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Afghan Rulers Arrest 22 Over Haircuts

Religion: The Taliban jails barbers for giving men the style worn by Leonardo DiCaprio in 'Titanic.' It says the bangs interfere with bowing and prayer.

January 26, 2001|From Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan's Taliban rulers have jailed 22 barbers for giving men Leonardo DiCaprio-style haircuts that are deemed offensive to Islam because the long bangs interfere with the ability to bow and say prayers.

The hairstyle, referred to among young men in Kabul as "the Titanic," mimics that of DiCaprio in the blockbuster movie.

Religious police deployed by the Taliban's Ministry of Vice and Virtue--responsible for imposing the religious militia's strict Islamic rule--say the hairstyle is unacceptable, according to Mohammed Arif, a barber in the capital.

The cut allows hair to fall on the forehead, which the Taliban says could interfere with a person's ability to say prayers. Muslim prayers are said while bowing toward Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Islam's holiest site.

After taking power in 1996, the Taliban closed movie theaters in Kabul, saying the images were contrary to Islam.

But pirated videos, including "Titanic," can be found and watched by people who have television sets and videocassette recorders hidden in their homes.

Since Saturday, 22 barbers have been arrested. It's not clear whether they will be punished or what the penalty would be. The Taliban espouses public punishment for most offenses. None of those arrested have been freed yet.

Arif watched while bearded Taliban religious police stormed into his business and arrested his colleague.

"There isn't anything you can do," he said.

Religious police patrol Afghanistan's capital, arresting violators of the Taliban brand of Islam, which requires the faithful to follow literally the teachings of the Koran and dress as Islam's prophet, Muhammad, did when he founded the religion in the 7th century.

The Taliban, which controls about 95% of the country, also has banned most forms of light entertainment and demands that men pray in mosques and not shave their facial hair, which they are not allowed to trim.

But Arif said men secretly do have their beards trimmed.

"They come very early in the morning or very late at night," he said. "It is done very secretly and only for friends."

Young men in Kabul often grumble about the Taliban's edicts.

Hafiz Ullah, 18, who sports the offending hairstyle, complained about the strictness of his country's rulers.

Although he defies their mandate on the haircut, Ullah is careful.

"I don't go near the government offices, and my eyes are always looking for the religious police," he said.

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