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keffiyeh2What common thread ties together celebrities such as Rachel Ray, the Jonas Brothers and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
In May of last year, a Dunkin Donuts coffee ad, featuring “EVOO” and “yummo” originator Rachel Ray, was pulled from circulation after Fox News commentator Michelle Malkin wrote in her blog that the keffiyeh (pronounced chafiyeh in Farsi) scarf Rachel was wearing “has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. ”
Just a few weeks after Rachel Ray’s donning of “jihad” gear, Kevin Jonas aka “The Romantic One” of The Jonas Brothers heart-throb boy band was spotted wearing a keffiyeh in a Disney photo shoot. In a blog post, former McCain campaign advisor and present-day blogger Martin Eisenstadt protested the fashion faux pas. Though he gives himself a buffer, just by mentioning the idea that “The Romantic One” attempted to “seduce America’s young girls into being the next generation of Hamas sympathizers,” Eisenstadt attempts to promote an association between deplorable acts of violence and a scarf.
And the problems aren’t just in the US. Last week, supervisors of De Lijm, a Flemish bus company, “caught” an immigrant driver wearing a keffiyeh and removed him from his bus.
But what’s behind all this commotion?
The keffiyeh represents more than one ideology, movement or struggle.
The keffiyeh started as a traditional headdress for Arab men. The checkered pattern originated from the ancient Mesopotamian representation of fishing nets of grain and used in arid climates to protect against the sun, dust and sand. During the Arab Revolt of the 1930s, the keffiyeh became a symbol of Palestinian nationalism and later became a trademark of Yasser Arafat who arranged it to in the shape of a triangle to resemble the outlines of the Palestinian territory.
Leila Khaled, a female member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, wore the keffiyeh, a symbol often coupled with Arab masculinity, to express her equality with men in the Palestinian struggle.
In Iran, the keffiyeh has been worn by President Mahmoud Ahmadinjad and his supporters as a symbol “of the sacred defence,” the official name for the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war effort. During the war, Iranian soldiers used the black-and-white checkered scarf as prayer mats, to protect their faces during chemical attacks, as burial shrouds and to even at times to tie enemy hands.
Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, Iran’s supreme leader, dresses in the keffiyeh for all appearances and members of the hardline Basij militia are regularly seen wearing the scarf. Ironically, the keffiyeh has also become a trend amongst youth in favor of western pop culture. Jahan News, a website considered close to Iran’s intelligence ministry, has reported that Iranian underground rap artists often wear the scarf in concerts and videos and even young women have been seen wearing the scarf.
In the United States, keffiyehs emerged in the 1980s at the start of the First Intifada, when bohemian girls wore keffiyehs as scarves. Recently keffiyehs have experienced a resurgence in popularity among Pro-Palestinian and Pro-Israel activists, world-music aficionados and hipsters alike.
The keffiyeh has been worn by extremists and leaders of disreputable organizations, but it has also been worn by women as a part of feminist fashion statements; Iranian youth in opposition to the current hard-line regime; and members of both sides of the Israel-Palestine issue. Therefore I think it is erroneous to speculate that each person who wears a keffiyeh is a “potentially aggressive person.”
Just because Rachel Ray and Kevin Jonas were told to wear keffiyehs by their stylists does not mean that they are or endorse any terrorists—such preposterous notions only add to the fear and hateful sentiment that has been swirling throughout the world.

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