Religious fanaticism, by definition, has no limitations in its demands. Its appetite for authority is insatiable. Its quest for purity is endless. Its arbitrary, sadistic codes of conduct and demands for strict obedience can never be satisfied, because, they say, God always wants something more.So when religious fanatics attain power, restrictions multiply exponentially. Requirements pile up without respite, especially since those who act in the name of God will always try to outdo each other in the enforcement of virtue and the prohibition of vice.With God, not only are "all things possible." All things are also equally plausibly required or forbidden. And the best part for the enforcers of righteousness is that their dictates never have to be explained in any meaningful sense. They are simply proclaimed by those with the alleged authority and practical power to enforce decorous conduct and prohibit wickedness.
For a contemporary manifestation of this moth-eaten brand of tyranny, look no further than Hamas-ruled Gaza. There, Hamas officials clearly devote impressive quantities of time and effort to deciding what new things the unfortunate population—who are already naturally pious and conservative, but, apparently, not sufficiently—living under their increasingly theocratic tyranny mustn't be allowed to do, all for their own good of course. "Mercy is not itself, that oft looks so; Pardon is still the nurse of second woe," after all.
It always begins with the women, since religious fanaticism and misogyny are virtually synonymous.
Hamas first forbade women from riding on the back of motorcycles, and then from riding on them at all. It prohibited women from smoking water pipes in public, apparently because they considered this to be suggestive. It is a distinguishing characteristic of the breed that religious fanatics have a particularly lurid sexual imagination.
Hamas appears obsessed with the issue of what women must and cannot wear in various circumstances. Men are no longer allowed to cut women's hair, because, well, who doesn't understand how indecent that is? A few weeks ago they decided that it was "un-Islamic" for women to run in a marathon, no matter how they were dressed. Somehow I haven't been able to locate that dictum in the Quran, ahadith or sunan, but it must be there somewhere. And last week they decided that all schools, by law, must be gender-segregated over the age of nine, and no men may teach girls under any circumstances.
But Hamas's religious authoritarianism was never restricted purely to male hysteria. They've also cracked down on every art form imaginable (one singer noted, "Gaza is the place where art goes to die") since they are mostly a surefire shortcut to eternal damnation. And they've banned men from various commonplace but loathsome and corrupting practices.
This week Hamas officials—clearly not having anything better to do since their people are so well off, well cared for and happy—decided to take decisive action on one of the most pressing crises the people of Gaza have faced in recent times: despicable male ruffians with long or gelled hair and the wrong kind of pants.
Hamas police rounded up several groups of young infidels sporting clear evidence of degeneracy: longish, or gelled and spiky, hair. These dissolute miscreants were hauled off to police stations where they were crudely shaved, told to go to a local barber to finish the job, and kicked out. If they complained, they received a no doubt well-deserved and pitiless beating. Similar treatment was meted out to young malefactors depraved enough to wear trousers deemed too narrow or low-hanging!
Where would the Palestinian people or cause be without such staunch defenders and steadfast liberation movement?
There is no telling what will be banned in Gaza next. No doubt Hamas's well-staffed Department of Public Absurdity is hard at work dreaming up something particularly ridiculous. But whatever it is, you will be reassured to know that it will please God, if nobody else. By the way, this article is not only impious and damnable, it's also almost certainly illegal to read or publish it in Gaza.
The point is, nobody knows what's next on the Hamas no-no list, which is almost always enforced before it is pronounced. It could be anything. And, indeed, that's the message: conformity to a narrow, rigid and mysterious set of both retrograde and heretofore unheard-of social standards will be rigidly enforced, on pain of pain.
Hamas often complain they are not a terrorist group. Well, as of this week they certainly couldn't deny aspiring to be the Palestinian fashion police.
Meanwhile, other Hamas officials were busy with the equally important liberation movement imperative of destroying Palestinian homes they claim were "illegally constructed."
Now, where have we heard that before? If you ask that question openly in Gaza, you'll probably be arrested.