When men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken, giving views to passion without that proper deliberation which alone can secure them from the grossest absurdities. David Hume
There is a silent war being waged in every corner of the world between the bearded Jihadists who want to prevent the spread of what they refer to as “materialist western influences” in the areas they control or intend to liberate and the clean-shaven western leaders determined to democratize the world and usher in an atmosphere of tranquility and liberation. Most often, Jihadists refer to clean shaven men, regardless of faith, as womanish, irreligious, satanic, pagans, and selfish disbelievers. On the other hand, the clean-shaven western leaders see the bearded Jihadists as fundamentalists, uncompromising tyrants and terrorists, retrogressive and oppressive, and retarded religious addicts. When western powers arrest suspected Jihadists or terrorists, their first course of action is to shave the suspect’s beards ad infinitum before initiating any interrogations while the Jihadists force their western prisoners to grow beards, trim their moustaches, and if applicable, convert them to their faith. Today’s men are divided into the bearded, clean-shaven, bewhiskered, mustached, and balding and those with mutton-chops, side burns, facial plumage, dreadlocks, and other types of facial hair styles. In historical antiquity, unshaven men came to be regarded as ‘barbarians” which implied the “unbarbered” or appearing untidy.
The history of shaving stretches back to thousands of years when copper was first discovered by early man. Ancient Egyptians shaved their beards and heads-a fashion adopted by the Greeks and Romans and applied by their armies as a deterrent aimed at discouraging the enemy from grabbing their hair during hand-to-hand combat. Even to this day, modern armies supply the bulk of shaving razors to the men and women in uniform as dishevelment is considered as a betrayal of the strict military code of ethics and good conduct. A serviceman or servicewoman who is not in the right military fatigues may be described as “improperly dressed” and could be subjected to harsher penalties.
Scipio Africanus Major (236-183 B.C.), the conqueror of Hannibal in 202 B.C, was highly regarded and copied in the region of Rome for establishing innovative approaches to being clean-shaven. Around 50 B.C., Julius Caesar (101-44 B.C.) used tweezers to remove body hair on a daily basis. And in the 4th century B.C., Alexander the Great encouraged the shaving of facial hair. Aztec Indians of North and Central America and some Central African tribes shaved with razors made from the volcanic glass obsidian. Between 1096 and 1270, Europe opened its eyes to the luxuries of Middle Eastern life with novel costumes, traditions, and toiletries greatly impacting the crusades.
Men have been bearded since time immemorial. Egyptian Pharaohs wore fake goatees as a sign of holiness, nobility, and kingship. One explanation for the goatees worn by the pharaohs was that pharaohs were in charge of or responsible for leading the flock (the people) to the right directions. The idea of the Pharaohs wearing fake goatees may have its roots in the male goats popular in the Egyptian landscape of those days. Because the leading goat known as the “He-goat” or “Billy-goat”, is, as you would expect, accountable for leading the rest of the goats or flock, likewise, pharaohs symbolized the “Billy-goat” role by wearing goatees for the sake of leading the flock spiritually, politically, and economically. Furthermore, as archeology and past Egyptian antiquity relate, Pharaohs’ goatees were made from goat skin. Even the female Pharaoh, Hatshepsut, is represented wearing a false beard. Most Pharaonic statues and sarcophaguses display drawings or carvings of Pharaohs with fake beards.
In Islam, according to the Sunnah (traditions), the mustache is to be trimmed and the beard left untouched though the beard has become a symbol to be scoffed at in modern times. Muslims are divided whether it is Haraam (prohibited) to shave the beard or Mustahabb (a good act), not to shave. Besides the beards, Muslims are encouraged to shave or trim pubic hair every 40 days as an act of hygiene. Muslim Sheikhs, Hindu Gurus, Sages, some Christian priests (depending on denomination), and Hasidic Rabbis keep beards as a sign of religious devotion and leadership. In Judaism, it is strictly forbidden to shave with a razor. The use of scissors which is double-bladed is preferred instead. The Book of Leviticus and the Book of Ezekiel have regulations on the shaving of the beard for priests. In some Jewish sects, there is a prohibition on the shaving of the corners of the head with particular emphasis on the marring of the corners of the beard for the priests. A practice known as tonsure, which is the cutting of hair from the scalp of clerics, devotees or holy people as an act of reproof of worldly sparkle and admiration, is common among Buddhist monks and novices, some Hindu temples, mystics and Christian churches.
The patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church is bearded. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has full-blown beard. The founder of the Sikhism, Guru Nanak, was bearded and is revered by millions of followers. Sikh men are prohibited from shaving their beards. The head of the Egyptian Coptic Church, Bishop Shenouda III, the 117th, Pope and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, is bearded. Some former Communist leaders like Karl Max, Vladimir I. Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara, were all bearded. So was the Iranian revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. Popular African leaders who were bearded include the former President of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, and Ethiopia’s former Emperor, Haile Selassie.
Of the 44 Presidents of the United States, the current President-elect included, only five were fully bearded. They were Abraham Lincoln (though he was clean-shaven one time), Rutherford Hayes, General Ulysses Grant, James Garfield, and Benjamin Harrison. Statistically, 90 % or 94 million of American men over the age of 15 will shave 275 times per year or 20,000 times between the ages of 15 and 75.
With the advancement of razor technology, it is easier to trim and shave today than never before. The discovery of modern razors marshaled the era of the Wilkinson razor founded in London in 1772, and Gillette, founded in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A, by King C. Gillette in 1901. Besides, the fabrication of these obsolete razors into modern hand-held electric and battery operated machines that rotate thousands of times a minute and the marvelous demonstration of some razors that sense and avoid cutting into skin, have, in the course of history, become a source of jubilation for women and men shavers and trimmers alike.
Paradoxically, materialism and the fervent inclination towards the clean-shaven cheeks philosophy has altered the profile of the beard and reduced it to a symbol of fear and ridicule. Nonetheless, since the 9/11 incident of 2001 that shook the United States and the simultaneous bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, security at major world airports have been tightened with much scrutiny and heightened focal points shifting to bearded men exhibiting suspicious activities and unintelligible languages. On the other hand, the Bali bombings of Indonesia, the recent 2008 Mumbai bombings in India and other subsequent terrorist activities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Pakistan, have, succinctly, created so many twists and turns in global security such that so many legal amendments aimed at curbing the spread of fanaticism and other forms of narcissistic tendencies that undermine peace, security, and democracy have been formulated by nations united in the fight against terrorism.
Despite global beard phobia, mustache and beard competitions draw great crowds every two years with the last attraction held in Brighton, England, on September 1, 2007-a prime example of how facial hair is grabbing international headlines. The next event will be hosted by the South Central Alaska Beard and Moustache Board and is scheduled to be held in Anchorage, Alaska, on May 23, 2009 with the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Board being in the list of major sponsors. Perhaps, every man who participates in this event will have one thing in mind: win a fabulous prize or trophy and emerge a world champion in the Guinness Book of Records.
Despite the splendor and glamour of the forthcoming Anchorage Beard and Moustache Competition, the war between the clean-shaven democratic leader and the bearded Jihadist will continue for an infinite period until the very moment when the conqueror and vanquished emerge after massive damage had been done and uncountable innocent lives lost. History has its eyes on when the Jihadist conqueror will, in the closing stages, force the vanquished clean-shaven western leader to grow beards once again or when the victorious clean-shaven western leader will clean-shave the subdued bearded Jihadist. This brings us to the conclusion that the war being fought between the Jihadist and the clean-shaven leader is nothing but ideological. It is a war of minds and a bitter struggle for the world’s dwindling resources. It is about territorial gains, natural resources, command of the seas, and influence of a wider scale.
This article was previously published on WardheerNews, Dec 23, 2008 .