We know two things for sure about the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France, that killed 84 people: The main suspect was a French Tunisian named Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel and he wore a beard.
The latter may seem like trivial information, despite being the topic of discussion among news networks Monday surrounding Bouhlel and his motives for plowing through a promenade full of people with a truck filled with explosives. The Guardian, for example, recently published an article with the headline "Nice Attacker Grew Beard in Week Before Truck Rampage." The Telegraph, BBC and even Breitbart highlighted the same beard narrative in their stories.
The Guardian article emphasized statements from French prosecutors who said Bouhlel grew a beard eight days before the attack and allegedly told his friends he sported it for religious purposes. Prosecutors also described Bouhlel as, at one point, an irreligious man who "ate pork, drank alcohol, took drugs and had a promiscuous sex life."
The fixation on Bouhlel's beard implies that this was his turning point toward terror and radicalization. It inaccurately demonizes and depicts men who simply wear beards as people who are more inclined to commit terrorist attacks. Yes, Muslim men are encouraged to wear beards in Islam just as Muslim women are encouraged to cover their hair. But this has nothing to do with extremist beliefs.
In addition, this perception also filters down to society to the point where Muslims, or non-Muslim black and brown men, are rapidly becoming victims of hate crimes across the United States. It happened this year in Queens, New York, when teenagers attacked a Guyanese Muslim man riding his bicycle allegedly because he was wearing a thobe (traditional prayer robe) and had a beard. In Chicago, Inderjit Singh Mukker, a Sikh man donning a turban and a beard, was beaten and called a terrorist and "bin Laden" by attackers.
This is also perpetuating a troubling hypocrisy: Muslim men are criminalized and brutalized for wearing the beard, when non-Muslim — mainly white men — are glorified for doing the same.
Look no further into BuzzFeed's coverage of beards on celebrities. Articles like "19 of the Most Breathtaking Celebrity Beard Transformations Ever" and "19 Beards That Will Sexually Awaken You" fetishize non-Muslim, mostly white, men for sporting facial hair. It should be noted that not one of the men listed identify as Arab or Muslim.
So if the media and the American public will assume that a Muslim man wearing a beard is "radicalized," then what would we say about these guys?
House Speaker Paul Ryan
To be fair, Ryan did get a large amount of hate for sporting a "Muslim beard."
The former Daily Show host said he grew out his facial hair after he quit his late night talk show gig. According to People, he grew a beard because that's what everyone who quits talk show programs do.
After retiring from his role as host of The Late Show, Letterman followed in Stewart's footsteps and grew out his beard to the point where he was almost unrecognizable. For Letterman, growing out his facial hair was an act of freedom, which was so often denied to talk show hosts who are groomed and pampered before every late night appearance.
Bieber was having a hard time growing his beard a while back. For what it's worth, he did pause his concert in Istanbul, Turkey, so he wouldn't interrupt the Islamic call to prayer. Bieber showed respect to Islam. Radical!
Drake must be a secret Muslim. Just look at that photo. That must be a signal of some very suspicious behavior. Perhaps because we're so accustomed to Drake wearing a beard — and he looks so damn good in it — that we were shocked when he spontaneously shaved it.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is known for his radical right-wing politics, but with his new beard, there's a whole 'nother speculation as to what his heart really loves: America or Islam? In some absurd way, it makes sense for Cotton to publicly advocate for nuking Iran. He didn't want to blow his cover as a radical Muslim.