“Hate Couture” and “Terror Scarves”: An All New Low, If That Were Even Possible!

Dunkin’ Donuts, recently pulled an ad in which a well-known celebrity chef, Rachel Ray, dons the traditional Arab garment known as the keffiyeh under pressure from rightwing hatemongers and purveyors of reactionary bigotry such as the blogger and regular commentator on Fox News, the utterly repugnant Michelle Malkin. This is perhaps an all new low in the increasingly pathetic, irrelevant and warped “debate” which has a long-established precedent in the so-called “mainstream” media who almost uniformly covered the incident without even a modicum of critical insight into how a traditional piece of Arab dress, yes, a simple piece of cloth can be branded “hate couture” or a “terror scarf” tout court.

Of course the discursive representation of Arabs, Muslims and Middle Easterners in the American corporate media has long been the subject of query and criticism, if only in rather dry academic circles. Edward Said’s Covering Islam is perhaps amongst the best know of such critiques (although the work of Joseph A. Massad, Talal Asad and Hamid Dabashi are absolutely indispensable to this genre), and conveys well the manner in which Arabs and Muslims are almost invariably portrayed as one-dimensional and hateful fanatics, while the multi-faceted and highly intricate nature of specific cultural formations, cultural-religious debate, critical thinking, art, literature, cinema, philosophy and reflective self-examination coming out of the Arab and Muslim world is completely ignored…Though we shouldn’t let ourselves be side-tracked by such peripheral issues, by spending more time on them than they deserve (which is close to zero, the only exception being to point out their disturbing stupidity), it’s disheartening to say the least that a piece of cloth in virtue of a few distorted and plain ignorant associations can be dubbed a “terror scarf” without even a glimmer of disaffection amongst the media, who simply seem content to trot out the run-of-the-mill dogma and trite insights that today pass for journalism…

Such debates are deployed due to their high ‘entertainment’ value while being devoid of substance. Rather than examining American foreign policy and covert interventions, the plethora of dictatorships and autocracies which populate the Middle East (many with Western backing, sorry folks it’s not just the IRI), and the illegal Israeli occupation, we’re kept busy polemicizing and writing diatribes about marginalia…Another sign of the media’s woeful decline is that discussion of such serious, dare I say subversive, matters is often more likely to take place on Comedy Central than it is on CNN. How can this be? There seems little hope of such a trend reversing itself and the dearth of substance that continues to blight media coverage of the Middle East seems as though it will continue unabated…it’s almost enough to turn a bright-eyed optimist into the inconsolable and disillusioned cynic…


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