The Blog

The Hairless Terrorist, and Other Notes on Manliness

Like Andre Agassi and Marky Mark before them, two would-be terrorists shaved their bodies.

11:01 PM, Nov 7, 2001 • By DAVID SKINNER
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I.

"A DEGRADED SENSUALISM deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity." Winston Churchill said this of peoples living under "Mohammedanism."

One wonders what the last lion might have said about the two suspected terrorists discovered on a train in Texas on September 12. Arrested by the FBI, the Muslims were carrying box cutters, $5,500 in cash, and copies of fake passports--in the photos of which the suspects appeared in various disguises including beards and glasses and whatnot. Ayub Ali Khan and Mohammed Jaweed Azmath were also carrying letters instructing them to take an oath of death and to "shave excess hair from the body." And so they had, shaving their entire bodies. Presumably, though not necessarily, it was a matter of pre-death ritual, perhaps done in anticipation of the martyr's reward of 72 black-eyed virgins.

Looking like boys did they expect to enter paradise. Actually, the FBI was rather puzzled by the meaning of the men's shaven bodies. The Koran, Islamic experts say, teaches nothing about shaving one's body. Al Qaeda terrorists, like other holy warriors, are free to shave their beards when among the infidels, the better to look like them. But there would appear to be no reason for these men to have shaved their bodies. Unless these jihaders got their information on what the infidel looks like from Calvin Klein ads or Men's Health magazine, where a pedophilic aesthetic makes every man hairless. A degraded sensualism indeed.

II.

Such men do not labor under the moral influence of women. Nor do they suffer the Christian inhibitions celebrated in the beatitudes. No blessed-are-the-meek sentiments for the warrior class that proves its valor by killing infidels or for the political class that denies women everything but punishment.

Which raises the question: Who today would argue with Churchill the imperialist scold? Such might be the force of this clash of civilizations that multiculturalism is revealed as the preachy warbling of little girls and boys who'd been kept safely ignorant of what hatred really looks like. The wrongness of barely considered stereotypes--so loudly condemned in classrooms, public service announcements, and Benetton ads--is a micron-sized fault next to the inarguable evil of jihad's call for the death of non-believers. It can now be said that we have met the other and he wants us dead.

III.

The hairless man was a metaphor for the unmanly courting and mating habits of the American male. He'd been disillusioned with the ideal of starting and supporting a family. Nor did he put much stock in serving his country. As illegitimacy rates shot skyward, enlistment numbers fell to earth. Sacrifice and service gave way to vanity and self-concern. The hairless man was also a name for the practice of depilation that appeared ubiquitous in the world of fashion and quite common in Hollywood movies. This outward sign of adolescence was seen adorning men in their twenties and thirties. What had once been a trick of bodybuilding and later a gay fashion (essentially, a mockery of hetero fashion) became mainstream. Manliness had been degraded to a mere part in our country's cultural personae, to be performed or burlesqued, but little else.

Not that the difference between gay men and straight men had been well-defined. If gay sex was only for pleasure, well then, so was straight sex. In fact, sex without the possibility of pregnancy was promulgated as a universal right. Adding to the confusion, we were told that gay men wanted to marry and wanted to serve in the military while few of one's straight acquaintances in their twenties gave any thought to either. Straight-gay animosity reached a minimum, if it didn't disappear altogether, and veered into irrelevance.

Take the fate of Joe Jackson's gay pop anthem "Real Men": "See the nice boys / dancing in pairs / golden earring, golden tan / blow wave in their hair." This month, Tori Amos, famous for her smoky ribbon of a voice and her songs about being raped, tried to add another level of irony to "Real Men" with her own rendition. But the anger of one identity (the alienated gay man) is not so easily assumed by another (the rape feminist); thus does identity politics diminish individual cries of injustice by grouping them together into a single plaintive chorus. Nonetheless, Tori nicely delivers the gloomy ambivalence of the original, but falls short at the very end of the song. Where Jackson's voice closed with a soaring of discontent, she wraps up "Real Men" with an itty-bitty pout that can only be described as girly.

IV.