Opinion: The male voice on Female Genital Mutilation

Please note that the second paragraph of this article contains some graphic details of the procedure of FGM which some people might find distressing.

I’m very glad to see Liberal Democrats at the forefront of the drive to rid this country and the world of female genital mutilation (FGM), one of the most horrible expressions of male power over the female. The debate about it, around the world, as well as in this country, is often blurred by comparisons with male circumcision, which many people also campaign against actively (and in my view rightly). When the topic of FGM comes up, sometimes men try to associate the campaigns or muscle in and actively colonise the attempt to secure some gender balance in the world. This has just emerged in the comments on a post here .

This next paragraph is not suitable for those of a delicate disposition. The two operations are not comparable. Male circumcision involves removing the foreskin. I would not like that. But it is as nothing compared to the removal of all of the organs of sexual enjoyment, which is what the female suffers in FGM. The removal of the clitoris, the clitoral hood, sometimes the inner labia, sometimes the outer labia as well. The equivalent in the man would be the removal of the penis and/or the testicles, while somehow retaining the ability to procreate. (There is no direct biological equivalent.) While male circumcision, carried out without the consent of the owner, is an act of violence, it bears no comparison to the act of FGM. (And, yes, I do know that babies have died as a direct result of botched circumcision operations. Not nearly as many as the number of girls and women who have died from botched FGM.)

Given the general dominance of men over women in this world, it behoves us men, in my opinion, to allow the campaign against FGM to proceed without trying to colonise it. If we want to campaign against circumcision we can. We don’t have to take over somebody else’s campaign to do it. Part of the problem is gradations in the structures of dominance. Men in general are more powerful than women. But individual men very often do not feel dominant. Often they are not: there are many structures of power other than gender. Class, income, race, colour, creed, orientation, all sorts of divisions can count against individual men and make them feel not powerful.

There is often a tendency to see power as all or nothing (something the British do in particular). We see ourselves as having power, or not having power. If we see other people more powerful than ourselves, we think of ourselves as having no power, whereas the reality is that we have some power: not as much as some people but more than others. Many men need to recognise the power that they have, and that it is usually more than women’s.

Real men in real positions of powerlessness do need a platform. But we don’t need women’s platforms; we can make our own. Solidarity is another matter, but solidarity does not arise from colonisation.

* Rob Parsons is a Lib Dem member in Lewes. He blogs at http://acomfortableplace.blogspot.co.uk

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79 Comments

  • Graham Martin-Royle 24th Jan '14 - 5:30pm

    Both fgm and mgm are disgusting practises carried out against children who have no say and cannot properly consent to either procedure. Both need to be campaigned against. Apart from the fact that both are procedures that involve the genitalia, they are two completely differing procedures, as the op points out. For that reason I believe the two campaigns should stay separate at the moment. As fgm is the more horrific of the two, I think it is much more important to concentrate on eradicating that first. When fgm is no longer carried out, then our attention should turn to mgm and getting that eradicated.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Jan '14 - 5:39pm

    Personally, I praised the work on FGM, never mentioned male circumcision and only mentioned men because the previous article had a little dig at us.

    The other comments that didn’t praise Lynne’s work and just moaned about male circumcision lacked politeness.

    I’ll carry on debating FGM because I’ve learnt that you can’t please everyone, so I just trust my instincts.

    Regards

  • I opened this piece with a sinking feeling but I needn’t have worried. Thanks Rob.

  • A Social Liberal 24th Jan '14 - 7:19pm

    It needed saying and Rob said it very well !

  • Maria Pretzler 24th Jan '14 - 8:25pm

    Excellent piece, Rob. In fact, I had just resolved to write something along those lines, because this phenomenon has been annoying me for some time now, but you did it better than I could ever have done.

    The comments on the original article are just one example of a phenomenon often seen in discussions among LibDems. I have seen it happen around various other topics. Make an argument about disadvantages of women as a distinct group, and as night follows, day, the ‘what-about-man’ will arrive and steer the discussion away from the main issue in order to dispute its legitimacy: how dare anybody discuss women without paying equal attention to men? How dare they?! And usually, then several other people swoop in, in the name of equality, and finally shut the whole discussion down.

    It’s very hard to take this – but it is simply a fact that there are enough people, at least among LibDems active online, who do this, so that every single time you have to argue about your right to discuss women’s issues. I like the term ‘colonialising’ for this process, Rob – a good choice. It’s certainly a silencing – perhaps it’s not deliberate, but it’s very, very real. And if the people doing this really don’t understand what they are doing, they have to be made aware of the deep and offensive sexism that they are cultivating without (allegedly?) even noticing. It’s a plague we have to get rid of.

