Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Khaffiyeh Test

As you may have been lucky enough not to notice, some people were horrified by this picture of Rachel Ray, wearing what was interpreted by many as a khaffiyeh around her neck.

In an ad for Dunkin' Donuts, an organization I had not previously thought of as either political or with strong Middle Eastern ties.

Anyway, DD has pulled the ad, and now the usual suspects are throwing mud at each other.

I've blogged before about the ongoing khaffiyeh-as-fashion-item wars, and I remain committed to my basic stance that the best use for a khaffiyeh is its original purpose--keeping the sun off the head of male Arab persons of a traditional kind of persuasion. British troops in the Middle East, I understand, use them as well. For as long as I can remember, I've also seen khaffiyehs (what is the correct plural, BTW?) used as fashion scarves by older women in the Bay Area who wear them as a political statement. Such ladies also usually have bright handbags woven by Guatemalan indigenous weavers, and interesting earrings.

Much to my amusement, at demonstrations some years back, I began to notice young Palestinian men wearing khaffiyehs in the lady-hippie style, worn over the shoulders and loosely tied. I interpreted this as a compromise between wanting to wear a traditional item of clothing, but not being willing to actually put one on your head, which would make you look like your grandfather.

Then the fashion wave struck, and now I can buy a scratchy white scarf with a vaguely khaffiyeh-like pattern at the local Marshalls for seven bucks. (If I wanted to, for some reason.) For more details, and funny pictures, check out this chronology at the funniest Arab blog I know of. ("1926. Kufiya and Valentino reunited for The Son of the Sheik. Still no sound.")

Some comments on the Rachel Ray picture:

1. I do acknowledge that the scarf in question clearly derives from the vaguely-khaffiyeh scarf trend. The white-and-black pattern and fringes are clearly chic because of the sheik association. What can one do?

2. It's not, in fact, a khaffiyeh. My ideal test for whether something is a khaffiyeh is whether a middle-aged man from a small town outside Amman could walk around wearing one and not get weird looks, however that would exempt these odd purple and turquoise 'peace scarves' and the like, which clearly are supposed to be khaffiyehs, even if they're not. Rachel's however, seems to have a paisley design, which to my mind simply makes it a fashion scarf with fringes.

3. Do we really have nothing better to do?

4. Of course not. In the process of reading everything I can about this non-scandal, I have discovered the khaffiyeh yisraelit, modeled fetchingly to your right. The website informs us that:

"There are many versions of the Keffiyeh and it has been worn throughout the Middle East for thousands of years. The Keffiyeh Israelit is a version that celebrates Jewish Middle Eastern culture connecting their ancient ethnic origins in the Middle East to their modern day connection with Israel."

Oy. Va. Voy. I read this, and my mind boggles, I mean it just boggles like a bowl of Jell-O. It might be the answer to a question I asked once before on this blog: what is the equivalent Zionist fashion statement to the ethnic appropriation and cross-dressing represented by non-Arab college girls wearing khaffiyehs wrapped around their faces at anti-Israel demonstrations? It might be this.



Nella said...

I just got invited to an event called 'wear your keffiyah with pride'. Bit confusing since i've never owned one. The culturally-appropriate thing to do here seems to be to wear the scarf tied around your breasts as a boob-tube, something i'm sure would get universal approval in the Arab world.
Also, I did once see a stall at a festival selling keffiyot and multi-coloured versions thereof as 'PLOs'. Which is at least more honest than certain other tags they've been given.

willendorf5761 said...

What. Ever. My grandma a"h, a lifetime member of Hadassah, had 2 keffiyahs she bought in Israel -- a black and white Yasir Arafat type and a red and white Jordanian type. She wore them around her neck and shoulders as scarves.

wbs said...

Not So Sweet
Why Dunkin' Donuts shouldn't have caved in the controversy over Rachael Ray's 'kaffiyeh' scarf.

by Lorraine Ali

"Shouldn't we be more offended that Ray was shilling their weak iced coffee, a beverage that should be criticized for impersonating, well, iced coffee. But cries of "Bad java!" just don't seem to catch the attention the way racist rhetoric against Arabs and Muslims does. This ad was pulled because anti-Arab bloggers saw it as promoting a culture they love to hate, and they used the terrorism card to push their agenda through. The amazing part is that Dunkin' Donuts caved. They should be ashamed, and not just because Krispy Kreme offers a superior glazed cruller but because they validated the warped idea that the mere existence of a race—and anything worn by its people—can be controversial."