One Man’s Keffiyeh

Posted on April 18, 2011


In the summer of 2010 I was invited to perform at a few festivals. One of the fests I was invited to drop conscious grassroots political hip-hop had me travel by bus and taxi which was no biggie for me. Despite such givens after eleven hours of straight traveling from Montreal, I finally reached the fest in which an Arab teenager in Hijab immediately confronted me on my Keffiyeh.

In essence, I use the vocabulary word “confront” due to her approach towards the scarf that was clad over my left shoulder. Not knowing who I was, the teen, wrapped in her hijab, asked, “do you know what that means?” I was actually pissed by her approach. Undeniably, I dont wear something unless I know why I am wearing it and what the story and significance is of this given garment. Moreover, I was in no mood to be put under the microscope and punked by some smart-ass teenager thinking I was probably some ill-informed cat. No arrogance intended, everything Big Brosky wears, is worn for a reason.

As she asked me her accusatory question: “do you know what that means?” I was basically awe struck and gave that smirk as initial reaction, the smirk said it all, it was one of those Brown Man under occupation kind of smirks that basically said, “are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me, after all the shit Ive seen, who the fuck are you?” After having smirked, I just vented my pissy mood and said: “with all kindness, I just traveled eleven hours to get here and I am in no mood to school some kid on the Keffiyeh and whether I know what this means.'”

There’s no denying the fact my response was a pissy one, but what I cant stand is some kid stepping up to me scrutinizing what I do in a very “I know everything” kind of way. Simply put, she could’ve just asked nicely. I went back later after checking in my hotel just to apologize about my response. There is no concealing the fact that it is always awkward when political statements and fashion (aesthetically speaking) clash and this is more specifically prone to becoming a complicated issue if one is a public figure. Undeniably, if one is dropping socio-politically conscious hip-hop like myself, it should not come as a surprise to catch me wearing a Keffiyeh, it is kind of a given, no? Anthropologists, historians and sociologists collectively alike know far too well that symbols are one of the many mannerisms to sustain movements and essentially keep their flame alive.

For me, the Keffiyeh is more than just a symbol. The Keffiyeh is a story, a peoples’ story, their history, their struggle, their very culture, their very heritage and of course, their identity and their given roots. There is so much to see and say within a simple garment known as the Keffeyeh and for some a scarf is not just a scarf, even though sometimes one may want to simply see a cigar as just a cigar. Symbolism is a fundamental conceit of human history, it has been present in holy scriptures to events off the likes of the “snake” persuading man to bite, chew and swallow a forbidden fruit.

So here we are today, collectively a Children of Adam intertwined in a realm of symbols and this active use of symbals is not going to come to any for or fashion of cessation unless this very world were to cease itself. Of course, I wear the Keffiyeh to make a statement. Indeed, it is also such that the underpinnings of a given symbol determines and is likewise determined by its very application. Any critical theorist for the most part can easily assert that there is absolutely no logic in context of a garment, in an ontologically-significant regard, be a political statement. In essence, a piece of fabric can only undergo such a transformation solely when it itself becomes one via its use as one. In any given circumstance, individuals will interpret a given person’s wearing of a symbol–be this a Keffiyeh, a Hijab, a skullcap, a beard, a Yamakah, a Che Guevara tee or even a swastika–in a particular manner depending on the time and era they live in. Take for example the Romans and the Spartans, each wore and garmented themselves with different symbols in order to identify themselves and distinguish one ethnicity from another, such garments today would not really be of any relevance. In essence, it is safe to note and assert that over a given period of time, the manner in which a given symbol is deployed will eventually come to define how the majority of the people interpret it.

Before 1900, the wearing of the Keffiyeh did not symbolize solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian mass nor did it symbolize anything in context of a struggle for a homeland. Although Palestine was to fall under a British Mandate, oppression did not really exist, it did but it was not such a riveting affair until a Zionist movement was created and started eradicating and pillaging Palestinian villages in which an ethnic cleansing was to commence. The Keffeyeh was to become a symbol that was to manifest itself with a whole new meaning.

On a side note, shifting slightly away from the Keffiyeh however, still on the notion of the symbol, the aspect of the swastika in context of symbolism is one correlated to a different meaning in the Indian sub-continent in comparison to that of Europe. Undeniably, Europe and the Swastika are each intertwined with a very unfortunate history. In context of India, things manifest rather differently as the swastika itself is not reviled as a symbol of hate and anti-Semitic underpinnings. Here, the symbol still carries with it its pre-Nazi significance in which it is still revered in certain circles as a religious symbol and as a fashion one as well where one can find it present in jewelery or as a patterned motif on architectural structures. In essence, the symbol’s meaning is determined by its use. While the Keffiyeh has contemporarily been adopted as a symbol of Palestinian nationalism, this in itself does not mean that it must be the exclusive underpinning of the symbol. Simply put, the Keffeyeh in many Muslim countries is arbitrary in regards to simply being an everyday garment that serves itself for other purposes that aree so very distanced from any for or fashion of politics and nationalism.

