'Compromise' proposed over FGM: a little 'nick' will suffice

'Compromise' proposed over FGM: a little 'nick' will suffice February 28, 2016

There’s much discussion on social media of a piece in the Journal of Medical Ethics by Kavita Shah Arora and Allan J Jacobs that urges ‘compromise’ on the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM). Just cut off a little bit of girls’ genitals, as opposed to shaving everything off and sewing the hole closed.
By the same token we could throw just a little bit of acid in women’s faces, and throw just a few stones at women accused of sex outside marriage, and rape just a few altar boys when no one is looking.
Arora and Jacobs argue that progress on the elimination of FGM has been small (a debatable and disputed claim) and that therefore “alternative approaches should be considered”.

To accommodate cultural beliefs while protecting the physical health of girls, we propose a compromise solution in which liberal states would legally permit de minimis FGA in recognition of its fulfilment of cultural and religious obligations, but would proscribe those forms of FGA that are dangerous or that produce significant sexual or reproductive dysfunction.

The proposed compromise solution would ban those forms of FGM that produce significant sexual or reproductive dysfunction – meaning it would not prohibit forms that produce insignificant sexual or reproductive dysfunction. A little bit of sexual or reproductive dysfunction is ok in order to accommodate cultural beliefs, then. So if there’s a claimed “cultural and religious obligation” to scald children on their third birthday, that’s ok if the scalding is minor? Parents should be allowed to pull out one fingernail of their pubescent children, while pulling all ten would be a no-no?
Here’s an idea: how about adopting the principle that inflicting physical damage on children for no beneficial reason but only as a “cultural and religious obligation” is a violation of their rights and not ok?
That’s not the kind of principle you want “compromise” on. Instead people should think hard about why they bend the knee to a god who wants them to inflict useless pain and damage on their children. They should wonder why they worship and obey a god who demands that kind of test of loyalty or submission or piety. They should question their devotion to a god who mandates cruelty.
Newsweek quotes Mary Wandia, FGM program manager at the human rights organization Equality Now:

This unfortunate proposal comes at a time when countries and international organizations—including the United Nations and the African Union—have noted the increasing dangers of the medicalization of FGM. It is also a time when FGM prevalence is in fact falling significantly in many countries.

Arora and Jacobs however say that “Policies that attempt to suppress all forms of FGA that alter female external genitalia are culturally supremacist.” That is one way of looking at it, to be sure, but then policies that attempt to suppress all forms of genocide are culturally supremacist too. The struggle against apartheid was culturally supremacist from the point of view of Afrikaner nationalists. Putting an end to some practice can always be seen as culturally supremacist, but the necessary work of evaluating different practices still remains.
And the reality of course is that cultures are never monolithic, and there are always rebels and critics within them. It’s a mistake to assume that everyone in a given culture is a fan of all the practices of that culture, yet it’s a mistake that people keep on making. We know there are dissenters in our own culture, but we think of those exotic different other cultures over there as if they were like porridge, the same sort of thing all the way through. We’re sophisticated and can see beyond our own customs, they’re innocent and have no idea how to think critically. That’s more insulting than anything the opponents of FGM could say.
M Zuhdi Jasser expressed his outrage on Facebook:

Both as a bioethicist of 20 years and as a lifetime anti-Islamist Muslim dedicated to reform I am beyond horrified by the position of these so called ‘ethicists’ based in the US (Cleveland and NYC).
There is NO compromise against the immorality and barbarism of FGM. To give some utilitarian explanation or excuse gives the Islamist supremacists and theocrats a pass and sets the clock back hundreds of years upon the movement for Womens’ rights in Muslim communities.

Jasser doesn’t want the tender concern of Arora and Jacobs toward “cultural beliefs,” and it’s not clear why the ethicists sympathize with the beliefs of the conservatives rather than those of the reformers. Why be sensitive toward the culture of people who cut up children’s genitals, and not toward the culture of people who try to end the practice? Why not see that both practitioners and critics are part of the culture, and that it’s permissible – and, indeed, better – to side with the critics?

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  • John

    Perhaps a “compromise” might be to cut just a little bit of Arora and Jacobs’ tongues and brains off, as they clearly don’t know how to use them properly?

  • Stuart H.

    Do we know if these clowns are practicing doctors – or even worse, surgeons?
    If so, then for the most basic public health reasons if they were working at any hospital near me I would not stop causing trouble until they were dismissed – and not just a little bit.

  • CoastalMaineBird

    as a lifetime anti-Islamist Muslim
    How can you be a Muslim and be anti-Islamist at the same time?

  • CoastalMaineBird

    When they raise the tombstone on this society, the words “Politically Correct” will be on it.

  • L.Long

    How about FGM and MGM are both illegal in this country, so you can’t do it.
    After the age of 18 you are still dumber than a box of rocks you can elect to get it done!!! Now there is a compromise!

