Ethnocentric Facial Hair Bias: Guardian Left’s latest bizarre apologia for a loathsome terrorist

Abu Qatada and his beard

I’ve been reading the Guardian every day since July of 2010 and I still marvel at their seemingly limitless capacity to both sympathetically portray even the most ruthless, reactionary and malevolent figures, while simultaneously chastising the West for its ethnocentrism – our failure to feel terrorists’ pain. 

The most recent example, On Feb. 10, Jonathan Jones’ CiF essay (Abu Qatada and the portraits of hate), suggests the over-the-top polemics of a right-wing troll, rather than an earnest argument.  That is, the theme explored by Jones seems to veer into parody, something you’d more likely find in the satirical sites, The Onion or The People’s Cube.

Jones (a Guardian Arts contributor) frames Qatada, a major al-Qaeda figure, as a victim of our culture’s irrational fear of unorthodox physical appearances – what Jones describes as his “expansive waterfall of facial hair.” [emphasis added]

Jones’ piece includes this passage:

Tremendous beards have for thousands of years been symbols of intense male spirituality in many religions. Qatada’s beard is not so very different from the outburst of chin hair sported by Pope Julius II in a 16th century portrait by Raphael, or the beards of Jewish elders in a painting by Bellini.

Jones, whose essay employed the words “beard” or “hair” 15 times – which, I’ll go out on a limb to suggest represents a record number of follicle references in an essay about terrorism – argues:

The best way to understand how supporters of al-Qaida…who present themselves in this way imagine their own appearance, might be to look at Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. Like Qatada, Michelangelo’s Moses has a grandiloquent beard that dominates his face, which in the case of Moses is both gentle and furious. Moses glares wrathfully at us sinners as we enter the church that houses Michelangelo’s sculpture. His beard is that of a prophet, close to God, who looks contemptuously on the deficiencies and sins of humankind.

Qatada, like Moses, is a holy man full of wrath [emphasis added]

Jones, seemingly obsessed with how Qatada’s beard has been used to unfairly vilify him – what will no doubt hitherto be know as ‘Ethnocentric Facial Hair Bias” (EFHB) – added:

His clerical dress and beard identify him as part of a subculture of radical Islamists and within that subculture signify spiritual grace. But outside that world they mean he is a terrorist, a fanatic, a violent zealot.

He is visually ostracised, and visually condemned.

Barbaric use of images to demonise others and so justify the deprivation of their human rights.

Of course, the “visually ostracized” Abu Qatada was also Osama Bin Laden’s right hand man in the UK, who, in 1999, issued a fatwa  authorizing the killing of Jews, including Jewish children, and told his mosque congregation that Americans should be attacked, wherever they were; that in his view they were no better than Jews; and that there was no difference between English, Jewish and American people.

Yet for Jonathan Jones, the “progressive” brave, new man, refreshingly free of the intellectually-crippling biases infecting a Western mind unfairly imputing guilt to this devout, complicated soul, we are in no moral position to pass judgement.

While many among the crude, unenlightened masses will remain bereft of Jones’ transforming understandings of Qatada’s “spiritual grace” and his sublime, ineffable aesthetic strength, such profound, majestic truths will certainly not be lost on the Guardian Left. 

13 replies »

  1. Being able to comprehend the unique holiness of a murderous terrorist must have a special label in the lexicon of the deranged or of those who c
    ompose a ballad to a tiger, sure that this will protect them from its hunger.

  2. “..a grandiloquent lofty beard..”


    Definition of “grandiloquent” – “a pompous or lofty manner of speaking or writing.”

    Question: How can a beard be grandiloquent? Can it speak or write of its own volition???

    And, pace the ludicrous style guide of the Beeb, why stop there? Why not also describe him also as a “pompous, overblown, oversized colossus of malevolent intent” which also explains why he is so rightly “visually ostracised” and “visually condemned”?

  3. Is it possible that Jonathan Jones simply can’t grow a very good beard, and feels badly about this?

    I mean, my husband is really unable to produce more than longish stubble. It doesn’t seem to perturb him, since it’s at least partly due to his Native American ancestry, of which he is proud, plus he can shave infrequently, but some men seem to feel a little less masculine if they can’t grow luxuriant chin-whiskers.

    This may have more to do with the writer than the subject.

  4. I am very surprised that Jones has not referred to Ruth Mellinkoff’s seminal study The Horned Moses in Medieva Art and Thought (dedicated to Walter Horn). Had he done so he might have been able to trace the connection between luxuriant facial hair growth and cranial sprouting horns, both symbols of manly potency. The implication of this is that Western denigrators of Qatada are attaching metaphorical devil horns to the head of the benighted preacher in the same manner that medieval Christian commentators attached them to the Jewish prophet. Therefore, the probably racist and bigoted (he has to be in order to function as the Guardian’s art critic) Mr Jones has some explaining to do as to why he makes no mention of cranial horns.

    • The hornedness seems to come from a mistranslation from the Septuagint to the Vulgate.

      Vasari raved about Michelangelo’s Moses in a positive sense. John Addington Symonds had this to say about it:

      We may not be attracted by it. We may even be repelled
      by the goat-like features, the enormous beard, the ponderous muscles,
      and the grotesque garments of the monstrous statue.