So let’s give a nice big salute to US Army Captain Simratpal Singh, who after 10 years in our Armed Forces has secured the right to wear traditional Sikh dress, including long hair, turban and beard. This means that as of 2016: Being a patriot is about your love of country, not grooming habits.
When the men’s style police first sharpened their talons on the growth of beards in the last 15 years they (sorry) scratched their chins at first: What are these people doing? Scruffy faces are for people who got laid off. Or who didn’t make it home last night. Right? Surely Dave Letterman and Conan both reinforced these stereotypes by growing beards as soon as they had a few days off.
Well, sure, but in that same era Ben Bernanke wore a beard while he drove our economy into the ground under George W. He was later instrumental in pulling it up out of the nosedive under another Commander in Chief. Why should the men who defend our country be treated any different?
The sometimes-quiet revolution of the Internet age is to break away from the awful hegemony of following a bunch of dumb trends. Why? Because this is America. It’s no one’s goddamn business what you do with the hair that God put on your face.
Part of the holdup, it must be said, is due to Islamophobia. Which is dumb for many reasons, including the basic fact that Sikhs are not Muslim.
Real quick: Sikhism is a monotheistic religion from the Punjab peninsula of India that broke away from Hinduism (in part over the caste system) to create its own teachings and culture in the 15th Century. Capt. Singh’s last name is derived from the Sanskrit word for “Lion.” Male members born into the Sikh community often have this middle name or last name while women often carry the moniker “Kaur,” meaning “Princess.”
Asking why Sikhs and Muslims both wear different styles of turbans is like asking why the Yankees and the Red Sox both wear different colored baseball caps.
In addition to a turban and beard, many initiated Sikh men wear a small knife—or kirpan—on their belt, indicating that they are willing to stand up and protect what is right. That lends itself to a sort of natural, selfless fit with the US Armed Forces. “I had a childhood fascination with the Army,” Singh, who graduated with honors from West Point in 2010, told CNN. “The Sikh concept of standing up for the weak and defending the defenseless is very much at the core of the Sikh psyche, and those are the same ideals that the U.S. Army upholds.”
Captain Singh is by no means the first Sikh member of the U.S. military. The so-called “Beard Ban” in our Armed Forces is actually just a symptom of Reaganism that only dates back to 1986, when bearded soldiers were grandfathered in and new recruits were forced to shave.* It became problematic recently when the army discovered a Rabbi shortage. Jewish soldiers couldn’t seek counsel and religious instruction because Rabbis weren’t allowed to become chaplains.
Prior to that, wars were commonly fought and won by proud bearded soldiers. Indian-born Bhagat Singh Thind fought in WWI, which earned his US Citizenship. This was later revoked when Thind, considered “Caucasian” in India, was deemed non-white. We as a nation have moved on from counting black people as only 3/5 a human being and can certainly be grateful for the service of many Sikh, Muslim and Christian soldiers.
Men’s fashion, it should be said, is in the middle of a glorious heyday that we can’t be bothered to notice right now. No self-respecting human in the 1970s would dare attend a business meeting in something purchased in the 1960s. Just watch the last season of Mad Men to see how the times ravaged Draper and Sterling’s classic style.
But the sometimes-quiet revolution of the Internet age is to break away from the awful hegemony of following a bunch of dumb trends.
Why? Because this is America. It’s no one’s goddamn business what you do with the hair that God put on your face. We have bearded doctors, mustachioed men’s online magazine editors and all sorts of great mustaches on our local police. And the country is better for it.
A Supreme Court ruling this week really drove this point home. The so-called “One Person One Vote” ruling struck down any law that would define a district by the number of citizens eligible to vote. This is important because many government laws affect people in schools who are under the age of 18. Many representatives are charged with passing laws that will affect undocumented immigrants in their district.
If you’re a Sikh servicemember in the U.S. and your parents raised you in the 9/11 era, you are defending a country that includes your community. Not just the ones registered and eligible to vote. You may have seen a family vacation begin with your uncles being “randomly selected” for a TSA screening. But if your parents fought to raise you here and brought you up in their traditions, then it is that community you will know you’re defending when you sign up for the Armed Services. And it is that community who deserves to be the most proud when they see you in uniform. Or when you, like Captain Singh, are deployed to Afghanistan and later receive the Bronze Star.
So, just to recap: Captain Singh—and America—we salute you.
*The current military facial hair requirements are very specific—and very opposed to the Fu Manchu and handlebar mustaches:
(b) Facial hair. Males will keep their face clean-shaven when in uniform, or in civilian clothes on duty. Mustaches are permitted. If worn, males will keep mustaches neatly trimmed, tapered, and tidy. Mustaches will not present a chopped off or bushy appearance, and no portion of the mustache will cover the upper lip line, extend sideways beyond a vertical line drawn upward from the corners of the mouth (see lines C and D of fig 3–1), or extend above a parallel line at the lowest portion of the nose (see line B of fig 3–1). Handlebar mustaches, goatees, and beards are not authorized. If appropriate medical authority allows beard growth, the maximum length authorized for medical treatment must be specific. For example, “The length of the beard cannot exceed 1/4 inch” (see Training Bulletin Medical (TB Med) 287). Soldiers will keep the growth trimmed to the level specified by the appropriate medical authority, but are not authorized to shape the hair growth (examples include, but are not limited to goatees, “Fu Manchu,” or handlebar mustaches).