both desert and temperate environments in theatres such as Dhofar. Since the beginning of the War on Terror, these keffiyeh, usually cotton and in olive drab or khaki with black stitching, have been adopted by US troops as well. Their practicality in an arid environment, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, explains their constant popularity with soldiers. Soldiers often wear the keffiyeh folded in half into a triangle and wrapped around the face, with the halfway point being placed over the mouth and nose, sometimes coupled with goggles, to keep sand out of the face.

Damn American soldiers in the war on terror, siding with the terrorists.

Anonymous said...

I am an American soldier living over here in the mid-east. 2/142 FA. I am from Little Rock.

these "Kufiyas" look more like a fashion statement than a real statement. I even have a brown one to go with my desert uniform. see, I may be a world away; but, I am still fashionably aware.

I think if you want to make a statement; have a protest, or something. you have the right of free speech. don't buy into anymore corporate bs. I know it's hard, but you don't some big fancy company to tell you how to live your life.

Keep up the fight on the homefront. These soldiers are your neighbors.