What Not to Wear: The Gaza Episode

Reports of the Hamas police grabbing young men from the streets of Gaza to give them a haircut have been making the rounds. This practice is foreign to the Palestinian experience and most local human rights have spoken out against such an invasion of privacy and assault on basic human rights. "We severely condemn the detention of several young men in the past few days by the Palestinian police," said the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). The local community does not, and never has, respected Big Brother-like surveillance, so this Hamas move seems to have backfired.

Ayman al-Batinji, a spokesperson for Hamas police, tied those haircuts to men who sit on the side of the road and harass women and high school girls who pass by. "We received several complaints from headmasters saying a number of boys are hanging around on the streets and harassing girls." A number of accounts of young men with long hair, strange haircuts, saggy pants, and men who like to experiment with slim jeans were rounded up, taken into the local police station, given a haircut and a lesson about good morals. "When we arrived at the police station, they made us stand in a line and started mocking our haircuts and cursing us," said one man. In both cases, I think there are better ways to handle this issue. It's not like the police have solved all of Gaza's woes and now have more time to be the host of "Wear This, Do Not Wear That." While many people in Gaza (and in America, here and here) take issue with saggy pants and so on, the police should occupy itself with other important matters. Plus this sets a frightening precedent; what will they disapprove of next?

In this video, a young man tells his account of the police who grabbed him on his way to buy bread. They confiscated his chain and cellphone, and then the police ripped his pants. Naturally, he is pissed off and shaken by his interaction with a government that's meant to look out for him and not bully him into conformity.

This account made the social media happy for few days. What came as a surprise to me, at least in the company I have seen, is how critical people are of this young man's hairstyle and outfit. I do not see much support for people like him, as you can see -- if you can read Arabic you will note some of the comments came from ladies. One of whom had this to say:

"You deserve this, and you should be ashamed of yourself."

She is not the only one, it seems. A university professor in Gaza, Kamil El Shami, wrote an op-ed with seven points where he tried to shame the vendors for selling such pants to the youngsters. He also questions the police tactics and their infringements on basic rights.

Another leaked video shows the actual arrest of a number of young men by a Hamas police officer:

A twist came when online commentators brought up the case that the prophet of Islam Muhammad and his companion used to have really long hair. Some even used to braid their hair because it was too long. This particular argument makes Hamas and their foot soldiers cringe.

It appears that most people in Gaza are critical of both the police tactics and the fashion choices made by those young men. This stems from the large number of young men who practice loitering and walking down the street -- a frightening experience for many men and women. But this is also to be understood in terms of politics. The timing of this indicates that we are about to have an election in the occupied Palestinian Territories and Hamas wants to rally their base. Their base is made up of conservatives who do not mind culture wars, even in as small of a place as the Gaza Strip. Hamas' core voters have been urging their party to crack down on what see to be negative social practices such as drugs, pornography, and different hairstyles. To me, what's missing is the realization that such rights are not privileges; they are God-given.

Note, the first Palestinian party to criticize Hamas's war on saggy pants is a party that has not presented anything new or has done little in the past decade -- the Popular Liberation Front were the first to issue a press release.

Another controversial law is Hamas' new law of segregating schools. This seems to have pissed off some commentators outside the Gaza Strip, when in reality the Gaza schools were never mixed to begin with. I went to school in Gaza and mixed classrooms were never an option under the occupation, under the PA, and not under Hamas. Hamas only put this on paper. And frankly, I think this is their first mistake. I am not too worried about segregated schools because in Gaza, if you are male, you will never have a female teacher, but female students often have male teachers. In a way, this may allow more women to be hired as teachers. This would allow women to have positive female role models who lead their class and inspire them to be more than mothers -- a lovely career choice by the way. I think laws should be about fairness, equity and efficiency.

[Hat Tip Kellee Koenig]