Those with long memories that were in Afghanistan around the turn of the century will remember the Taliban prohibited barbers from cutting beards, and in a number of places banned the cutting of male hair completely. At that time there was no ‘hipster’ styling of male facial hair — but times have changed and the Pakistani young male on trend as he likes to be, has taken to shaping his beard as he likes. This does not suit everybody and a senior administration officer in Dalbandin in Balochistan’s Dalbandin district had taken up the Taliban directive and ordered barber shops to cease styling beards ‘in designs’. Later on the same day the decree was withdrawn by Mandokhel, the official who promulgated it who admitted that he did not have the authority to make it. Mercifully, we were spared the ignominy.
The decree had been circulated to the police, Levies and other officials of the local administration. To the surprise of nobody the social media were quickly alert to the decree, questioning whether a Taliban style of lawmaking was to be allowed to flourish anywhere in the country and not just in Dalbandin. This is not the first time there has been such an attempt to impose strictures on the style of beards. In the year 2008, then Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Maulvi Umar had ordered the men of the Bajaur tribal area to grow beards within two months ‘or face the consequences’. A similar directive was made in Kharan district of Balochistan in 2017.
This is no trivial matter. This is a concerted attempt to dictate a particular style of male grooming that forces aside free will and choice, and punish those that fail to comply. It is one of those infringements of personal liberty that may seem risible, but in fact has profound implications for wider issues of freedom of expression — and it is unacceptable.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2018.
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