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The Case for Keffiyehs


Richard Hayne is the CEO of Urban Outfitters. For fear of landing on the wrong side of the War on Terror, Hayne pulled from the trend-setter company’s shelves, the Palestinian head scarf known as a keffiyeh. Traditionally worn in the Middle East for protection from the sun and sand, keffiyehs are appearing more frequently in America as a show of solidarity with those Arab nations–particularly Palestinian and Iraqi–living under military occupation.

A chorus of Islamophobic bloggers–one of which likened the keffiyeh to a swastika–discovered that Hayne’s e-mail address is Their anti-keffiyeh e-mail campaign displayed the power of sending thousands of e-mails to a CEO. In mid January, Hayne relented. The story of the pulled keffiyehs appeared in scattered news stories and as my local Urban Outfitters clerk confirmed to me on January 28th, “[the keffiyehs] might still be in the building, but we’ve been ordered not to sell them.”

On January 20th, at Guilford College (a small, liberal school in Greensboro, North Carolina) 3 Palestinian students were called “sand niggers” and “terrorists” while being beaten–punched with brass knuckles and kicked–by more than a dozen members of the school’s football team. Now I can’t say whether the Guilford College football team took their inspiration to nearly lynch their fellow students directly from the anti-keffiyeh campaign, but this shows that mainstream media, politicians, and corporate executives’ equation of all things Arab with terrorism has horrific consequences for Arabs.

Put accurately by Brian Levin of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, “[w]hat we have here is a climate where Islamophobia is not only considered mainstream, it’s considered patriotic by some, and that?s something that makes these kinds of attacks even more despicable.” Indeed, a Gallup poll done last Summer shows that 39% of Americans admit to being prejudiced against Muslims and believe that they should carry a special ID.

With practically all of Congress placing blame on Iraqis and Palestinians for the violence in their respective occupied lands, the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN) is asserting the centrality of anti-racism to the antiwar movement. Is anti-American sentiment a consequence of nonsensical Arab barbarism (as Bush would put it, “They hate our freedoms!”)? Or do the people of the Middle East have good reason to resent America’s history of supporting dictators, displacing populations, and betraying allies?

Is the prize of Iraqi oil just a side benefit to America’s otherwise altruistic “anti-terrorist” intentions in the Middle East? Or is the “War on Terror” an ideological smokescreen to justify otherwise contemptible intent: power and control of the most oil-rich region in the world?

We believe it is the latter, and we stand in solidarity with the people living under military occupation; be it waged directly by the U.S. as in the case of the Iraqis, or be it funded and sustained by the U.S. while carried out by Israel in the case of the Palestinians. That’s why CAN is distributing keffiyehs and other antiwar gear at the University of Wisconsin while selling bus tickets for the March 17th “March on the Pentagon.” Learn more at

CHRIS DOLS is a civil engineering major at the University of Wisconsin, a member of the Campus Antiwar Network and editor of He can be reached at


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