  • Dr. Arora has her priorities: mutilate children and ban photography!
    May Dr. Aurora reconsider her priorities.

  • Steve

    “To accommodate cultural beliefs ”
    That right there is the stupidest and most dangerous phrasein the world.

  • tonye

    I would expect these ‘doctors’ to lead by example.
    As it is obvious that they have already had their balls removed, what other appendage can they offer up?
    On FGM there will be no compromise, EVER.
    I hope that they are struck off from whatever governing backgrounds.

  • How can you be a Muslim and be anti-Islamist at the same time?
    You’re joking, right? You have heard of Maajid Nawaz, Tehmina Kazi, Irshad Manji, Asra Nomani, Sara Khan, etc etc etc?

  • barriejohn

    CoastalMaineBird: The following link may help answer your question.
    We are talking here about secular Muslims, ie those who desire separation of religion and state. Of course, we might be happier were they to abandon their religious beliefs altogether, and fully embrace rationality, but in many cases that just ain’t going to happen, sad to say.

  • barriejohn

    Good news today from Iran, where people have turned out in their droves to overwhelmingly vote in the reformists:
    Let’s hope they are not disappointed.

  • andym

    Off topic. RIP Frank Kelly, aka Father Jack, from Father Ted. I’d say the funniest ever comedy about religion, but the more I hear about the Catholic Church, the more the shifty Ted, the stupid Dougal and the alcoholic Jack seem like reality TV.

  • Pingback: Just a smidgin - Butterflies and Wheels()

  • Terry McGrath

    Wonderful series, Father Ted. Specially relevant to an ex-catholic like me. We will have reached a huge step forward in civilisation when we can enjoy the equivalent program about islam.

  • Terry McGrath

    FGM is appalling, but we should be debating GM. Any mutilation of children’s genitals of either sex, for non-medical reasons is always wrong and should be illegal.

  • CoastalMaineBird

    barriejohn: Thanks for the info. Not a student of the subject, I’ve always thought of “Muslim” and “Islamist” as the same thing. I thought Islam was more than a religion, but a system of government as well.
    Nice to know that there IS a distinction, even if it’s not drawn very well, or by many in the news.

  • CoastalMaineBird

    Ophelia Benson :You’re joking, right? You have heard of Maajid Nawaz, Tehmina Kazi, Irshad Manji, Asra Nomani, Sara Khan
    No. Should I have?

  • CoastalMaineBird – Well I recommend them highly. Tarek Fatah is another. There are liberal, secularist Muslims, but they have an uphill battle getting heard, which is doubtless why you hadn’t heard of them!

  • John the Drunkard

    And what about the fact that those sacred ‘religious and cultural’ beliefs are not essential to Islam? That vast stretches of Muslim society have never practiced FGM.
    One of the strongest arguments AGAINST Islam is the way the FGM practicing societies, like Egypt and Somalia, have made the practice a sort of 6th pillar without reference to the rest of the ummah.’

  • Daz

    Just to remind folks, FGM is not a Muslim-only activity.

    Female Genital Mutilation occurs in non-Muslim societies in Africa and is practiced by Christians, Muslims and Animists alike. In Egypt, where perhaps 97 percent of girls suffer genital mutilation, both Christian Copts and Muslims are complicit. Thus, it has long been concluded to be a cultural practice, not connected to religion.
    However, on the village level, those who commit the practice offer a mix of cultural and religious reasons for the practice. Christians and Muslims alike believe that circumcision of girls prevents them from vice and makes them more attractive for future husbands; mothers fear that their daughters can’t get married if they have not been cut.


  • jay

    “Arora and Jacobs however say that “Policies that attempt to suppress all forms of FGA that alter female external genitalia are culturally supremacist.”
    THIS is the problem where many of our ‘liberals’ have gone off the deep end. They have become so afraid of any judgement whatsoever that they have completely lost any moral compass.
    Discrimination against people is wrong, but blind acceptance of any screwball ‘cultural value’ is the cowards way out.

  • Daz

    jebus H. Christ on a three-masted pogo-stick!
    From the pdf linked in the OP:

    Regrettably, academic and public health consideration of non-therapeutic FGA has been hampered by several issues. […] Second, discussion often is infused with a strong cultural and gender bias against FGA in all forms.

    It’s not a “cultural” or “gender bias” (whatever the hell the latter is supposed to mean). It’s a friggin’ moral bias, you pompous dipshit. What part of “Chopping bits off children with absolutely no medical need is physically harmful and also constitutes an invasion of their bodily autonomy,” is hard to understand? I mean, we’re hardly talking philosophical or ethical minutia here, are we?
    Sorry, my vent is now spleened.