    I should add that, totally unironically, the colonisers often use arguments along the lines of ‘I have many female friends, but…’, or ‘I love my wife very much, but…’. That alone tells you how low the awareness of sexism is: if people haven’t even learned to avoid the most obviously revealing phrases, we have a long way to go to get everybody to recognise the problem, and then to change our culture.

  • Maria Pretzler 24th Jan '14 - 8:28pm

    Philip Young –
    Nice try. I think most Liberal Democrats are able to discuss although there are other things going on. You could make this argument every time somebody tries to discuss it – in fact, far too many do.

    Are you uncomfortable with the line of argument? What makes you try so hard (two posts?!) to shut down this discussion?

    Why not engage with the issue instead of trying to contest the legitimacy of the debate?

  • Philip, the overarching theme here is patriarchy. It’s difficult to know what Icould usefully say about Mike Hancock, or about Chris Huhne that hasn’t already been said. I did have a go on my own blog, so there was little point in me trying to repeat it here. But – you talk about the floods. There are connections. We find a UKIP councillor saying they are because of homosexuality – another of the ways in which dominant (straight) males try to shut down debate; it is no more than another attempt to maintain patriarchal supremacy. We should be sorting out the problem of flooding by planting a heck of a lot of trees. That doesn’t mean we can’t at the same time discuss other issues of global concern.

  • Thank you, Jenny. And thank you Maria (I’m waiting for somebody to say, “I’m not a sexist but…. 🙂 ) Low awareness of sexism – another of the issues is that we have come a long way in the last few decades, which makes a lot of people think there isn’t still a long way to go. But the proportion of female to male MPs we have should give those people pause for thought.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Jan '14 - 9:56pm

    I’m sorry but I’m not buying this patriarchy supremacy stuff. Yes gender roles exist, rightly or wrongly, but they don’t always work out in favour of men (look at what happened to millions of young men in world war 1).

    I never make sexist comments about women, so I ask that women don’t make sexist comments against men in return. I find it sad that even men like to join in the male bashing.

    We can have a grown up debate about gender issues, but throwing petty grenades at either side needs to stop. It is like some people want a half-truce.

  • Eddie Salmon: paternity leave

  • Eddie, that’s the point I’m making about the variations in power. Not all men have great power in their lives, and some men are indeed very put upon. But there is more power in men’s lives in general than in women’s – often much more. Yes, a lot of men have died fighting – that is because of other forms of dominance – it doesn’t mean that patriarchy doesn’t exist.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Jan '14 - 10:27pm

    Thanks Rob. I am not saying men suffer equally from sexism, I am just saying we can fight sexism against women without using sexism against men. I understand your point, I just felt defensive after what I felt was a barrage of attacks against men. I feel I know how feminists feel in this regard! 🙂

  • I find FGM to be an appalling procedure. That it is happening in the 21st century, and with victims in the UK is a cause of despondency. This is my opinion, and I know that many share this opinion.

    We have to address this, and we need to understand it properly.

    To understand it properly we need to avoid framing it in our own perspective or reference. I would question this article regarding its pointing the finger at male dominance, I have a feeling that there may be more to it than this. Quote: ‘ one of the most horrible expressions of male power over the female’

    Why is it that often it is older women who perform the operation? If they were not willingly doing it, then it would likely have died out long ago. Is there some advantage to the older women that is being overlooked?

    What is the religious dimension? If a particular religion condones it as an article of faith, would we be opposing the human rights of the practitioners of that faith to go about expressing their religious faith?

    The European Convention on Human Rights states:
    ‘Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

    1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, and to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

    2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.’

    If it can be demonstrated that FGM is indeed part of a religious practice or observance, then we need to look at clause 2 if we wish to prevent it. The relevant part is the protection of health or morals.

    My own personal opinion is that FGM is immoral. However I do have to concede that not everybody agrees with me, and would presumably have the opposite opinion. I may or may not win the morality argument, am I just being squeamish?

    So, can I win the protection of health argument? Probably, if the operation is conducted in insanitary conditions by people who are not medically qualified. What if the operation was conducted in a modern operating theatre, by properly qualified surgeons? It would be difficult for me to argue the protection of health objection.

    Do we have to concede that FGM is indeed a religious practice, protected by article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights? If so, the best we can do, if we lose the (subjective) morality argument, is to permit the FGM operation to be done properly and safely by the NHS.

    Evidence that it is a legitimate religious practice:
    http://www.meforum.org/1629/is-female-genital-mutilation-an-islamic-problem

  • Joe, I’m going to have to digest that reference and get back to you, but here’s a quick response for starters. Yes, women carry out FGM and encourage girls to get it done. There is no better way of dominating people than co-opting them. There is a terrible fear among women in such communities that if their daughters do not get done, they will never marry, and the social pressure to do it is extraordinary. You may find it hard to believe that social pressure can cause people to do such dreadful things. But it does. An example is Jewish people who worked to round up other Jews and send them to the gas chambers; and those who actually worked in the extermination centres themselves. It is a method of self preservation.

    The argument about religion is a very tenuous one. Specifically about Islam, I’m not aware of anything in the Koran or the hadith advocating FGM. Many cultural practices are given a religious veneer but we recognise over time that they have no foundation in true religious belief. In the west we used to think that slavery was biblically commanded. We used to think that women were chattels, and we called our religion to witness to that. We’ve moved on, thank heavens.

  • “What about men?” is a sensible thing to put in – usually late in a discussion like this. In almost all cases it comes up with a minor-to-non-existant issue. The real ones need to be remembered and campaigned upon.

    BUT… FGM is serious, immediate and not being tackled. Religion needs to be understood, not least by its practitioners, but normally law should prevail. And in this context law is failing.

  • Rob, I am aware that FGM is practiced outside of Islam. However Islam has not put an end to it, in the way that Christianity, very belatedly, put an end to slavery.

    You are probably right that FGM is not commanded in the Quran, I do not recall noticing it, or coming across it being mentioned.

    Have a look at the section in the article I linked to:
    ‘Islamic Scholars on Female Genital Mutilation
    Islamic scholars disagree on FGM: some say no obligatory rules exist while others refer to the mention of female circumcision in the Hadith.’

    How are you going to answer the Islamic clerics who point to the Hadith, saying that Mohammed did not condemn it, gave instructions to a practitioner in ways to perform it better, and that Mohammed said it was an honourable deed for the women?

    Now I have not yet confirmed the sources of these Hadith. Assuming for the sake of current argument however that the practice of FGM is according to Islamic beliefs, what do you say to my suggestion that we cannot prevent it, for to do so would contravene article 9?

    If FGM is to be done at all in the UK, would it be better done safely on the NHS or in some dodgy unregulated ‘clinic’ by people not medically qualified?

  • I do not pretend to follow all of the pointless legalism. The blatant omission from all of these finely argued points is the issue of consent. I do not agree that major, irreversible surgery, whose goal is not to save a life or to prevent serious or chronic pain or injury, should be performed on those who cannot and do not consent to it. It’s a simple question of personal autonomy — and I think it applies as well to things like, say, involuntary sex reassignment surgery. When people are old enough to know what the consequences of their actions are, and mature enough to make decisions on their own (free from parental or community pressure) then let them alter or mutilate themselves however they like — that’s their business. It is not, however, the business of others (including their parents) to make that decision for them.

  • Robert Firth 25th Jan '14 - 7:42am

    I grew up in an African country where most of the population were Moslem, and where about 75% of the children were circumcised. Two observations. First, the traditional “sunnah” circumcision is virtually identical for both boys and girls. It is the removal of part or most of the prepuce, which is present in both sexes. In fact, it is slightly worse for boys, because it leaves the glans penis fully exposed, whereas the clitoris still remains partially protected.

    Secondly, the boys are done by men, and the girls are done by women.. So it is about the power of culture and tradition, and blaming only men is simply wrong. Do I need to add that I am strongly opposed to both practices?

  • Andrew Colman 25th Jan '14 - 7:49am

    Agree completely with Rob. Great article

  • Andrew Colman 25th Jan '14 - 7:57am

    To those arguing protection of FGM under article 9, right to religious belief. What if Gary Glitter or someone similar formed a religion that included having sex with children. Could that to be approved under article 9. At least children abused by GG or similar usually remain Physically intact, when those subject to FGM are not. In my view FGM is a vile form of child abuse and should be dealt with as such.

  • Brilliantly put, Rob, thank you.

    I have nothing to add to what others have said regarding culture vs religion. However, I would argue that even if something is genuinely a religious “necessity”, it is not necessarily defensible. Religion is not genetically determined nor should we as liberals ever assume that parents have the right to foist their superstitions on an innocent that does not have the capacity to evaluate their beliefs.

    The baby’s right to later determine their own beliefs, the baby’s bodily integrity and the baby’s capacity to later decide whether her own natural sexual desires need to be controlled by surgery, MUST trump any religious right of other individuals even if those other individuals are the ones that gave her life.

    That argument does at least avoid any judgment as to whether a practice is barbaric, medieval etc and thereby sidesteps arguments about westernised cultural assumptions, cultural imperialism etc and keeps it rigidly as an issue of individual liberty/rights. FGM is child abuse and in my opinion we should use those words.

