Wearing Your Heart On A Sleeveless Shirt

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.


  • Hey didn’t it just come out that the beach where the family was killed was littered with land mines by Hamas!

  • According to Israeli propaganda the likely suspects are Hamas, Hizballah, Santa Clause and quite possibly the Easter bunny.

    i knew that rabbit was just up to no good

  • So you haven’t said anything about the T-Shirt then? Man, I think you should approach her. Be friendly, avoid that she thinks you are just using the worst pickup line of your life and see what she’s got to say. You mentioned yourself how someone misunderstood the intention of your crowd control shirt. I can’t see how, but maybe that girl has some different conception of the Israeli AirForce issue than you expect. And don’t you think you are almost obliged to confront the issue? It would be a shame if a possibility to promote world peace (as you see it) went unnoticed. And if they kick you out, you know what kind of shirt gets you back into the course;-)

    Hareega, where is that I love Arabs shirt available?

  • Nas,

    I have several shirts like you mentioned. You can buy them on e-bay. I have one that says “I am not a terrorist”, but in arabic. Being white, I get some really interesting looks and reactions from Arabs when they see the shirt. Sometimes they ask “do you know what that means”? When I answer them in Arabic, they are more surprised. White guy, Arabic shirt, speaking Arabic.

    I have another that says “Allahu Akbar” in Arabic, but that one is troublesome. Out of respect I do not wear it to the bathroom, so there you go.

    Another that says “Palestine” in Arabic. I wore that to work one day on a dress down day. A young Palestinian, born in Ramallah, but lived here since aged 12, asked me “What does that say.” I couldnt believe it, but hey, I spoke better Arabic than he did, so it didnt surprise me.

    I have always been the type to be a bit “in your face”. This has mellowed as an adult, but things like this I guess are a hold over. We used to live right next to a large Jewish community center and I would wear a shirt I had that said, in Arabic AND English, “Support the Uprising for an Independent Palestinian State.” More interesting looks.

    BTW, you can buy Hamas hats, bandanas and flags on e-bay. Being in America, I am not sure of the legality of buying these, however. Hamas is listed as a terrorist organisation in the USA. Buy their materials, from whatever source, could get you an indefinate stay in Gitmo Cuba.

  • Number One:
    I thought it was the the Israeli NAVY that was supposed to have bombed those people on the beach.

    Number Two:
    I find it hard to believe that you would have gotten in trouble with a large American or Canadian university or any public one of any size for wearing a Hamas t-shirt. You *would* probably get comments from people, and so you certainly had a right to say something.

    Number Three:
    I am led to understand that it is not considered a fact that the Israelis bombed those people on the beach. They say they didn’t even after originally accepting the possibility that they did. Unlike Palestinian militias, modern military organizations take meticulous care to NOTE where and when they launch bombs. If it was done deliberately and by an Israeli, then I think an Israeli settler would be a more likely candidate.

    Yes, it could still be a cover-up, but equating the Israeli military with the organization that thinks so much of Zarqawi is probably over-emphasizing your point.

  • And you thought Mahjoob company’s T-shirt were that bad! Seems like we’re living the T-shirt revolution… it’s all about the T-shirt you know 😀

    Very interesting post in deed! thanks…

  • Hey there!

    I teach writing at a university in the US and I’ve been periodically checking out your blog for a bit.

    I like your posts – very interesting – really gives me a different view into the world.


  • CMar II:

    Yes, it could still be a cover-up, but equating the Israeli military with the organization that thinks so much of Zarqawi is probably over-emphasizing your point.

    Yes, I suppose it would be more like equating it with an organization that thinks so much of Sharon

  • Whatever one’s support for one ideology, group, faith, whatever, wearing a T-shirt like that right after deaths have occurred in such a fashion is tasteless and callous. It may not have been something that you could publicly or officially protest, but she could have chosen other ways to show her support…

Your Two Piasters: