Dodging Stray Bullets in Lebanon With The World’s First Bulletproof Headscarf
As a way to avoid casualties in celebratory gunfire, Beirut designer Salim Kadi has made a keffiyeh from Kevlar, the same plastic material used for bulletproof vests.
Beirut fire sergeant Wissam Bleik was killed by a stray bullet during the Beirut municipal elections in May. He was a victim of celebratory gunfire, which usually follows political speeches in Lebanon.
Lebanese authorities are struggling to battle this dangerous ritual, which often happens at weddings, funerals and elections. Advocacy groups like Cheyef 7alak have been creating videos to show the dangers of firing stray bullets, but the crime continues.
"Historically, the keffiyeh was worn to protect one from the environment, but violence is our new environment," said Kadi.
"I thought it was necessary to re-imagine what a contemporary keffiyeh would be."
The K29 Keffiyeh 001 is a 120 by 120 cm headscarf embroidered with Kevlar, a strong plastic which is typically used for bulletproof vests, boats and airplanes.
Kevlar is not easily transported between countries, as it is illegal to import body armor without prior authorization from border protection and sometimes requires a license issued by the government. It is illegal to export Kevlar from the US. There is a 10% sales tax and a duty rate of 5%to get Kevlar into Lebanon.
Kadi smuggled it into Lebanon. He then gave it to Dalida Faris, a seamstress in Ain al-Hilweh, a Palestinian camp on the outskirts of Saida in southern Lebanon. It took two weeks for her to make it "under very trying circumstances," said Kadi, including little electricity.
The keffiyeh has always been a symbol of resistance; it was a national for solidarity often worn by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, it has been worn in the military and as a fashion statement. But none of these clichés seem to interest Kadi.
"I am interested in the images of demonstrations around the world—whether in Paris, Buenos Aires or Jerusalem—where the keffiyeh seems to operate as a symbol in a universal struggle against injustice," he said. "In those images, those who wear it appear to me like fantastic superheroes."
Stopping a bullet to the head would require at least nine layers of Kevlar, which is possible in the way one wraps the keffiyeh around the head.
"The Kevlar is quite stiff in comparison to cotton, but the more it is worn, the suppler it becomes," said Kadi. "Wearing it feels like wearing a motorcycle helmet, without the extra weight."
At first, Kadi created an umbrella-like shield made of Kevlar, but he said it was "too passive as a pun and too bourgeoisie as an object." That led him to designing an object he could relate to symbolically. "The Kevlar and the keffiyeh is a perfect match," he said.
Kadi designed this for his friends, family and everyone who could potentially fall victim to stray bullets caused by celebratory gunfire—he hopes to mass produce them and make them available for an affordable price, or even for free.
"Myself, last year, I was stepping out of a bar on a bright Sunday afternoon when a stray bullet landed with a loud 'TAKH!' on the pavement two meters away from me," said Kadi.
"Much like many things in Lebanon, this gunfire is sadly never questioned enough and is accepted as a natural consequence of being here. Most people tend to run indoors but many times the bullets are not heard until it is too late. It often results in multiple accidental fatalities."