  • I became aware of FGM many years ago via a Minority Rights Group stand at a Liberal Conference. I can remember my shock. So I now have great pride to see Lynne Featherstone pushing this to the top of the agenda. Of course we have other bread & butter issues to consider, BUT when you think of thousands of girls and young woman suffering FGM it simply has to be a priority.

  • Joe points to this article as evidence that FGM is a legitimate religious practice: http://www.meforum.org/1629/is-female-genital-mutilation-an-islamic-problem I think that what the article shows in fact is that it is not, but that people call religion to their defence when they want to. On the basis of the article, I don’t see that FGM is a part of Islam any more than it is of any other religion, so the question is a bit of a red herring. However, to answer the question in principle, there are two issues, one about the facts of the case, and one about the principle of religious freedom, which I deal with in reverse order.

    Freedom of religion is a fundamental issue but is quite complex. Firstly, there are several freedoms, and they may conflict – religious freedom, political freedom and bodily freedom, for instance, may all be in conflict with one another. You cannot trump a debate by saying religious freedom counts so that is that. In a case like this, if FGM were demonstrated to be a religious value, that is the start of a debate not the end of it, because you have then to balance religious freedom against other freedoms and try to work a way through. Secondly, a person’s religious freedom is their freedom to do what they want. Not their freedom to do what they want to another person. If a woman came forward and freely chose to have her genitals cut, then she would have the freedom to do so. Not many women would if they were truly free of social or patriarchal pressure.

    And then there is the issue of whether the practice is part of Islam, or a cultural practice which has been accreted into societies which happen to be Islamic. The article cited gives evidence that FGM may be prescribed by some scholars but it is by no means generally accepted as part of Islam by the majority of scholars and clerics. And even of the minority who do accept the practice, only a proportion say it is obligatory, the rest saying that it is permissible. On this basis I think it would be very hard to argue that the practice would be protected by religious freedom. And in the unlikely event that somebody did establish that, it would be trumped by other freedoms. Primarily I would be saying you can do what you like to yourself if you must argue for a religious practice, but you have no right to do it to somebody else.

    Cultures changes, and any vestige of cultural Islamic justification for FGM can change too. It seems pretty clear to me that Islam is called in defence by those who wish to maintain patriarchy, not because it is somehow embedded into the way Islam works.

  • Malcolm Todd 25th Jan '14 - 5:21pm

    Superb article, Rob, and superb follow-ups, both on exactly why FGM is barely comparable with (male) circumcision and on the complicated nature of relative power. I don’t think everyone above has quite understood the latter point, so you’ll need to keep banging away, but I’m glad there are people able to do so so eloquently.

  • Rob, thankyou for your reply.
    Regarding whether the Hadith teachings are relevant to all of Islam – I do not know. My understanding is that there are differences between Sunni and Shia regarding which Hadith teachings are recognised. These particular teachings regarding FGM will surely apply to some parts of Islam.

    FGM probably predated Islam. So did sacrifice of children. Islam does not condemn the former but it does condemn the latter.

    The Hadith are used to justify stoning for adultery for example. This punishment is not mentioned in the Quran, and yet it is indisputably part of Sharia law in some countries. The point is that the Hadith do have weight in the definition of Islamic practices. You cannot dismiss them as lightly as you do.

    Personally I strongly dislike FGM. That is because of my own cultural norms. Other cultures do all sorts of physical interventions – rings around the neck to cause them to lengthen, weights in the ear lobes, disks inserted into lips etc. Should we condemn those practices too? Should we instead accept multiculturalism? Where do you draw the boundary and why? What is your rationale?

    Rob, you write: ‘Secondly, a person’s religious freedom is their freedom to do what they want. Not their freedom to do what they want to another person. ‘
    Are you just restricting this to physical modifications of another person? Could you not equally argue that it is wrong for a parent to instill in their child a fear of hell, or an instruction not to befriend others of different religious faiths? In the Quran there are many accounts of hell fire, and it also instructs believers not to take Christians and Jews for friends. Would you say that it is wrong for Muslim parents to read the Quran to their children?

  • ‘Cultures changes, and any vestige of cultural Islamic justification for FGM can change too. It seems pretty clear to me that Islam is called in defence by those who wish to maintain patriarchy, not because it is somehow embedded into the way Islam works.’

    Rob, you are indulging in wishful thinking. In reality, nobody has any authority at all to change any part of the Quran. The Quran is very clear in numerous verses that women are secondary to men. You cannot change that, I cannot change that, however much we would want to. No Imam has any authority to change it either. It has not been changed in 14 centuries, why would you imagine that it would change now?

