In July 2014, the Home Affairs Committee’s ‘Second Report on Female Genital Mutilation’ revealed that an estimated 170,000 women and girls are living with FGM in the UK and 65,000 girls under fourteen remain at risk. In September, experimental statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre found 467 new cases in a single month. In FGM, part or all of the clitoris is cut away and sometimes the labia is also removed and the vagina sewn almost shut, usually without anaesthetic. Immediate consequences can be shock, blood loss, infection and sometimes, death. Long term problems include urinary tract infection, complications in pregnancy, neonatal death, pain during sex, impaired libido and severe psychological trauma. A community might pool resources to pay to bring a ‘cutter’ from an FGM practicing country or take children to their countries of origin at the beginning of the summer holidays. Although female genital mutilation was outlawed in 1985 and a further law in 2003 made it illegal for any girl to be mutilated abroad and increased the penalty to fourteen years imprisonment, there has been only one arrest to date.
The question of why such a serious abuse of children has been allowed to continue is one that Jenny McCarthy’s excellent blog addresses. McCarthy asserts that “some deluded liberals – almost wilfully contorting themselves into comfortable inaction – once actually argued that it was inherently racist to interfere with FGM.” Germaine Greer made a similar argument for cultural sensitivity likening FGM to tattoos, saying she wouldn’t dream of telling someone they couldn’t have one. However, I suspect we would object to someone pinning down a child and forcibly tattooing her genitals causing lasting damage and in fact, a quick online search turns up three UK prosecutions for underage tattooing of willing teenagers on the first page; already three times as many as for FGM.
Are ‘race’ or ‘culture’ really the issues, though, or is it religious sensibilities that UK authorities fears to offend? The Home Affairs report informs us that FGM does not have its base in any religion although there is a ‘common misconception’ that it does. Similarly, the London Safeguarding Children Board says that work is on-going “to eradicate FGM in the UK where some Muslims mistakenly think that FGM is an Islamic requirement.” It insists that the “only way” to eradicate FGM is to engage with religious and community leaders, Imams and Muslims clerics.
We might wonder why so many Muslims have such misconceptions and have made 170,000 mistakes? It could be the Hadith that say “Circumcision is a Sunnat for men and a preservation of honour for women” (Abu al-Malik/Abu Dawud,) “When two circumcised parts touch each other then bathing becomes obligatory” (Sahih Muslim 3:684) and “Do not cut severely, since that is better for her and more pleasing to the husband” (Abu Dawud 41:5251) Contemporary Muslim ‘scholars’ including Grand Mufti Muhammad Tantawy, Sheikh Yussef al-Badri and Ahmad ibn Hanbal have cited these hadith in support of FGM. In fact, the four schools of Islamic thought all advocate it. The Shafi’i consider it wajib (obligatory,) the Hanbali view it as Makrumah (honourable) and the Maliki and Hanifi consider it Sunnah (optional, preferable.)
Despite such strong evidence that female genital mutilation is an Islamic practice, some liberals will insist that it is not because such mutilation existed before Islam and has existed in non-Muslim cultures. This is as unhelpful as the ‘What about medieval Christianity?’ argument often made when human rights abuses occurring in the name of Islam are discussed. The issue is not academic debate about the history of religious harm. People are being harmed and even killed now and 65,000 British girls are at risk of being mutilated in the future unless we act now.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an FGM survivor and activist, has suggested that a simple solution would be to check every child at risk of mutilation. Parents, she argued, “will know that they can’t because in September every year… she will be checked.” Acknowledging that this is “very, very controversial”, she asks, “What is worse, the cutting itself or the method of detection?” The controversy, of course, would be the suggestion that Muslims from FGM practicing countries of origin might be intending to mutilate their daughters. This cannot be countered by evidence that Muslims from FGM practicing countries are mutilating their daughters until we acknowledge that this is happening, that it’s happening among Muslims and that it’s understood to have its basis in Islamic doctrine. We all need to acknowledge this, Muslims and non-Muslims, if we want to protect girls from pain, mutilation and permanent physical and psychological harm.
Sources available here.
FGM UK by Helen Pluckrose
Twitter: @HPluckrose Blog: HelenPluckrose