Ali Deilami

They made us wear keffiyehs, but nobody told us the meaning

In all Iranian elementary schools, children are introduced to keffiyehs before they finish learning the alphabet. It’s part of the Islamic regime’s ideological education to make students wear keffiyehs on various occasions such as demonstrations, choir groups, visits by inspectors, etc. Thus, for Iranians, the keffiyeh became a well-known and iconic symbol of those who support the Islamic Republic and its ideas, but not exactly the symbol of Palestine. Because in schools they forgot to teach us the meaning of wearing the keffiyeh!

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The surprising point is that while teachers made us wear keffiyehs, none of them ever explained to us what this black and white scarf means. We didn’t know that it was a Palestinian symbol. I noticed it by accident when I was 15, but the majority of Iranians never realize it. Ever since the idea of writing this blog came to me, I have been talking to all the Iranians that I have met here in Italy. All of them were born and raised in Iran and finished school and even university there. But none of them knew the truth about the keffiyeh! Some of them were in their 30s with a Master’s degree in Human Sciences obtained in Iran (even from universities known to be affiliated with the Islamic regime). So it’s not just a Gen Z problem.

Maybe the teachers took such knowledge for granted and assumed that our parents had already told us. The more likely possibility is that they had no idea about the origin of the keffiyeh themselves. In fact, I contacted one of my old friends who is now an elementary school teacher in Iran, and she didn’t know that the keffiyeh was Palestinian either. I seriously doubt that our teachers were any more knowledgeable! But at least she referred me to the memory of an Iranian commander during the Iran-Iraq war. The commander went to the bazaar to buy keffiyehs for his unit. The seller, a religious old man, complained that wearing a neck scarf was a sign of criminal gangs and that it was beneath the dignity of warriors of Islam to use these things. The commander explains the use of the keffiyeh for soldiers, but he doesn’t mention Palestine! So apparently even in the 80’s the average Iranians were not familiar with the concept of the keffiyeh.

Last week, Ebrahim Raisi, the president of Iran, entered Saudi Arabia for the Gaza summit wearing a keffiyeh. But he didn’t when he met with Crown Prince Bin Salman. Several newspapers had raised this matter. Arab societies are usually fully aware of the purpose of wearing the keffiyeh, even the second or third generation in Europe and North America. Whereas Iranians are so ignorant, or perhaps reluctant is a better word, about the history behind that scarf. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that despite the presence of the Palestinian issue in the daily lives of Iranians (through the regime’s propaganda and through the sanctions they tolerate), Iranian society is not functionally affected by the anti-Semitic advertisements.

About the Author
Ali was a journalist in Iran, working for ISNA (Iranian Students News Agency) from 2019 to 2021. He now lives in Milan, Italy.
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