Beards, Cuban and Pakistani

By Farooq Sulehria

March 30, 2009 -- Fidel Castro finds beards a practical advantage: “You don't have to shave every day. If you multiply the fifteen minutes you spend shaving every day by the number of days in a year, you'll see that you devote almost 5500 minutes to shaving. An eight-hour workday consists of 480 minutes, so if you don't shave you gain about ten days a year that you can devote to work, to reading, to sports or to whatever you like.”

But having a beard is more than saving time. Cuban revolutionaries let their beards grow out also as a symbol of the Cuban Revolution. Castro describes how it happened: “We didn't have any razor blades, or straight razors. When we found ourselves in the middle of the wilderness, up in the Sierra, everybody just let their beards and hair grow, and that turned into a kind of badge of identity. For the campesinos and everybody else, for the press, for the reporters we were ‘los barbudos’ – ‘the bearded ones.’ The positive side was that in order for a spy to infiltrate us, he had to start preparing months ahead -- he'd have to have a six-month's beard growth, you see. So the beards served as a badge of identification, and as protection, until it finally became a symbol of the guerilla fighter. Later, with the triumph of the Revolution, we kept our beards to preserve the symbolism.”

Emirate of Swat

But such symbolism is blasphemy in the newly founded “Emirate of Swat”, in the north of Pakistan or the Pakistani Tribal Areas practically governed by the Taliban Movement of Pakistan (TTM). There centuries-old Buddhist sites are being dynamited, while the beard is mandatory. The standard-obligatory beard length is 7 centimetres. A man who shaves is fined Rs.500 and twenty lashes in public. The mandatory beard in Swat or tribal areas (better renamed troubled areas) is not an attempt to gain ten days that can be in turn devoted to work or reading. Neither reading nor work is a priority in the “Emirate of Swat”. Schools are regularly blown up to save future generations from such an indulgence as reading. Work has been brought to a grinding halt so that the faithful can devote all their time to prayer.

Terrorism, assassinations, executions

Over the past forty years there have been more than 3500 deaths in Cuba from terrorist attacks. Almost 2000 more have been injured for life. These terrorist acts are mostly planned in Florida by groups like Alpha 66 and Omega 7. They are funded by the USA while some US$68.2 million have been sent to Cuban “dissidents”. NGOs such as the National Endowment Fund and USAID pay journalists across the globe to spread disinformation about Cuba. Almost 600 plans were hatched to finish off Castro. Cuba, in turn, has never ever sponsored any terrorist activity against the USA.

In fact, Cuba even invited US President George Bush to Havana for a debate! Castro promised to fill the Plaza de la Revolucion with people and put up loudspeakers throughout in the county so that Bush or any other leader could convince the Cuban people. As far as the US people are concerned, Cuba’s policy, according to Castro, is: “Never has the Revolution blamed the American people, although at a certain point a vast majority of American citizens were persuaded that everything that was said against Cuba was true, that we were a threat to the security of the United Sates, and so on and so on. Cuba welcomes Americans with the greatest of respect and with no insults or affronts whatsoever.”

But in Pakistan, Americans, and even their infidel European cousins, better stay away. The Taliban made an example of journalist Daniel Pearl (and the European Piotr Stancza), demonstrating the risk involved in visiting. To widely circulate their message, the confessional beards filmed the butchery inflicted on Daniel Pearl and posted it on Jihadist sites.

The beards twice bombed the US consulate in Karachi (on February 28, 2003, and again on March 2, 2006). They attacked the Pak-American Cultural Centre and the residence of consul general in Karachi (on May 26, 2004). The US consulate's principal officer, Lynne Tracy, was ambushed in Peshawar. After the recent attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, even South Asians are advised to think before they dare visit. The Chinese, having their engineers and technicians kidnapped, learnt their lesson to keep their distance.

Laws of war

In their guerilla struggle, the Cubans committed neither assassinations nor terrorism. No attempt was made on the life of Cuban dictator General Batista. “No war is ever won through terrorism. It's that simple”, says Castro. His reasoning is that if you employ terrorism, you earn the opposition, hatred and rejection of those whom you need in order to win the war. But also “there are principles that are elementary in war and politics. Those who fell prisoner or surrendered were respected.”

During fifteen years of guerilla struggle, not a single person was assassinated. “Let people name a single prisoner, throughout that whole fifteen years, who was executed by Cuban forces. Not a single one! [Find one] and I will shut my mouth for the rest of my life”, Castro asserted. The Cuban guerillas shared their medical supplies, despite their scarcity, with their enemy's wounded.

Well, here in Pakistan, the case of Swat's Pir Samiullah amply demonstrates that the enemy, even when dead and buried -- let alone wounded -- is not spared the holy puritan wrath. A local tribal leader, Pir Samiullah, did not submit to bearded tyranny. Like many others he fought back and laid down his life defending his village against the Taliban occupation. His body was exhumed and strung up on a pole for public display.

Executions are so common that Swat's Green Square has been unofficially renamed as Khoni Chowk (Blood Square). This square is cluttered with headless bodies every morning and the mainstream Pakistani press dutifully reports on the “US spies” butchered by the Taliban. Since a business-as-usual news item about a certain beheading or being skinned alive hardly makes a headline these days, the media-savvy Taliban employ an innovation every now and then.

