If "religious freedom" and "parental choice" can be used as alibis to justify the forced genital cutting of healthy, non-consenting boys, can they be used to justify it in girls?
The world is about to find out.
There exists an inconsistent hypocrisy in this country when it comes to the forced genital cutting of minors.
We have a two-track system that says that forcibly cutting off the foreskin of a healthy, non-consenting male child is defensible under so-called
to cut the genitals of a healthy, non-consenting female child in any way shape or form.
There is no exemption for parents who wish to have their daughters' genitals cut for
suffices and a doctor can perform a circumcision in a male child with for no further reason than that a parent wanted it done.
In different countries around the world, including regions of Africa and South-East Asia, girls are often circumcised in infancy in pretty much the same way as boys are in the US.
When media outlets present female genital cutting, it is often generalized that all of it takes place in the bush, performed by amateur tribal shamans with crude utensils such as rusty blades, tin can remnants and glass shards. (Which is funny, because male circumcision is often performed in these exact same settings in the exact same places where female circumcision is performed in this way.)
When you say "female circumcision," the default for most Americans is to correct you and say "no, it's mutilation," citing the above, and citing infibulation (AKA "pharaonic circumcision"), where the protruding part of the clitoris is excised, the outer and inner labia excised and the remnants sewn shut to leave but a small hole for menstruation.
While infibulation exists, this is actually the rarest form of FGM, constituting only about 15% of all female genital cutting.
Most FGM is not as severe.
"Severity" is not the issue here.
Yet there seems to be this unspoken rule that "the least severe of the practices is justifiable."
Most people in the West don't seem to be aware that infant girls can be circumcised in pretty much the same way as infant boys are, in the setting of a hospital, performed by a medical professional using pristine utensils, and excising only external, vestigial pieces of flesh, though in the Western mind, there is no acceptable amount of flesh that can be removed in a girl.
While the entire foreskin can be removed in a male for "religious" or "cultural" purposes in males, the removal of any amount of flesh in a female constitutes "mutilation" as is simply unacceptable.
Pictured here is the amount of flesh that was removed in a circumcision in South-East Asia.
The original blogger, the mother, claims it was the clitoris, which is barely visible on the blades.
Pictured here is the freshly severed foreskin of a newborn infant in the US.
It is often claimed by female circumcision advocates that male infant circumcision as it is commonly performed in the United States is actually more severe than female circumcision is it is commonly performed in South-East Asian countries, and as readers can see for themselves, they wouldn't be exaggerating.
It is often claimed that the reason female circumcision is "more severe" in girls is supposedly because female circumcision removes the clitoris, and that without the clitoris sexual enjoyment and even orgasm aren't possible.
What is removed in female circumcision, if at all (not all FGM removes the clitoris), is the *tip* of the clitoris. Complete removal of the clitoris is actually impossible.
For this reason, even women who have undergone the most severe form of FGM can still enjoy sex and even experience orgasm, as documented by Johnsdotter and Catania.
FGM is not all the same. The WHO recognizes for different types, not all of which remove any part of the clitoris.
FGM is not all one and the same.
For better or for worse, female infant circumcision is not seen as "mutilation" in the countries and cultures where it is performed.
In fact, it is often considered a religious requirement, known as "sunat" in South-East Asia.
Female circumcision is seen as a normal "non-issue" by South-East Asian parents, just as male circumcision is seen as a normal "non-issue" by American parents.
If you ignore the fact that this is a South-East Asian parent talking about
circumcising her daughter, she would sound like any American parent on
a parenting forum like BabyCenter or BabyGaga.
We intactivists have always asked, if "religious freedom"
and "parental choice"
can be used to justify the forced genital cutting of healthy, non-consenting male children, why can't it be used to justify the forced genital cutting of healthy, non-consenting female children?
The question is often circumvented with assertions that "they are not the same,"
because "one is more severe than the other,"
not to mention "the potential medical benefits of which there are zero in female circumcision."
These may or may not be true, but true or not, they would be irrelevant conclusions to the question posed.
Either "religious freedom"
or "parental choice"
can be used to justify the cutting of flesh in healthy, non-consenting minors, or they cannot.
Actually, as shown here, female circumcision can be more severe than male circumcision, and removing the labia can prevent the accumulation of smegma in females, as removing the foreskin can in males.
The fact that we do not circumcise females is testament to the fact that surgery is not necessary for hygiene.
And here, before I go on any further, I'd like to point out how in the face of scrutiny, "religious freedom"
and "parental choice"
have to be abandoned as alibis.
These arguments are so weak and frail that after their demise, male infant circumcision advocates have to look elsewhere for recourse, in this case being "disease prevention,"
as if their concern for public health were genuine.
As with male infant circumcision advocates, female infant circumcision advocates are ready, complete with published "research" showing how female circumcision may be able to prevent this or that disease.
Again, because "religious freedom"
and "parental choice"
Anti-FGM advocates have up until today sidelined and ignored anyone who dare ask the above question, hoping we go away, but I think that by now, they're realizing that they can only do that so much.
Today, that question is staring them directly in the face, and they have to make a decision.