  • Newspaniard

    I don’t know if it was a proposal, apocryphal or fact, but I read somewhere that Denmark had stopped FGM at a single stroke. Word had it that they had introduced annual medical inspection of all children and the parents of those who had had their child mutilated, immediately faced a huge fine and deportation. If true, that would stop them farting in church and provide an example of how our government should act. BUT we elect wimps and we get wimpy legislation. However, reading TROP today, Denmark seem to becoming a Stalinist state, like Sweden and prosecuting everyone who has a bad word to say about islam. And the idiots who say that islamists does not properly describe muslims are slightly out of their trees with their tortuous logic and semantics. Let us get it clear, those muslims who say that they are not the same as IS are merely waiting the time when their numbers increase to the point where they can march on the streets with sabres held high without fear of opposition. The only good muslim is an ex-muslim. Naming exceptions does not make their death cult any less of a death cult.

  • Broga

    @Newspaniard: This kind of definitive action will not happen in the UK. We have a bunch of MPs whose main object in life is to keep their heads below the parapet, get as much in salary and expenses as they can and make sure they never upset any religious groups with “cultural sensitivities.”

  • barriejohn

    Let us get it clear, those muslims who say that they are not the same as IS are merely waiting the time when their numbers increase to the point where they can march on the streets with sabres held high without fear of opposition.
    Uninformed nonsense.

  • Har Davids

    I would be in trouble if I were to cut up a little girl’s vagina (or a boy’s penis) for fun, but it would be okay if I did this because of some divine plan, if the parents approved? And why are these children not born with the kind of genitals their religion demands, just cut out the middle (wo)man, and show us this intelligent design some people insist exists.

  • barriejohn

    And why are these children not born with the kind of genitals their religion demands?
    That’s far too logical an approach! What always strikes me is the way that so many religions – especially the Abrahamic ones – are vehemently opposed to any pleasurable experiences or enjoyment of life. Christians are forever banging on about “crucifying the flesh”, etc, as if their god hadn’t wired their brains to respond to those “sinful lusts” in the first place. It’s as if being miserable is their chief pleasure in life. What on earth is the matter with them?

  • John

    Clearly, there has been a lot of response to this item, to which I would like to add a further two-penny-worth:-
    As far as religious “authority” for such practices is concerned, the practice of male genital mutilation was allegedly ordered by “god” and “moses” in order to differentiate jews from others.
    Paul allegedly at the Conference of Jerusalem agreed with James and other jewish christian leaders that gentile converts to christianism would not need to be genitally mutilated in the same way as jewish converts. This suggests jewish religionists were somehow imperfect in the eyes of their own god and required deliberate mutilation to be acceptable in the eyes of their own god – a truly bizarre basis for a form of religious belief!
    Secondly, I would not categorise the ravings of the authors of the paper as being liberal in any way whatsoever. If anything, they are the very worst form of contrarian neo-conservatives; and apologists for and defenders of practices that no civilized person would possibly countenance. They are literally barbaric savages posing as educated people – which they are not.

  • Arora and Jacobs also published an article in 2015 about “ritual infant male circumcision and human rights”, arguing that male infant circumcision is not a violation of human rights. That is not a liberal position. They are the far end of conservative, the extreme that contends that people’s bodies do not belong to them, but should be accessory to parents’ religious or cultural beliefs.
    Male circumcision of children and FGM are not gender problems, both are children’s problems.

  • Cali Ron

    I find it frightening that Dr. Kavita Arora, MD, MBE. Director of Quality, Obstetrics and Gynecology, would accept any form of genital mutilation. That acceptance alone should disqualify her from any directorship or even from being a practicing gynecologist. I agree with Daz, it’s a moral issue and she is clearly on the wrong side of the issue.
    barriejohn: “It’s as if being miserable is their chief pleasure in life. What on earth is the matter with them?” GUILT. It’s a powerful tool of control perpetuated by christianity, “for all have sinned” and “original sin”. According to rcc we are guilty of our fathers sin before we are even capable of sinning.
    I was indoctrinated to believe that to even think about doing something sinful was a sin. As a hormon driven teenager I was in an almost constant state of sinning and feeling guilty about feelings I now know were beyond my control. Of course they were very helpful with that telling me that whenever a sinful thought crept into my mind I should read scriptures and pray, because that’s so practical and helpful. Sadly, my sex life would probably have been more healthy and enjoyable if I hadn’t been saddled with guilt from my childhood indoctrination. Opps, I think a little underlying bitterness just bubbled to the top.

  • barriejohn

    Cali Ron: Just be thankful that you weren’t gay!

  • Cali Ron

    barriejohn : Indeed. I had a friend in church who was and his parents disowned him. Then the church ostracized him. He was a gentle, loving person with the voice of an angel who died young from AIDS. In retrospect I should have tried to do more to help him. Christians can be very cruel.