Today I was surfing Islamonline.net and came upon this link for a website selling an “Islamic” T-shirt. The About section says: “Take pride in Islam & wear an Islamic T-Shirt!” and I’m thinking to myself…really? Is the wearing of this T-shirt a display of pride? Now I’m not going to rag on this t-shirt, especially in a world where people find pleasure in wearing t-shirts that read “Boob Inspector”. Whatever floats your boat. But this shirt really just reminded me of something that happened to me in the past week.
A girl in one of my poli sci classes wore a t-shirt that read “Israeli Air Force”. Now I didn’t think too much of it first until I realised this wasn’t someone who I’ve ever seen wear a t-shirt and secondly it happened to coincide with the day after the killing of Palestinian civilians from Israeli shells. I thought to myself, wow, what if I wore a “Hamas” t-shirt (I don’t have one but…) would I get kicked out of university?
I brushed it aside for the time being but on the second day she wore the same t-shirt just a different colour. Now I’m no expert on female apparel habits but I’m wise enough to know they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the same thing twice in the same week, let alone the next day. And these all being graduate poli sci students I did make the wild guess that she was wearing this t-shirt to send some sort of less-than-subtle message of support.
But what do you do? If you complain then you’re labeled anti-Semitic or at the very least causing an offense worthy of suspension. If you don’t speak up then it eats away at you and you alone. Complaining about something like this is, for North Americans, the equivalent of a vegan complaining about a meat-eater sporting a hamburger t-shirt. Probably even worse, even “sillier”. I remember last summer in one of the Safeways in Amman I was kind of disturbed to find them selling t-shirts that read “US Army” and “US Navy” and “Desert Storm”, especially at a time when Iraq is being occupied.
And it did get to me because absolutely no one was thinking about it but me; I suppose that made it worse. It’s possible that on any other day, I admit, I may not have thought twice about it. But with the deaths of so many people at the hands of the Israeli Air Force still so fresh in my mind, it did eat away at me.
And I went to bed thinking I was being silly. It’s just a t-shirt. When have t-shirts ever changed the world? But the devil’s advocate in me was reminding me how clothes have always played a historic and political role. Imagine walking down the streets of Harlem with a white sheet over your head (and it’s not Halloween). Girls in France being told they can’t practice their religion in school and so they have to remove their headscarves. It’s an endless list.
I had an Electronic Intifada t-shirt that had the picture of a bullet with the words “Israeli Crowd Control” written beneath it but I don’t know where it is. I wore it several times and someone actually came up to me and said he found it offensive. I asked him why. He said it suggested Israeli crowds should be shot. I looked down on the shirt to check that I was wearing the t-shirt he was talking about. I told him he misunderstood it, that the t-shirt suggests (and quite clearly at least to me) that the IOF uses bullets to control Palestinian crowds; hence the “crowd control”. He then said that it therefore suggests that the IOF shoots Palestinian crowds intentionally. I asked him if he ever read the news. He said the media always says “bullets” when they mean “rubber bullets” and that they shoot in self-defense from aggressive Palestinian mobs. I told him I didn’t know too many people who had their heads blown off from a rubber bullet and that Palestinian “mobs” tend to get a little defensive when Israeli tanks start rolling past their homes, not mention that in the past helicopter fired missiles and tank shells have been used in the past to “control” Palestinian crowds. In all fairness though, Israel does use rubber bullets sometimes. They shot a student on the Birzeit campus a few weeks back as he was heading to an exam.
Anyways I don’t think they sell that shirt anymore, I’m guessing someone complained it was offensive and they took it down.
That being said, never underestimate the power behind the socio-political message a t-shirt can deliver. Except for the “Boob Inspector” ones.