America has to make a decision.
Very soon, doctors, lawyers, ethicists, members on committee boards of respected medical organizations, our entire justice system will be faced with the question; how far can "religious freedom"
and "parental choice"
justify the needless cutting of flesh in healthy, non-consenting minors?
How far can something be justified before it constitutes "abuse?"
Female genital cutting in any way shape or form has been illegal in the US since a federal ban against it was instituted in 1996.
No such ban exists for male genital cutting.
This insconsistency, this sexist two-track system is finally going to be challenged in a court of law.
The State of Affairs
The situation is as follows; a woman is facing charges for FGM performed in Detroit
Not too long before that, an Ethiopian Man had been deported
after serving a sentence for having her daughter circumcised.
According to Detroit News
, Dr. Jumana Nagarwala of Northville is accused of mutilating the genitalia of two girls from Minnesota on Feb. 3 at a Livonia clinic owned by Dr. Fakhruddin Attar.
The Farmington Hills man has been indicted along with his wife, Farida Attar, who is accused of helping arrange the procedure and being in the examination room during the procedure.
Defense lawyers are saying the girls underwent a benign religious procedure, and that the government is overreaching. (E.g., it's not genital mutilation because it was religious.)
Nagarwala’s lawyer Shannon Smith said the doctor merely removed mucous
membrane from the girls’ genitalia, placed the material on gauze pads
and gave it to their families for burial. (There is a federal ban against any form of FGM regardless.)
All three are members of the Dawoodi Bohra community, a religious and cultural community based in India where FGM is practiced.
They are being held without bond pending a trial in federal court in Detroit on October 10th this year.
Fakhruddin Attar, 52, and Nagarwala, 44, face up to life in prison if convicted of conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
Farida Attar, 50, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of conspiring to obstruct the investigation.
The trio is accused of committing female genital mutilation, trying to cover up the crime and conspiring to cut girls as part of a procedure practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra.
Top Laywers on the Case
Famed constitutional law scholar and attorney Alan Dershowitz and prominent Birmingham defense attorney Mayer Morganroth were hired about three weeks ago by the Dawat-e-Hadiyah, an international religious organization overseeing a small sect of Shia Muslim mosques around the world.
According to Morganroth, they were hired "to protect the people charged and to represent the religious organization."
Morganroth has represented numerous high-profile clients, including ex-Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, auto executive John DeLorean and Jack Kevorkian.
Dershowitz is a retired Harvard Law School professor and lawyer who defended celebrity clients in some of the country's highest profile criminal cases. His client list includes O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson and British socialite Claus von Bulow.
Conflicts of Interest
It looks like Alan Dershowitz is Orthodox Jewish. I couldn't find much on Morganroth, except that Morganroth is a Jewish surname.
Why is this important?
Male infant circumcision is seen as divine commandment in Judaism.
They have personal stake in this case, because if the federal government wins this landmark case against a physician
performing genital cutting on children at the request of religious
parents, then the legality of Jewish circumcision would be put in question.
A Delicate Dance
So much hangs in the balance in this case.
The defense lawyers have a delicate dance to perform; the dance around the candle that FGM activists and male infant circumcision advocates have been struggling to perform for decades, only now, it's being performed in federal court.
On the one hand, a landmark win is a win for "religious freedom,"
and the legality of Jewish circumcision will remain unquestioned.
It also means, however, that this may result in the Federal FGM Ban of 1996 to be lifted, opening the door for other forms of FGM, and possibly other abusive practices, to be legally performed in the US.
For the Holy Day of Ashura, parents cut the tops of childrens' heads.
In some cultures, children marry early.
It's religiously sanctioned of course...
In some cultures, children's faces are scarified.
Some belief the scars provide religious protection. Does that count?
What if I want to tattoo my faith on my child?
What if, instead of taking my child to the doctor, I insist on praying for him?
Because I believe only god can and should heal my child from diseases?
Where does it end?
What if I invent a new religion that says that all children
must have their ears modified to look like Princess Zelda?
On the other hand, a landmark loss means the legality of Jewish circumcision would be put in question.
This also means, however, that parents can't just do abusive things to their children and get away with it under "religious freedom."
So these lawyers have to decide what's more important: protecting the most basic human rights of healthy, non-consenting minors, or sacrificing them on the altar of "religious freedom."
You can't have it both ways.
While it seems like it's a lose-lose for them, I can't help but seeing it as a win-win for basic human rights.
As a human rights activist, I want the judge uphold the federal ban on FGM to rule in favor of basic human rights, and to condemn the actions of the people involved.
On the other, a rule in favor of "religious freedom"
is a tacit admission that genital cutting is the same issue, male or female.
Actually, male circumcision and female circumcision will be legally recognized as being parallel, and neither FGM activists nor circumcision advocates will be able to deny it.
The firewall between the forced genital cutting of males and females will have been officially broken down.
Normalizing and even legalizing FGM will force the public to take a closer look at the issue, and to recognize that male and female circumcision are both one and the same, for they violate the exact same principles and are defended on the exact same grounds.
In either case, I see nothing but progress in the fight for basic human rights.