A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Culture Wars and Cultural Appropriation: Israeli Designer Eroticizes Palestinian Keffiyeh

Cultural  appropriation of indigenous cultures by the mainstream culture is a worldwide complaint, from Native Americans complaining about fashion designers using sacred eagle feathers (or everything about the Washington Redskins) to affluent young whites adopting African American culture: those doing the appropriating usually assert that they mean it as a compliment and an honor to the appropriated culture, but far too often the appropriated culture fails to see the compliment.

I am virtually certain that will be the case here: As the article notes, Israeli high-fashion designer Dodo Bar Or has designed a line of women's clothing drawing its inspiration from the iconic Palestinian (male) headdress, the keffiyyeh or kuffiyah. The keffiyeh is an icon of Palestinian nationalism:  Yasser Arafat wore his draped in the shape of the map of Palestine, and I'm sure I'm not the only foreigner who learned the trick of keeping one visible in your car in the West Bank so it wouldn't be attacked if it had Israeli plates.

I don't want to be a prisoner of gender stereotyping. If a female Palestinian designer derided to feminize and even sexualize the keffiyeh, that might be a suitable protest to the dominant patriarchy. But this is not a Palestinian or Israeli Arab designer.

But when an Israeli designer takes a well-known symbol of the Palestinian national movement (and a distinctly masculine one) and both feminizes and eroticizes it, one has to wonder if the intentions were generally benign but the realization disastrous, or something else. The collection can be seen on Bar Or's website; the two photos reproduced here (one topless but from the rear, the other with some "sideboob") are probably the ones most likely to raise hackles. Neither is overtly offensive as fashion poses go; but each seems deliberately provocative given the cultural context..

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