Kufiya-spotting

This great post and meme by Ted Swedenburg deserves your attention. I used to play this game but never thought to collect – this is trinketization as well after all. One of my favourites was the news reporter on Japanese television when I worked in Nagoya, who presented all his Baghdad reports during 2003 wearing a Kufiya. Some people have mistaken Jade Goody’s pirate scarf on Big Brother as one as well, but I think we can let that pass – great as Jade is, her support for Pirates will do. Aki Nawaz of course is a prominent UK wearer, among millions in the UK, but though my own is now a bit tatty as its one of my oldest items of clothing, it does come out often. I got it from Palestine Solidarity in Melbourne in 1986 – we ran ads for their campaign group in the journal I edited, Criticism, Heresy and Interpretation. Anyway, this is Ted’s latest addition, gently mocking ‘Urban Outfitters’, but it’s worth pursuing the other posts as this one is number 12 in his series.

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 Caplan 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 Revies, 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”.

Great stuff as ever Ted – hence reposted in full (of awe).

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