Earlier this month, news outlets announced another civil rights outrage: in Gaza, Hamas police have been detaining young men whose long hair does not fit with the group’s social aesthetic ideals, allegedly beating them and forcibly shaving their heads. Also under siege: narrow pants and hair gel.
The relativity of words like “indecent,” “appropriate,” and “strange hairstyle” is starkly apparent here, and when the “non-conformity” of citizens in some cases results in beatings, those words take on new influence. Wearing “low-waisted trousers” has even been called “negative behavior” by Hamas officials. We may be familiar with dress codes and Emily Post etiquette, but regulation of clothing by a government or ruling party is something few Americans would be comfortable with (unless by choice, such as in the armed services). Forced haircuts may remind some unfavorably of their time in service or a mother’s punishment, but for many it will conjure up far darker images of Holocaust victims or similar abuses of power. What is it about hair that seems to disturb ruling powers and that is so emotionally disturbing when it is taken away?
Hamas’ interpretation of Islam as applied to daily life does not allow for tight jeans and gelled hair, and part of their containment strategy is to forcibly remove visible signs of these “trends” from young men in Gaza, where half the population is under 18. Since the turn of the twentieth century, Americans have considered the teenage years to be a time of experimentation (for the wealthy, anyway), and young people have been given a wide berth while experimenting with their personalities–significantly including dress and hairstyles. At the same time, to which many of our readers can attest, the teenage phase includes obsessive adherence to perceived social norms. Often, “rules” of dress, grooming, and comportment are created and enforced by teenaged peers; this can lead to serious emotional issues for those who don’t conform.
Parents sometimes make the rules: too skimpy, why all the black makeup, are you really going out in that? They make shake their heads at Kids These Days, or even strictly control dress behavior they do not agree with. But when a powerful militant group takes it upon itself to not only make the rules but apparently violently enforce their arbitrary decisions, the role of clothing in national, generational, or even religious identity is at once enhanced and degraded. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) “strongly condemns” the actions of the Hamas police as violations of civil rights, noting that those detained and allegedly attacked were also made to sign statements that they would not “grow long hair or have a strange hairstyle, or wear ‘low-waisted trousers’ again.”
Who gives clothing or hairstyles power in this case: the targeted young men, or the militant group?
How would you feel about an enforced dress code or grooming regulations? We so often hear about conservative interpretations of Islam targeting “indecent” women’s dress; does this focus on the wardrobes and grooming of young men change that conversation? Do you think skinny jeans specifically can be seen as threatening to Hamas’ interpretation of Islam and the power structure created therein? Or rather: would Jncos be equally at issue?
What are the implications of the PCHR declaring the right to dress however one wants a “private liberty” and a “civil right?” Is it surprising to you that those sort of declarations are apparently still necessary in 2013?
Clothing is not just clothing. Please leave your respectful comments below.