  • Ahadith are not one thing. They are a large number (thousands) of different stories about the Prophet, attributed to different persons and included in different collections. Each one has its own “isnad” or chain of transmission, explaining how the story got from its eyewitness to the person who wrote it down. Ahadith tend to be evaluated on the reliability of the isnad, but each sect and school has its own group of canonical ahadith and others that it rejects.
    Unlike the “Bible-only” school of Protestant Christianity, there is no comparably influential “Qur’an-only” school of Islam. The Qur’an itself does not supply a great deal of information on how a Muslim should live day-to-day life; it is a book of stories and exhortations, not a lawbook. The ahadith supply this deficiency, and Islamic law (of whatever variety) is largely based on them and not principally on the Qur’an. Differences in interpretation and categorization of the ahadith provide a certain amount of flexibility; however, each locality tends to have fairly fixed views on what Islam enjoins, which tends to combine but Islamic learning and local customs and prejudices, some of which are mutually supportive, some antithetical to each other, and a lot of which have nothing to do with each other.

    But the bottom line is that to try to extract the ahadith from Islam has a revolutionary character, removing most of the foundation of the religion itself, as currently practised — it would be even more of a revolution than the Protestant Reformation. It is easier to question a particular hadith, but such criticisms, as one might expect, would not be taken seriously coming from outside the Islamic community, or even from an Islamic scholar belonging to a different sect or madhhab.

    Questioning local or national customs that have no foundation in either Qur’an or Hadith may be easier and more persuasive, but of course many people are not necessarily well-informed on the origins of the many customs they practise, and are unlikely to believe an outsider.

    The key to changing behavior that is based or is believed to be based in religion is to work within the community and find respected authority figures who are willing to challenge entrenched customs. And that requires a great deal of knowledge, not a superficial judgment from someone who read an online Qur’an translation and thinks himself an expert.

  • David-1 it would take many years to become an expert. Fortunately someone has done some of the spadework, and by the wonders of Google I was able to find an article which they had prepared on this topic.

    I think we are saying the same thing on a number of points, that there are different schools / aspects of Islam. Hence I was quite up-front about my lack of definition as to which school of Islam recognises the particular Hadith which condones FGM. Also a likelihood that at least one of the schools does recognise this set of instructions regarding FGM. That FGM is widespread within Islamic-dominated countries does indicate that it is at the least tolerated. Here is a list of countries with percentage incidence of FGM. Note it is present in both Sunni and Shia communities:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevalence_of_female_genital_mutilation_by_country

    ‘The Malaysian government sponsored 86th conference of Malaysia’s Fatwa Committee National Council of Islamic Religious Affairs held in April 2009 decided that female circumcision is part of Islamic teachings and it should be observed by Muslims, with the majority of the jurists in the Committee concluding that female circumcision is obligatory (wajib). However, the fatwa noted harmful circumcision methods are to be avoided.’

    So what are we Western infidels to do about it? Possibly not very much if we are trying to change the religious justification for it. That would have to be done by Islamic scholars from within. Why would they do so? It would put them at considerable personal risk. Even in Malaysia which is relatively forward looking compared to some countries sees it as justified within Islam.

    We should be able to reduce its occurrence in the UK if a significant percentage of prosecutions were to be brought. It is unbelievable that there have been no convictions so far. According to the report here, at least at the time it was published (2007), the problem is getting worse in England and Wales:
    http://www.forwarduk.org.uk/download/96

    Is there any precedent for non-Islamic pressure on Islam to halt some uncivilised behaviour? Yes there is, Saudi Arabia made slavery illegal in 1962, under pressure from the UN. Could similar pressure be brought regarding FGM?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolition_of_slavery_timeline

    I am awaiting a logical argument regarding the article 9 clause 2. Can I win the protection of health argument? If the operation were done in a modern operating theatre by qualified medical staff, I would presumably loose that argument?

  • Joe writes: “The Quran is very clear in numerous verses that women are secondary to men. You cannot change that, I cannot change that, however much we would want to. No Imam has any authority to change it either. It has not been changed in 14 centuries, why would you imagine that it would change now?”

    I think you’re in danger of reifying islam as some sort of monolithic fossil. Things do change. The Bible has just as many horrible things in it. Most Christians have moved on and Islamic people can move on as well. Religions are always mixtures of beliefs and cultural circumstances, with the authoritative writings being reinterpreted according to current cultural needs. The patriarchy of many Islamic communities says more about their social and economic position in a global world that keeps them subordinate than it does about their actual religion. If what you were suggesting had any validity, FGM would not be diminishing anywhere, but if you follow, for instance, Orchid (http://orchidproject.org/) you will see regular accounts of communities in different places, including solidly Islamic communities, exchewing FGM.