This in itself is where I do step in as well. I do wear the Keffiyeh in order to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, however I do also use my very own Keffiyeh for other purposes that have nothing to do with any of the political and cultural reasons aforementioned in this article. There remains no doubt that the Keffiyeh in many Muslim states is utilized by Muslims and Christians alike quite ubiquitously. In essence, many like myself do either wear it neatly clad over their shoulders or over their heads or even over their left shoulders for some very practical purposes. In my case, the Keffeyeh carries with it a duel function, or rather a double entendre.

Popularity in the 60s

Mny are far too well familiar with the fact that the Keffiyeh itself  blossomed and manifested itself into a symbol of Palestinian nationalism in the 1960s. Over those days it’s black and white design eventually became an eventual trademark of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. For those who recal, Arafat consistently attired himself in his Keffiyeh in what was a rather distinctive arrangement in which he would have it draped over his right shoulder in a triangular shape that had it mimic the outlines of Palestine. For me personally, I found this to be quite clever and there is no denying the fact that Arafat did infuse fashion sense into the attiring of his Keffiyeh at the same time.

From Arafat came the ever Revolution infatuated Leila Khaled (and if you havent read my brief look into Leila Khaled and her college experience with ‘Revolution,’ please do so: (

Of course, so many remember and recall Khaled’s affair with the PFLP and all the radical stances she took in order to garner international attention for the plight of her people. For Khaled, the Keffiyeh symbolized and meant everything; everything Palestine and everything associated with the Palestinian struggle for autonomy, dignity and a homeland. Khaled wore her Keffiyeh wrapped around her head and shoulders as if it were a loosened Hijab and as far as I always saw it, was strongly correlated to her very own vanity. For me personally, after having psycho-analyzed Khaled, I always found her to be a little bit odd when it came to vanity and for a very odd reason I began associating her obsession with Revolution with Fashion. Simply put, I felt the young woman had a hunch to be on the cover of Vanity Fair and I’m sure if one were to ask about it, she’d probably shrug it off with a laugh. Essentially, if one were to put him/herself in Khaled’s shoes at the time, one would easily realize that this young woman was going through another struggle of her own: being a Woman in a world of Arab men trying to find a solution to the occupation of their homeland. When you are a Woman in a world full of dogs things become very challenging very fast and so in this regard, Khaled comes off as a woman determined and undermined by the battle of the sexes and actually even subject to much criticism due to the fact that her gender was not male. Since the Keffeyeh was also directly attributed to Arab masculinity, some political scientists and academics alike saw her attiring of the Keffiyeh as a domestic political statement to Arab men in regards to somehow establishing equality between the sexes within the stubborn male Arab mind/ego.

My looked exactly like this when she was the same age…

The Keffiyeh in the 80s

The notion of the Keffiyeh as fashionable accessory has actually been present since the 80s however, having mentioned this, I do feel that Leila Khaled was doing her own display of fashion with it back in the 60s. The 80s in themselves had a whole different political story attributed to them in context of what approaches were encountered in previous years vis-a-vis the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It is such that some may pivot an opinion that Arafat popularized the Keffiyeh in the 80s in which many numbers of American and European college and university students caught its presence and opted to start attiring themselves in one in order to express solidarity for the creation for a sovereign Palestinian state. Despite such givens, the Keffiyeh started to become more and more attributed with terrorism and from the 80s into the 90s, it was also linked to none other than Israeliphobism. There is no doubt that back in the 80s and 90s the media had much more sway on innocent minds and such is the case today however, with the advent of the internet and social media many are realizing that the Keffiyeh is the story of a culture, heritage and struggle and not terrorism and anti-semetism.

There is no hiding the fact that social media present in today’s era has undeniably brought about a significant amount of change in context of one may view the plight of the Palestinian people. The conceit that the Keffiyeh was to become a fashion trend may or may not be advantageous for the Palestinian cause however, despite such givens, it has brought about more awareness to the conflict for those left in the dark. What is disappointing was the fact that multinationals of the likes of Simon’s, Urban Outfitters and Topshop churned out Keffiyehs in a host of colours from caca yellow to hot pink and dark green. It was pleasing nevertheless to see that in 2007, Urban Outfitters pulled their “anti-war scarves” from shelves after much undesired controversy.

The Keffiyeh was not meant for fashion purposes. I personally have mine, authentically made in Nablus, Palestine and given to me from a good friend as a gift, clad over my left shoulder and at other times wrapped around my neck. If I am to go up on stage and perform my hip-hop, and more specifically, my track entitled “Depression,” which is a narrative through my eyes as a thirteen year-old walking through refugee camps in both Egypt and Jordan, I normally place my Keffiyeh on the mic stand and actually start talking about it before performing any songs. In essence, for those following Mickey Boston hip-hop and political activism, many are already aware of the anti-multinational stance expressed within the music. My strong advice to anyone in desire to purchase a Keffiyeh should be wise about where he/she is to make this very purchase. It is undoubtedly best for one to be sure to purchase a Keffiyeh from a non-profit humanitarian organization that is legit and not one that would be using their profits for the wrong reasons, intents and purposes. Moreover, it is quintessential to avoid purchasing a Keffiyeh made and manufactured in China for obvious reasons while also avoiding all multinationals since their Keffiyehs are not made in Palestine neither. Be sure to purchase the real thing and do delve into the history of the Keffiyeh and the Palestinian struggle for autonomy and self-determination.