Sunday, February 15, 2009

The keffieh as a symbol

Since a previous post post written two years ago (and not translated into English), about the "globalisation" of the Palestinian keffieh and its transformation, in Western societies, to a fashion accessoire, the phenomenon has spread to the Arab world where the keffieh has been adopted by many young men and women with its trendy look (with all sort of colors and sometimes a modification of the patterns). In the “historical Palestine” for instance, Israeli Jews may wear the “new” keffieh, something unbearable for many Palestinians who see it as another spoliation of their national heritage (as it has been the case before with the hommous and the falafel).

In Lebanon too, the (now) fashionable keffieh has made a noticed apparition in the streets of Achrafieh and Ayn al-Rumaneh, areas of Beirut whose people were not precisely well known as supporters of the Palestinian cause. Thus, the traditional keffieh still to be found in the refugees camps faces the challenge of two different versions of the Palestinian symbol : that of the trendy globalised keffieh but, also, that of the Shiite Lebanese who have adopted a different similar in patterns but where the black color dominates.

For old people, the rejection of the modernized keffieh transformed in a accessoire à la mode could be less a political question than a “moral” one, as the keffieh has always been traditionally associated to masculine values. Something Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum made very clear in her famous “Keffieh” – presented at her last personal exhibit in Amman – were the apparently usual headscarf interweaves strands of women's hair with the Arab symbol of machismo.

In Palestine as in other places, the keffieh is a reliable barometer of the public opinion. After the bombardments of Gaza, the classical keffieh has made a noticeable come back on the shoulders of many stars of the Arab screen as around the neck of many demonstrators in the streets.

Is it still possible for the classical keffieh to reaffirm itself as the symbol of the Palestinian identity? Whatever is the answer, it is worth to consider that the last local keffieh factories are on the verge to disappear after the market has been flooded with cheaper products made in Asia.

Is this symbolic of the Palestinian fate?

(On the last Palestinian keffieh factory, there is wonderful – and short video - made by a French journalist, Benoit Faveley, which I founded on Hawgblawg, an always very interesting blog, in English.

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French.

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