  • Joe says: “I am awaiting a logical argument regarding the article 9 clause 2. Can I win the protection of health argument? If the operation were done in a modern operating theatre by qualified medical staff, I would presumably loose that argument?”

    Joe, I gave you a logical answer in my post of 25th Jan 2.51 pm. I think you’re arguing an extreme and unlikely case, but I will accept it in its own terms and give you a brief version of my response.

    a) given the state of Islamic teaching on this it is extremely unlikely that you would be able to establish FGM as a religious right
    b) even if you could, it would be established as a religious right for a person to act on themselves. There is no right for a person to enforce their religious beliefs and practices on others. In both law and philosophy there would be an absolute ban on practising religious violence on others, which would be an absolute barrier to it taking place
    c) so the argument that it would be OK because it can be done nicely is null.

  • Stuart Mitchell 26th Jan '14 - 11:02am

    Rob Parsons:
    “I think you’re in danger of reifying islam as some sort of monolithic fossil. Things do change. The Bible has just as many horrible things in it. Most Christians have moved on and Islamic people can move on as well. Religions are always mixtures of beliefs and cultural circumstances, with the authoritative writings being reinterpreted according to current cultural needs.”

    While there is some truth in what you say, it is naïve to think that Muslims are just as capable of disregarding their out-of-date scriptures as Christians are. It is a pretty core part of Muslim belief that the Qu’ran is the literal and inviolable word of God. Christians, by and large, do not think of the Bible in the same way.

  • Stuart – no, I don’t agree. Islam has changed a great deal over the centuries, not always in the same direction – that is what happens. Some of the posts above make it clear how the Quran is interpreted and the interpretation has changed over the centuries. Their stuckness in patriarchy is more to do with social and economic conditions, and as liberal democrats, our biggest duty is to work for equality of opportunity, distribution and regard. If we do that we will find Islam changing rapidly. And do note the point I made in my post at 10.42 – the words of the Quran have not changed, but many islamic communities are changing their attitude to FGM.

  • Stuart is absolutely correct:
    ‘It is a pretty core part of Muslim belief that the Qu’ran is the literal and inviolable word of God. ‘

    The difference with Christianity is that Islam is not just a set of religious beliefs. It is also a legal system and a form of political ideology too.

    In Christianity there is the idea of separation of church and state, because of the Bible verse ‘render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s’. There is no such distinction in Islam.

    Rob, you state that Islam has changed over the centuries. Can you give specific examples please? What I see of Islam is that even now Christians are being persecuted by Muslims in the name of Allah. As has been happening for 14 centuries. I would dearly like for you to be correct, unfortunately where is the evidence?

    In the Quran it is stated that a Muslim man is perfectly at liberty to have sexual intercourse with his slave girls. The implication is that it was acceptable for Muslim men to keep slaves. If we had waited for Islam to put an end to slavery on its own we would be waiting a very long time. Similarly it seems rather hopeless to wait for Islam to voluntarily put an end to FGM. You did read the quote I provided regarding female ‘circumcision’ in Malaysia? That it is correct according to Islam to practice it. That was in 2009. Not very long ago.

  • Rob Parsons 26th Jan '14 - 3:44pm

    Ok. Let’s put it like this. There is a religion whose adherents claim that the word of their bible is the inerrant word of God, timeless and literal. Their bible says that menstruating women are unclean, taht women are worth approximately half what men are worth and that disabled people are not welcome at their altar. They believe that their bible justifies the persecution and murder of gay people, women, and sometimes doctors, following the decrees of their bible. They believe, and state energetically, that floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters are God’s punishment for our fornication and homosexuality. They are encouraged to practise cannibalism, eating the body and blood, allegedly of their founder, at religious festivals.

    That is the Christianity of today. Islamic scholars who say FGM is mandated in the Quran are the equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church. Somewhere in the world there are extremists who will find ways of bending any bible to their cause. Islam apparently has more than most at the moment. But you cannot equate conservative extremists with the whole religion, for Islam any more than for Christianity. Their condition, I contend, is nothing to do with the content of the Quran, any more than the fevered gibberings of the Westboro lot have anything to do with the content of the Bible that the rest of us Christians live by. It has a lot to do with a global context in which Islamic people have been discriminated against powerfully and effectively for far too long. They are now flexing their muscles and some of them are trying to do to us what we used to do to them. We have to live with that and contend with it to make the world a better place for us all. There are plenty of like minded Islamic people. And they will find much in the Quran to back them up, such as 25.63 “The servants of the All-merciful are those who walk in the earth modestly and who, when the ignorant address them, say, ‘Peace'”

    I did read your quote from Malaysia. And I replied to it. The fact that a minority of nutcases use the Quran to justify FGM does not mean that it has a cat’s chance in hell of being deemed to be a human right.

