To Palestinian-American designer Nemi Jamal, the controversy surrounding a fringed black-and-white scarf worn by Rachael Ray in an ad for iced coffee is "just a disgrace."
Dunkin' Donuts pulled the ad last week after critics said the scarf worn by the television chef symbolized Muslim extremism and terrorism.
Not to Jamal, born in Jericho and now living in New City, N.Y., who said the kaffiyeh, the traditional Arab headdress, is no fashion faux pas but a symbol of nationalism. She's among the Arab-Americans who say the comments are inaccurate and show prejudice.
"The Palestinian people consider this their flag," said Jamal, who has designed jeans, pocketbooks and neck ties with the scarves. "People often have these in their cars and on key rings. It is about pride and class struggle, and nothing else. To say it stands for what they've said is just a disgrace."
Once the trademark headwear of former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, the hatta, as it is also called, dates back centuries and is used to shield those who live in the desert from the relentless sun and dust storms. Some wear the cotton cloth as a turban, while others wear it draped against their back and shoulders.
The traditional headdress became symbolic during the Palestinian uprising against the British occupation from 1936 to 1939, and has been a symbol of nationalism ever since, according to Rochelle Davis, an assistant professor of culture and society at Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.
"While it has symbolism of solidarity with Palestine, it is not associated with terrorists and does not show that someone is sympathetic to terrorism," Davis said. "To say that is just incorrect."
But blogs had buzzed about the scarf in the Dunkin' Donuts ad, with some arguing it is worn by Muslim terrorists who appear in beheading and hostage-taking videos.
Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin said in her online column that the apparel "has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not-so-ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons."
"The kaffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad," the column read.
Davis disagreed, likening a kaffiyeh in the Arab World to an American wearing a baseball cap. They are seen on the young and old alike, as well as tourists and U.S. and British troops to protect them from the elements. The scarves, with chain-linked patterns and knotted tassels, are usually seen in red, black or white but are also made in other colors.
Ray's scarf had a paisley design and was selected by a stylist intending "absolutely no symbolism," according to a statement issued by Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin' Brands Inc.
Laila Al-Qatami, communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said that while she thought it was wrong of Dunkin' Donuts to cave under the pressure, she understood the franchise did not want the issue to detract from its marketing campaign to sell coffee.
She added that the recent controversy is the strongest backlash she's seen regarding a cultural article of clothing or an accessory.
"The only thing I can possibly liken to this is if someone were to say that anyone who wears a sombrero is a supporter of illegal immigration," she said. "It's ridiculous."
Zead Ramadan, vice president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in New York, said he was outraged by what bloggers and critics alluded to.
"People are trying to label Arabs, and are trying to do so with clothing items," Ramadan said. "It's intentional propaganda that has been created to mislead unknowing people about a cultural item. Terrorism is not something you wear; it's a state of mind."
Despite the controversy, Jamal said she doesn't expect any type of backlash to her own business. Determined to make the kaffiyeh "the new bandanna," Jamal has transformed them into flowing skirts and low-cut halter-tops that have been worn by a beauty queen in a Miss USA pageant, a popular stand-up comedian, and Sarah Jessica Parker on an episode of "Sex and the City."
"People will always say things, but you just have to ignore it and keep doing what you're doing," she said. "There are enough people that respect it for what it is."