Recently an AFP report run by the Lahore-based Daily Times (February 27, 2009) attracted much media attention with the “catchy” headline: “The Taliban kill a ‘US spy’ as ‘a gift to Obama.’” The police official reported that a 35-year-old man kidnapped a week ago was found in Razmak, some 65 kilometers south of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan. A note found on the man’s body identified him as Shafiq Gul, a “U.S. spy”: “Whoever spies for the United States will face the same fate. This is a gift to Obama.” The official reported, “He was slaughtered overnight. His headless body was placed on the roadside. The Taliban frequently kidnap and kill local tribesmen and Afghans on alleged spying charges for either the Pakistani government or for U.S. forces.”

The Taliban specialise in assassinations. Pakistan's dictator General Pervez Musharraf, unlike his Cuban counterpart, General Batista, became a coveted target. He was twice ambushed by suicide bombers. Benazir Bhutto's brutal end was perhaps not wrought by the beards but their connivance is beyond doubt. In the tribal areas and the Emirate of Swat, secular and left activists are assassinated every day. Bearded assassins “visit” Pirs (faith healers), dancers, writers and of course Shia Muslims.

The bomb

First things first. Empire and Eurolands better dismantle their nuclear facilities before delivering sermons on non-proliferation. And the reality is that Israel's nuclear warheads are as deadly as any would-be Iranian nukes.

During the missile crisis, Cuba avoided nuclear annihilation at US hands by hair's breadth. Later on, while Cubans were helping the Angolans against South Africa, Washington made arrangements to transfer atom bombs to South Africa. South Africa possessed eight A-bombs. Still Cuba opted for signing Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “We have never considered the idea of fabricating nuclear weapons, because we don't need them. Even if they were technologically accessible, how much would it cost to produce? And what's the purpose of producing a nuclear weapon when your enemy has thousands?” philosophises Castro.

“We are not going to be swept up in the madness or stupidity of starting to manufacture biological weapons. What we have taught people is to manufacture vaccines and to fight against illness, disease and death. We have educated those scientists in an ethics.”

“Nor are we going to start manufacturing a chemical weapon. How are you going to transport it? Who are you going to use it against? Against the American people? No! That would be unfair and absurd! Are you going to make a nuclear weapon? You will ruin yourself -- a nuclear weapon is a good way to commit suicide: 'Gentlemen, the time has come, we're going to immolate ourselves, and this atomic bomb is just the thing.’”

In Pakistan, which means “the land of pure”, the A-bomb unites the beards and the clean shaven. The Pakistan Peoples Party takes pride in the fact that the party's founding father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, began the nuclear plant and vowed to make the bomb even if it meant the country would have to eat grass. Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister and main opposition leader, takes credit for conducting nuclear blasts back in 1998. Hawks in the establishment, meantime, have made sure that nuclear technology was transferred to other countries. As far as the beards are concerned, they have taken upon themselves to mobilise their furious cadres to stage demonstrations every time Washington blackmails Islamabad about nuclear facilities. Meanwhile, the residents of Dera Ghazi Khan, in the south of Pakistan, are contracting deadly diseases because this district has become the site for nuclear dumping.


Over the last four decades Washington has imposed crushing sanctions against Cuba, stunting its growth. Every year, the United Nations votes against these sanctions by an overwhelming majority. Last year only  three countries voted with the United States. One is obviously Israel. The other two are the Marshall Islands and Palau.

Last November black-hooded aliens landed in Mumbai and inflicted butchery on innocent Mumbaikers. The arrest of Ajmal Kasab, one of the assailants, established the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) hand in the tragedy. When India went to United Nations asking for action against the LeT beards not even China, touted by the Pakistani establishment as its all-weather friend, came to the Pakistani government's rescue. And why should it?


“For us it was a philosophy, a principle, that innocent people must not be sacrificed. It was always a principle -- practically a dogma. There was one case here in which some of the clandestine fighters in the Movement set off a bomb. This was in the tradition of the revolutionary struggle in Cuba. But we didn't want to do that, we disagreed with that method. We were truly concerned about civilians in battles where there might be some risk”, Castro narrates.

Since 2003, terrorism in Pakistan has claimed 14,948 -- 5821 of them civilians. Since terror is the tool puritan beards find most useful to subdue populations in the Taliban-occupied tribal areas and the Emirate of Swat, confessional brutalities include slaughtering, skinning, stoning, amputating and flogging to terrorise defenceless civilians.

Yes, it is absurd to compare Cuban revolutionaries with fanatic reactionaries. But here in Pakistan we are at a dead end, where absurdity holds sway over everything logical. Pakistan has become capable of generating any absurd headline possible. Be ready every time you tune to a news channel.

[Farooq Sulehria is a member of the Labour Party Pakistan resident in Sweden.]

I like the introduction to your article, and was fascinated to learn of the practical implications of beards for the guerillas -- that it was hard to quickly infiltrate them. But given that most women can't grow beards it seems to me like an excluding symbol.

Women have played key roles in various guerilla movements, surely the infiltrators could have been female? (Well I guess not, it seems the women guerrillas fought in separate platoons -- see this short article:

Our role in revolution is essential and of equal importance to that of any bearded man, so let's diversify the t-shirt and book faces to include people other than the bearded ones -- Marx, Lenin, Ho Chi Min, Fidel etc etc.

Tamara, Venezuela

Hi Tamara,

I very much agree. Here are some links about some of the many women revolutionaries who should be included:

And there is an article coming on Rosa Luxemburg, which hopefully will be finished and posted very soon. Of course, Links welcomes contributions that highlight the role of women revolutionaries.

Terry Townsend,

Links editor.