Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Beards being radical and radically maddening?

This ancient stone figure is looking pretty shady with his curly beard. - Photo via Flickr "Beard" by Quinn Dombrowski
Tajikistan shaves beards to stop radicalization...

Shaving beards to stop radicalization?  You can read the article here.  And you will probably come to the same conclusion that almost any rational person would.  "That's stupid" you'll say.  "Mad," says I.  And we'd be right you know.

This is the maddest thing you've ever heard of.  And it's not just because it's the sort of headline that you can imagine an insane person like myself coming up with.  It's not just that you suspect it will turn out to be a piece written by The Onion.  Oh no.  It's not even the fact that it's true that makes it the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard of.  (Though I don't know what you've heard of, so perhaps it is...)

But the real truth is that this is the maddest thing to happen in the modern world precisely because it's been done before.  You are laughing, I can tell.  You don't believe me.  But it's all perfectly true.  The strangest things in this world are the facts.  No great work of fiction can ever rival the madness of real life.  "But, seriously," you think to yourself.  "It can't have happened before."

"Ah," I say knowingly.... "but it did.... many years ago in Russia."

The beard revolts.  Peter the 1st decided that Russia needed to be westernized.  And one of the ways that he thought he should go about this was to dispense with all the beards in his country and ensure that he and his countrymen were all clean shaven.  So he instituted a beard tax and tried to get the populace at large to shave.  Just as the Tajikistan police have been shaving the beards of their male population.  Since, beards in Russia were not just a choice of facial hair, but an ingrained part of the culture, the beard shaving was not met with much favor.  And I'm sure it will not be met with much favor in Tajikistan either.

Now, the article states that Tajik culture is what they are trying to uphold with this, er, practice.  But what it fails to mention is that beard wearing is very much a part of Muslim culture, which constitutes a whopping 99% of their citizens.  So, say what you like about beards being cultural.  Even if you can convincingly argue that beards are not an ingrained part of Tajik culture I still can't see anyone being pleased to be forcibly shaved.  Hair, whether facial or otherwise is rather personal and being forced to shave is not just shocking it's insulting as well.  Having a beard does not make you radical.  However, as the article suggests, having your beard forcibly shaved might make you into a radical.

In Russia, the people weren't having any of the beard shaving.  They revolted.  The beard revolts were large, violent and well, very Russian.  But the point is, forcing someone to shave their beard never solved anything.  It didn't westernize the Russian peasant automatically and it won't de-radicalize anyone automatically either.  It will only incite anger and possibly violence.

And the maddest thing of all is not that it's happening, which I think you and I might both agree is mad, but that it's happened before.

There really is nothing new under the sun.

Sadly, for those of us historians unfortunate enough to be well read, we are doomed to watch history repeating itself.  Slowly unfolding with it's inevitable consequences right before our eyes while we shout and rage in impotent frustration.

Just call me Cassandra.

(In case you aren't up on your ancient history.... ironic considering the post, no?  Anyway, I'm referring to that prophetess of Greek mythology; doomed to know the future but cursed so that nobody would ever believe her.  Yes, you ancient Greeks, thanks a lot for that one.)

And if I've just left you depressed I will give you a peace offering.  I'll leave you with two different articles.  An article on beards that is going in the opposite direction.  Read it here and don't dwell too much on the madness of the world.  And if that isn't enough to raise your spirits I offer you The Onion's take on beards here.  Just to amuse you, or to make you pause and think about how differently beards can be viewed.  Radical?  Conversation tool?  Hipster?

Photo via Flickr "beard" by urban_data

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