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Keffiyah: from fashion to politics!

fashion-and-trends Updated: Jan 28, 2008 18:31 IST

PTI
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Pakistani singer Atif Aslam of Woh Lamhe fame wore it at an event to promote his new album and MTV VJ Mahira flaunts hers on television - the 'keffiyah' or classic red-and-white chequered scarf worn by Arabs seems to be acquiring political hues in Pakistan. The keffiyah, which till not very long ago was considered a hip fashion statement, has now become a symbol of empathy for many in Pakistan.

"The keffiyah is no longer flaunted as a fashion accessory. It's worn to empathise with Palestinians," said Mehreen Jabbar, a university student. For Jabbar's friend, the scarf - now available in other colour combinations - is an "anti-war statement". "Many of us wear it to show that we are against war. It is not Bohemian wear as it is being made out to be. The scarf is symbolic of everything we believe in," she said.

In the Middle East, the scarf serves a functional purpose: to protect against the sun and the desert sand. It is also seen as a symbol of piety which men wear to Friday prayers. However, the political connotations of the keffiyah, which is never given a miss in cinematic portrayals of Arabs, are not free from criticism.

"It is seen by some as an endorsement of terrorism but that is not how it is. Atif Aslam wore it to the launch of his album recently. The West loves to find fault with us. For them, all Pakistanis are terrorists," said Jamal Siddiqui, an electronics engineer. It is not just the educated and the well-to-do who are flaunting the "militant hip gear" with designer logos.

The keffiyah is a hit with the lower middle class as well. "Yasser Arafat used to wear it. I have been wearing the keffiyah for about two years. I wear it to support the Palestinian cause," said taxi driver Yusuf.

He admitted that passengers, especially foreigners, often asked him why he wears the keffiyah. The keffiyah is an androgynous accessory which girls team with jeans and with salwar-kameezes. The men throw it around their necks. Across the world, the "anti-war scarf" has been of particular interest because it is "eastern" and therefore "exotic and chic".

Yet many have reduced it to a racist association with terrorism.