Can I wear a Keffiyeh if I am not Arab?

Keffiyehs and their designs are hot property in fashion industries all over the world. From Scandinavia to Germany to Japan, there has been a surprising surge in the demand for Hirbawi keffiyehs that has arguably only just begun. The new owners of these garments are growing rather than narrowing in racial diversity too. At the same time, the question of cultural appropriation has kept some journalists up at night, but in all of this, there is a simple, even endearingly unpretentious picture to consider at the heart of the keffiyeh itself. As the only true version of the garment, it seems important that the Hirbawi keffiyeh has something to say on the matter.

Its origins are, after all, the Al Hirbawi brother's workshop. This is a place far removed from the loftiness of racialization and politics. There is a simple mission; There are three men stationed in the last surviving keffiyeh factory of this classic shemagh's original and only home country. They keep intact and alive a tradition older than Moses himself. The Hirbawi keffiyeh has more to do with a father's love for the art of making these beautiful loom works than anything of a political flavor. If the Hirbawi keffiyeh is to be seen in its proper light then, it is a testament to a tradition that a day-to-day Arab family is only too glad to share with whoever will wear it.

Their designs bring new meaning to the scarf, which originated as a means of protecting farmers from the elements. Before that, and long before the time of Abraham, there were the Mesopotamians who might have taken their pattern-design cues from fishing nets, a symbol of rare abundance in the desert.

There is variety upon variety to choose from when selecting a Hirbawi keffiyeh cloth, and one would certainly be losing out if they were to focus solely on the military connotations. No one can deny these. They do of course exist. But each Palestinian Hirbawi keffiyeh is by definition a limited edition artwork and each worth framing. The older pattern is Mesopotamian in origin, and the newer patterns bear nothing of the old associations, apart from the general cut and shape of the cloth.

One must ask themselves: is the price of affirming or denouncing a Hirbawi keffiyeh based on cultural appropriation, politics or a vague distaste for the desert, not a petty excuse for missing out on an original Hirbawi keffiyeh? Especially in an age when so little is authentic and so much is mass-produced the message borne by a Hirbawi keffiyeh is surely worth more than all that.

So of course there is always the question of political affiliations. Could the traditional cloth be a sign of someone taking a hard line in politics? It could, and very often is. But lest we forget, there are two things to consider here. Firstly, there is the background of the Hirbawi keffiyeh in particular. And in more broad strokes of modern interest, there is the issue of Palestine and the place of the keffiyeh in the world of political imagery. Yet an underlying authenticity remains despite it all.


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