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Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid, Religion

Published on May 11, 2017 by Farzana Hassan

Written for Toronto Sun

Religious tolerance is no excuse for female genital mutilation


It is difficult to imagine that anyone in the twenty-first century would defend the heinous practice of female genital mutilation on public television.

Yet on Fox News program Tucker Carlson Tonight Dr. Fuambai Ahmadu euphemistically labeled FGM “gender egalitarian surgeries” and suggested it is no more devastating than male circumcision. Her comments were sought because of the topical case of three doctors who recently performed illegal FGM procedures on two seven-year-old girls in the United States.

Ahmadu would be well advised to look deeper into the effects of such procedures rather than to simply dismiss it as a religious practice comparable to male circumcision.

The obvious anatomical differences make medical outcomes of male and female circumcision hard to compare, but the more sinister intention of the latter surely confirms it as the greater travesty. In any case, who is to say that male circumcision is not also up for debate on moral as well as medical grounds?

Whereas the usual intention of male circumcision is to comply with religious requirements, female genital mutilation seeks to suppress, control and eliminate sexual desire in young women in order to keep them submissive.

Both have been defended on religious grounds. If there is less outcry about male circumcision it is because any of its medical disadvantages are nothing as grave as they are for female mutilation.

Effects of FGM are often tragic. Complicated childbirth, painful urination, cysts, excessive bleeding and a host of other medical issues have been associated with the procedure. It is banned even in some Islamic countries but the procedure continues under cover for religious reasons, notably in some North African and Southeast Asian countries.

As always with heinous but long-established practices, religious tolerance is brandished as a justification, backed up by appeals to rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The doctors apprehended for the practice are offering this very defense – that this is simply a “religious practice,” and disallowing it would be religious discrimination.

The case has once again brought into focus the issue of balancing religious rights with universal human rights and, on this issue, the rights of children too young to have a say in the matter. It is the parents or guardians who must either consent or refuse the procedure, but usually it is at the parents' or guardians' request that such barbarity is performed on little girls. Imagine the trauma of having your parents subject you to a process that may cause life-long misery and pain.

And needless to say, in a matter like this, human rights must always trump religious practices that are known to curtail people's long-term happiness and health.

As author Dr. Phyllis Chesler writes in a recent column: “In the West, misguided concepts of “multi-cultural relativism” and fear of offending an increasingly hostile Muslim and African immigrant population has condemned those girls and women who live among us and who deserve their rights under Western law.”

It is therefore encouraging that US authorities have apprehended Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, and his wife Farida, because making their case public will bring to light the horrendous human rights abuse the procedure entails.

Hopefully the publicity will inspire some of those who tolerate the practice to repudiate it. It will of course be more difficult to convince those who, for misguided religious or cultural reasons, actively promote it.


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