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Keffiyeh Chronicles: Tracing Struggle in a Changing Cultural Landscape

Keffiyeh Chronicles Tracing Struggle in a Changing Cultural Landscape

Last month in Burlington, Vermont, three college students from the West Bank – Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Tahseen Ahmed – were targeted in a shooting incident by Jason J Eaton (Source: The Guardian). The motive appeared to be rooted in Islamophobia, as two of the students were wearing the keffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian scarf.

Unfortunately, this incident reflects a disturbing trend of hate crimes against Muslims, with similar attacks reported recently, such as an incident in Brooklyn and an occurrence at New York City’s Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting.

The keffiyeh has deep historical roots, initially serving as practical headwear for farmers and Bedouins in Palestine. Over time, it evolved into a symbol of political resistance during the 1930s when Palestinians rallied against British colonial rule.

The keffiyeh became a unifying element, collapsing markers of identity as both rural and urban Palestinians adopted it.

However, the scarf’s association with political resistance led to controversies. In the mid-2000s, it became widely available, even in Western markets, with some promoting it as an “anti-war” scarf. This sparked criticism from pro-Israel advocacy groups like Stand With Us, who argued that terrorists, including Hamas fighters, were using the keffiyeh.

The scarf was briefly pulled from sales due to these complaints. In the present day, the keffiyeh resurfaces amid a different cultural climate, shaped by increased political awareness through social media.

The rise of call-out culture and societal awareness of cultural appropriation complicates its usage and interpretation. The recent attack on the students in Burlington underscores the need to address and combat Islamophobia, recognizing the historical and cultural significance of symbols like the keffiyeh without perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

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