    Regarding change in Islam, where do you want me to start? Seriously. One example: Islam used to be used to justify slavery, just like Christianity was. Just as Christianity has changed, so has Islam. To take a more modern example, there are still Islamic supremacists just as there are Christian supremacists, but the general Islamic attitude to pluralism has changed markedly: http://www.aku.edu/collegesschoolsandinstitutes/ismc/researchandpublications/researchthemes/pages/pluralism.aspx

  • Stuart Mitchell 26th Jan '14 - 6:46pm

    “There is a religion whose adherents claim that the word of their bible is the inerrant word of God, timeless and literal.”

    Not at all. Muslims believe that the Qu’ran is *literally written by God*. Christians do not believe the same thing about the Bible. This is one of the reasons why so many Muslims fly in to a rage at any sort of defilement of the Qu’ran, whereas Christians – even those Baptist fundamentalists you refer to – would likely do little more than shake their heads and tut at the burning of a Bible.

    The two religions view their sacred texts in completely different ways, and this is a major reason why the sort of liberalisation of the Islamic world you seem to think is easily achievable is not looking like happening any time soon.

  • Rob Parsons 26th Jan '14 - 8:24pm

    Sorry, Stuart – both generalisations are wrong. There are Christians who believe the Bible is literally written by God, and plenty of Muslims who don’t believe the Quran is directly written by God. Probably different proportions, but what concerns me is that you are making Islam monolithic. It is not – no religion ever is. Perception is a big problem, because our media are full of the doings and sayings of Muslim extremists, and giving the impression that they speak for all Muslims. They don’t, they’re just shouting at the top of their voices. The propensity of people in poor countries to riot when encouraged to do so has a lot to do with inequalities and the lack of security and prosperity in their lives. Any excuse will do. The religious component is not the root of it, just the symptom.

  • Rob, a key point to note is that Islam would not have put an end to slavery on its own. It was only ended in Saudi Arabia due to outside pressure. I suspect that Islam will also not put an end to FGM on its own. If we non-Muslims are to put the pressure upon Islam to end it then we have to understand the real reasons why it is propagated. Trying to blame western men for all ills associated with Islam simply does not wash. Witness that Nigerian Christians are being terrorised, murdered in churches etc by you know who. Also it is not just a Christian vs Islam matter. Buddhists in Thailand, Hindus in Pakistan etc. Rob, your narrative is too narrow, you cannot seem to grasp the issue.

    The verse that you quote, is it abrogated? Can you demonstrate whether it is not abrogated? What is the context?

    I am in agreement with Stuart. When was the last time that a Baptist went around with a notice saying ‘Behead those who insult Christianity’?

    Rob, was it you or do you know who it was that advised Nick Clegg regarding the quote from the Quran that he used after the Lee Rigby murder? Whoever advised him was either incredibly ignorant, or else knew exactly what they were doing and were taking the mick. The passage that Nick quoted was part of the context that was in fact advocating the very thing that Nick thought it was teaching against.

    There is a very simple reason why Muslims regard themselves as superior – they believe that we infidels are going to hell. Sounds like you have been on the receiving end of Taqiyya.

  • Joe, I’ve no idea what you mean by abrogated.

    At least you’re acknowledgeing that Islam has changed, rather than claiming that it is incapable of change which your earlier posts seemed to suggest. I am not myself suggesting that Islam would be OK without western oppression; it is manifestly not. (And you are, as you have done already, misrepresenting my views by exaggerating them. I did not say all the ills of Islam are due to western men. I said their violence has to be seen in context.) And Islam can change and it is changing. The original topic was about FGM, and Ihave shown that, whatever the views of a hardline minority, views and practices about FGM are changing in many places.

  • Rob: ‘Joe, I’ve no idea what you mean by abrogated.’

    Rob, this is an admission that you have no idea what you are talking about when discussing Islam. If you do not understand abrogation then you have no chance of understanding the Quran, and hence no chance of understanding Islam itself. This means that everything that you have written in the article and your comments has to be seen as simply your own opinion, without foundation.

