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Over the years, Urban Outfitters, a store best known for catering to hipster culture and fashion, has managed to offend quite a number of groups including the Jews, African Americans, Native Americans, and the gay community. The last controversy stirred up in April when the company churned out shirts with a six-pointed star on it that greatly resembled the Star of David patch worn by the Jews as forced by the German Nazis. Just 2 months later, they have successfully angered many religions with the use of the hamsa symbol in one of their collections.
The hamsa, also known as khamsa, depicts an open right hand and is commonly used as an amulet in many societies. Throughout history, this symbol of protection has been believed to provide defense against the evil eye and can usually be found made into jewelry or wall hangings. The hamsa, used by the Muslims and Levantine Christians, has also found its way into the Jewish tradition after its widespread use in the Islamic world. Thus, there is a slight variation in their names, with the symbol being known as the hand of Fatima, the hand of Mary and the hand of Miriam, respectively.
The new hamsa designs have sparked the outrage of Internet users who are now circulating the pictures around social media networks. Many claim that they are boycotting the company while urging others to do the same. With words like ‘insulting’ and ‘dumb’ being associated with Urban Outfitters, it does seem like the company’s latest attempt at being edgy is about to blow up in their face. It does not help that one of their designers have apparently claimed to state, “Fashion makes racism cool.”
For some, Urban Outfitters’ use of the hamsa was justified. Parul Sharma, a Mumbai based author, states that while the religious symbol may not be a fashion statement for one person, it could be the case for others.
Mehreen Kasana, a student based in Lahore, Pakistan furiously disagrees. “My religion is not a fashion statement. Do not wear the Khamsa or any other religious symbol when you don’t know what it signifies and aren’t part of that faith. Commodifying someone’s belief is disrespectful and pathetic. The instant reaction to someone’s offense in this case is, “Oh lighten up! It’s just a shirt!” No. It isn’t. It’s an insult and people will call you out on it. If you still choose to trivialize someone’s faith, don’t expect us to be nice,” she says.
Urban Outfitters may have well stirred up another controversy for themselves in an attempt to garner attention, perhaps taking the phrase ‘any publicity is good publicity’ to heart. For a brand so focused on making a statement, commonly showing disregard for the boundary between art and respect for other religions,this may well be the recipe for success.
In previous cases, after mounting pressure from the public, the company discontinued the production and sale of some of their items bearing sensitive nature, although it is still unclear what actions will be taken for this controversial product.