Fashion collective threeASFOUR brings peace to the Middle East

Really, threeASFOUR, this is the best you could do?  A veil encrusted with the Star of David?

In lambasting the New Yorker’s review of the new Islamic art wing at the Met not long ago I offered a stout defense of the centuries of cultural exchange between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. You’d think, then, that I’d be especially susceptible to the why-can’-t-we-all-just-get-along theme of the fashion collective threeASFOUR’s “Insalaam, Inshalom” show at the Beit Ha’Ir Center for Urban Culture in Tel Aviv, which makes a similar point about the harmonious existence of Jewish and Islamic culture.  Certainly, this is rich terrain: besides the obvious scriptural fact that Islam is derived from Judaism and Christianity and recognizes their prophets as its own (albeit adding one more, Mohammed) there is the historical fact — in places like Iraq, Syria, and Yemen — of Jewish and Muslim communities living in close proximity for centuries, creating a hybrid culture now transplanted to Israel by the mizrahim.

Today, the wearer of the hand amulet known as the khamsa is just as likely to believe it belongs to Miryam as to Fatimah, which I suppose is why threeASFOUR garlands the sheer top (pictured above) with it.  And the veil is the most cliché possible shorthand for Islam, so perhaps it was inevitable that a fashion collective would resort to it in lieu of some more imaginative reference.  But two of the three known as threeASFOUR (and yes, if you’re wondering, one is named Asfour and there used to be a fourth, Kai Khune, but he quit) are from the Middle East — Gabi Asfour is Palestinian, from Haifa by way of Lebanon; Adi Gil is Israeli — and given what a fuss they make about their cosmopolitan biographies one might have hoped their show would reflect a more intimate understanding of the region.

But, OK, it’s just fashion and one can hardly object to anything so excruciatingly well intentioned, right?  Here is Adi Gil defining their mission:

“Fashion and beauty are tools to promote togetherness and unity in different countries and cultures,” Gil said. “We hope we can inspire other people to work together and not be scared of working together.”

That quote comes from a piece in the New York Times style magazine ‘T’ — I just applauded them for their look at these cool Palestinian parkour kids doing daredevil leaps off destroyed buildings in Gaza — and, on second thought, it is probably the total, vacuous inoffensiveness of that sentiment that offends me most.


To see how far we are from ‘togetherness’ in the real world, where land and power rather than amulets are at stake, consider sheptropremix’s interpretation of another “Shalom, Salaam” — this one by Ziggy Marley — which pairs the song with video footage of Palestinians after an Israeli military raid.

The video is only half the story: be sure to visit the YouTube page and scroll through some of the fevered comments.  Here is one directed to the editor of the video from a viewer calling himself JewishDefense:

you lose all respect with me once you say “Free Palestine” because the only definition for it is a Palestine replacing the Current state of Israel, so this makes you a hater of the State and someone not to be trusted with your following statement of “Peace to everyone” for you know this is not true if “Free Palestine” is also true.

And this one from schmatever:

it is anti-Israel just because you sprinkle some icing on the top of your hate doesn’t take anything away from that. Thats a simple fact. You are just so used to being anti-Israeli, for you thats normal, well its not! You are the ignorant one.

Sigh. Some of the printed silk dresses in that threeASFOUR show sure look nice, though.


You can read my own plea for ‘togetherness’ at the new Islamic art wing at the Met Museum, as well as an article I wrote for Travel + Leisure about contemporary art in Cairo.  Or click here to read how my journey to Beirut ended up being exhibited on an art gallery wall.


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