Friday, June 6, 2008

What the Heck is a Kuffiyeh?


Dunkin Donuts pulled the ad down after ultra-conservative blogger and bigot Michelle Malkin accused the company of symbolically supporting terrorism. Here is how she defines the kuffiyeh:

The kuffiyeh, 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.


The kuffiyeh (Arabic: كوفية‎), also known as a hatta, is a scarf or head-piece worn by men in the Middle East as a way to combat extreme heat and dust. For the last seventy years, it has also served to represent the struggle of the Palestinian people. The black and white "checkered" scarf that resembles the PAISLEY adorned scarf that Rachel Ray is wearing (not only are the Fox News-loving conservatives misleading, they are also blind) was originally worn by Palestinian men beginning in the late 1930's. Prior to the rise in nationalism, Palestinian men often wore European hats or the Turkish fez. As an influx of Zionists moved into Palestine, the kuffiyeh was not only worn to display a strong sense of national pride but it also served to distinguish the Palestinian army from the Jordanian army (who wore red and white kuffiyehs). For the Palestinians, it represents a long history of resistance against a racist ideology. It represents the struggle of an entire people. The beauty of a people rich in culture. A people tied to a land, not only through deeds, but through passion and love for that land. That simple, yet distinctive scarf represents a hopeful day when the Palestinians will find dignity and justice within a country they rightfully belong to.

Since hitting the fashion runways however, the kuffiyeh has become a bit of a fashion craze in the West. It is now sold here in a wide variety of colors not traditionally found in the Middle East versions. From celebrities and hipsters, to college students, fashionistas across America are donning the scarf as a stylish accessory. Celebrities that have been spotted wearing one include Colin Farrell, Kanye West, Matt Lauer, Lupe Fiasco, Ricky Martin, Sting and Kirsten Dunst.

For a time-line of the scarf's recent history, see Modern Chronology of the Kuffiyeh Kraze.

What's the big deal, you ask?

The latest controversy over a piece of cloth follows a long line of Islamophobic and anti-Arab attacks and is part of a broader, coordinated effort on the part of right-wing neoconservatives to stigmatize Islam and Middle Eastern peoples. Since 9-11, the same group of people have gone after Muslim-American community leaders, Islamic charities, university Middle East Studies departments, and now cultural symbols that aren't even really cultural symbols. Putting aside the fact that the scarf worn by Rachel Ray was not even a kuffiyeh, the question begs why would right-wing pundits like Malkin have such a visceral reaction to the scarf? Is it possibly due to the social repercussions and ripple effects that inevitably follow such instances of cultural exchange, however benign, between East and West? Opportunities that build bridges and lend themselves to dialogue and understanding between peoples?

The fact is that our increased involvement in American society humanizes us, and that gives right-wing media fascists like Daniel Pipes and Michelle Malkin nightmares. Their camp is against anyone or anything that familiarizes the public with Islam, Muslims and Arabs. And it's understandable, for increased understanding may translate into non-Muslims no longer looking upon their Muslim neighbors with suspicion. It may mean a public less susceptible to this administration's fear tactics and the binary mentality of "us versus them". If this band of ultraconservatives are unable to continue manipulating the people using hatred and fear, their undemocratic policies just may cease to go unaccounted for and accepted without question. These enlightened bigots have been incredibly adept in exploiting the media and public anxiety over terrorism. It is a public relations war that we as concerned Americans must respond to.

Koffee-yeh is one way of fighting back and battling the hate. We need to convince Dunkin Donuts that it is never a reasonable business decision to cave in to bigotry!

If you want to take part in this campaign, send a photo of yourself wearing a kuffiyeh while posing with a Dunkin' Donuts product to Please include the city in which you live. We will not include your name.

Why pose with a Dunkin' Donuts product?

Please note that we are not trying to counter efforts others may be making to boycott Dunkin' Donuts. In fact, we are in favor of a boycott if a PR Representative does not issue a public statement in response to our campaign. Given the volatile post- 9/11 climate people live under, we think it is only fair to give Dunkin' Donuts one more chance. What we are offering is a dialogue, and that is something our community needs to engage in more often as part of the strategy to defeat Islamophobia and neoconservative propaganda. There is strength in numbers and the more of us engage in this dialogue, the more likely that big-business like Dunkin' Donuts will take our voices seriously.