Reporting from the front lines of the Middle East conflicts be a parlous experience if you are on the wrong side of the battle line. However not all of the no-go areas are geographically bounded. The topic of Islam and female genital mutilation is a country few reporters are willing to enter. Cultural prejudices and politically correct assumptions appear to be driving the reporting on Islam. Few reporters seem willing break free from the herd and ask “why”?
Western Asia is a hard place for reporters. Relying upon U.S. or Israeli government agencies for information can be a frustrating experience — bureaucratic petty-mindedness knows no national boundaries. Yet it is possible to test the truths handed out in press statements by observation and old-fashioned reporting.
This is not always possible when reporting from the rebel side or from hostile regimes. Checking can get you killed as reporters covering the fighting in Gaza have noted in recent days. Even Hamas, however, attempts to play the Western media game (according to its lights) and holds press conferences.
Not so with ISIS, the Sunni extremists who have seized Mosul. While their supporters can be found on Twitter and the Web — it has not been possible for reporters to check the claims coming out of Northern Iraq. The atrocities and destruction committed by ISIS can be seen in the photos of decapitated government troops, crucifixions of enemies and videos of burning churches and fleeing refugees taken by smart-phones and posted to the internet.
The war aims of the group can be divined from videos of speeches given by its caliph or statements posted to the internet — yet these must be viewed with suspicion as their provenance is unclear. The story that ISIS’s religious/political leaders have issued a fatwa — a religious decree — ordering all women under the age of 49 to undergo FGM (female genital mutilation) has played across the newspapers in recent days.
However, the second day stories suggest this may not be true.
The source for the claim of FGM for the women of Iraq came from a good source — a UN official in Iraq. Reuters reported:
The United Nations, expressing deep concern, said on Thursday that militant group Islamic State had ordered all girls and women in and around Iraq’s northern city of Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation. …
Such a “fatwa” issued by the Sunni Muslim fighters would potentially affect 4 million women and girls, UN resident and humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq Jacqueline Badcock told reporters in Geneva by videolink from Arbil.
“We have current reports of imposition of a directive that all female girl children and women up to the age of 49 must be circumcised. This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed,” Badcock said.
Jihadi extremists who have taken over the Iraqi city of Mosul have denied ordering families to have their daughters undergo female genital mutilation in order to prevent “immorality” or face severe punishment, as claimed by a senior UN humanitarian official on Thursday.
Yet even this reported denial has to be weighed carefully, The Guardian said in its second paragraph as the denial comes from supporters of ISIS, not ISIS itself.