Dean of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma Charles Graham issued a public apology for wearing an Arabic robe and head covering (white thawb and red keffiyeh) to a back-to-school event last week.
Graham included in the apology that he bought the garments in Dubai and wore them out of multicultural respect. Furthermore, he said several Muslims he spoke to didn’t find his wearing the attire offensive.
Those who did express discomfort sent anonymous emails to the university president citing Graham’s actions as “culturally and ethnically insensitive.”
The executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma, Adam Soltani, suspects that the underlying issue for those who sent complaints was that the clothing is associated with Muslims and the Middle East.
"I couldn't imagine if he wore a Scottish kilt or German lederhosen that people would complain about it,” Soltani reportedly said. “I highly doubt they would complain if it were any other clothing that people didn't associate with Middle Eastern and Islamic culture that is wrongly tied to minority extremist groups."
Soltani attributes “heightened Islamophobia” in Oklahoma as one of the factors causing the biases against Islam and Muslims.
"It's traditional Arab dress worn in the Middle East but people who are not Arab, including myself, wear this type of clothing just as there is Persian dress, African dress, Turkish dress and clothing worn in other places," Soltani said. "Non-Muslims in the Middle East wear this type of clothing too."
Graham insists the situation is not a matter of religion at all, but more about cultural sensitivity.
You be the judge. Does wearing attire associated with a certain culture promote diversity and acceptance or is it a form of cultural appropriation and insensitivity?