Tri-City Herald: Opinions
HANNAH ALLAM: Muslims speak out through Arab-themed T-shirts
Published Tuesday, December 18th, 2007
— McClatchy Newspapers
CAIRO, Egypt The Christmas and Eid holidays run back-to-back this year, and it’s hard to shop for people who straddle Western and Middle Eastern cultures. While surfing the Web in hopes of finding unique gifts, I was surprised to stumble across an array of Arab-themed T-shirts whose slogans illustrate how bold Muslims have become in speaking out about their post-9-11 experience.
Once described as an “invisible minority,” Muslims in the United States and abroad can now express themselves with in-your-face T-shirts that strike at U.S. foreign policy, racial profiling, cultural stereotypes and Islamist extremism. A few years back, a friend gave me a gag gift, a T-shirt that shows a dancing mullah below the word, “FUNdamentalist.” A novelty at the time, such clothing is now widely available from online specialty stores.
Last year, an Iraqi peace activist said he was forced to remove a T-shirt printed with, “We will not be silent” before boarding a JetBlue flight to California. Activists against racial profiling drew attention to the case. A blogger who was outraged by the incident has created his own T-shirt, with “I am not a terrorist” written in Arabic. Proceeds reportedly go to the ACLU. Go to: http://casualdisobedience.com/
Rootsgear – http://www.rootsgear.com/ – recently added a cheeky T-shirt that says, “100% randomly searched at the following airports.” The words appear over a map of the United States, with little airport symbols in every state.
The creatively named Halalapalooza site – http://www.halalapalooza.com/ – offers a list of apparel companies that sell Muslim-themed political T-shirts and other items. For example, one company – http://www.zazzle.com/ – has created a “Muslims for Ron Paul 2008” bumper sticker where the “O” in the presidential candidate’s first name is depicted as a crescent moon, a symbol of Islam.
Another top seller is a simple, black-and-white tee that reads, “1,000 years have passed, and George Bush still doesn’t know the Crusades didn’t work.” Yours for $14.95. Several online outfitters poke fun at Western hysteria over the word “jihad,” which is almost exclusively used in reference to holy war instead of its broader definition as a struggle or challenge. The Islamist hip-hop company Khalifah Klothing – http://www.cafepress.com/khalifaklothing – offers a graffiti-style T-shirt with the word “jihad” in Arabic and English.
WearAloud.com – http://www.wearaloud.com/ – sells a “Jihad vs. G8” shirt,
and tees at http://www.zazzle.com/ simply ask, “Got Jihad?”
The immigrant experience is lampooned by other online T-shirt companies, especially those run by enterprising young Arab Americans. One such operation, T-shirtat.com – http://www.t-shirtat.com/ – has snug cotton ladies’ shirts with slogans such as “Arab Soul” and “Syrian Princess” across the front.
The shirts are hot items at Arab-themed conferences throughout the United States.
The online Phatwa Factory – http://www.phatwafactory.com/ – describes itself as “the best thing to happen to Muslim clothing since pants under a thawb (traditional men’s gown). Offering a variety of funny Muslim T-shirts. Remember, if you don’t like them, the terrorists win. Or at least tie.”
Phatwa Factory products take aim at stereotypes – there’s a shirt with a five-humped camel and the words, “Arab limo,” and the familiar Sesame Street logo replaced with, “Salafi Street.”
But hands-down, the site at http://www.cafepress.com/muslimteez -gives the best (if unintentional) example of the Muslim world’s struggle to uphold deep-rooted values amid the encroaching influence of Western pop culture. The product roster lists sassy thong underwear stamped with “haram,” which means forbidden or not permitted under Islam, right next to a $34 maternity shirt that reads, “Allah’s little angel.”