A Pennsylvania school district is in hot water after the star shooter in their active shooting drill training video was depicted wearing a keffiyeh.
The keffiyeh, or kufiya, is a traditional scarf, often worn on the head, in the Middle East. The scarf, and variants of it, is commonplace throughout the Middle East. It is worn in Gaza, where it has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance around the world, in Saudi Arabia, where it has been worn by men for generations, secured in place by an agal, and many other countries. Despite its widespread, everyday, and completely normal use, the keffiyeh has also become a symbol of terror to many who remain ignorant to its history and actual meaning.
Keeping that in mind, not only was it wrong for the Penn-Trafford School District to depict the shooter in a way that clearly represents a group of people, whoever made the choice got it completely wrong.
Elaine Linn, board secretary of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
“To stereotype the shooter is appalling given the data on active shooters and the recent shootings at the Tree of Life and Christ Church. The action of Penn-Trafford puts our community of over 10,000 Muslims in the greater Pittsburgh area in great harm.”
As reported by The Root, “of the 110 mass shootings that occurred in the United States between 1982 and February 2019, 62 of them were carried out by a white gunman. The deadliest being the massacre that occurred on the Las Vegas strip in 2017, in which 58 people were killed and over 500 others were injured.”
Not only is the use of a keffiyeh in an active shooting drill training video wildly inaccurate and glaringly racist to many who viewed the video on social media, it perpetuates a dangerous and inaccurate stereotype.
“These volunteers were provided costumes and accessories by the consultant group to alter their appearance so that they were not readily recognizable by their co-workers,” school district officials said. “There was no intent to represent any particular culture or religion.”
A security training company by the name of Command Excellence staged the drill and provided the props for participant use. John Sakoian, Command Excellence president and founder, contends that the participant wore the keffiyeh without permission. “He completely, innocently converted it to that. It’s not just a Muslim headdress. It was a neck scarf.”
But the community isn’t quite so sure that was the case.
One former student told WPXI:
“Uneducated bigotry and it’s unacceptable. It’s more sad than anything.”
Wasi Mohammed, executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, said of the incident:
“Active shooter situations are a real problem in America. It’s an epidemic. It’s a tragedy, but it has nothing to do with the Muslim community.
It’s unacceptable. It’s disgusting. It’s another instance of people using the Muslim community to stoke fear.”
If it was indeed a simple mistake, the situation should serve as a teachable moment for all involved. And if it wasn’t, Command Excellence should be held accountable for providing a keffiyeh as a prop.