    Please do look it up, before making more dubious comments. For your own good, and for the good of our party. Our inability to handle the Maajid Nawaz situation is symptomatic of our ignorance of Islam within the party. I truly am concerned for his safety. He has received death threats and we glibly pontificate about freedom of expression. This is likely to be far more destructive than the Rennard situation. It is urgently necessary for you to get up to speed on Islam.

    http://wikiislam.net/wiki/List_of_Abrogations_in_the_Qur'an

    http://www.inquiryintoislam.com/2010/06/what-is-abrogation-in-islam.html

    Apologies if I come across as short tempered with you. It is frustration. Once you see things more clearly you will understand why I write in this manner.

  • Stuart Mitchell 27th Jan '14 - 9:53am

    Rob Parsons: “Joe, I’ve no idea what you mean by abrogated.”

    Well that explains a lot. You can’t have read much about the Qu’ran if you have no idea what Joe is talking about. Abrogation is a key concept which Muslims use (to put it very simply) to explain away the numerous inconsistencies in the Qu’ran. It was necessary for Muslim scholars to come up with this idea because, as I keep explaining to you (though for some reason you don’t want to accept it), Muslims generally believe that the Qu’ran was literally written by God, so all those inconsistencies obviously required some kind of explanation, and abrogation was the best they could come up with.

    “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris is a superb book that gets to the heart of why religious fundamentalism is one of the worst ideas anybody ever came up with.

    Going back to the original topic, you’ll find a summary of Islamic teaching on female genital mutilation here :-

    http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Qur'an,_Hadith_and_Scholars:Female_Genital_Mutilation

  • Steve Coltman 27th Jan '14 - 12:17pm

    As I understand it several tens of thousands of women I this country have been subjected to this barbarity. Only a handful of people have ever been arrested and none convicted. For all the hot air on this subject, one has to suspect the authorities are turning a blind eye, afraid to confront the ethnic minority groups who perpetrate this act.

  • Alex Baldwin 27th Jan '14 - 7:40pm

    @Graham Martin-Royle: “When fgm is no longer carried out, then our attention should turn to mgm and getting that eradicated.”

    Just imagine being able to do more than one thing at a time! What a world we would live in!

  • Alex Baldwin 27th Jan '14 - 7:50pm

    I understand wanting to make FGM and MGM different campaigns for practical reasons. Public opinion is overwhelmingly against FGM at the moment, so there is no need to “win over” most people into thinking that is bad. I understand in that case FGM campaigners being wary of people hitching the male circumcision wagon to theirs and holding them back. It makes sense for any MGM campaign to be separate, and carried out by the people who care passionately about *that* issue.

  • Kelev Katan 27th Jan '14 - 9:53pm

    Even if male circumcision were less extreme than female circumcision (which is debatable, but we can assume for the sake of argument) it is in no way “colonising” one to oppose both. Punching a child in the face is less extreme than punching them ten times, but it’s just as wrong no matter how many times they’re hit. Breaking a person’s finger may not be as extreme as breaking all of their fingers or their arm, but it’s still criminal.

    Indicting less extreme crimes in no way detracts from fighting the more extreme ones. Indeed, drawing the line at the less extreme forms actually helps in fighting all forms. By not tolerating any cutting of any unconsenting children, male or female, more or less extreme, we are able to send a clear, consistent, and congruent message that it’s all wrong.

  • It is not “colonisation” to oppose both male and female circumcision. Indeed, it is a form of apartheid to insist they are different.

  • Joe and Stuart, I understand the concept of abrogation, was just not familiar with that word being used in this context. But it doesn’t solve any of your problems, in fact it seems to show that you are ocntradicting yourselves. You have both stated in categorical terms that Muslims believe the Quran to be the unchanging word of God. Now you are telling me that there is a process called abrogation which allows things to change. As I have had to say to you repeatedly, Muslim practices have changed over the years, such as the abolition of slavery and the current abjuration of FGM by Islamic communities all over the world. You are determined to present your idea of Islam as unchanging and brutal, but (regardless of anyone’s opinions about what Muslims believe) that flies in the face of the facts. We are on solid evidential ground here: the actual evidence is that things change in the Islamic world. It may take a long time and a lot of effort, but they do change.

    But I’d like to get back to the topic I started with. This started out as a discussion of FGM, not of Islam. FGM goes beyond the Islamic world, and the debate here is over how to tackle it, and I am glad to see that recent commenters have returned to that. Steve points to the lack of activity by the authorities in this country. Maybe with Norman Baker holding this responsibility at the Home Office, things will change in that regard; I certainly hope so.

    And Alex makes a valid point – we can do more than one thing at once. The issue here was about a particular conflict which has arisen in this country, and has been a big argument in the States for some time, about some – I emphasise only some – men seeming to want to take over the FGM debate for their own ends. Let us by all means do two things at once, and more than two things. But we cannot let one be submerged by the other, which it seems is what some men wanted to do to the movement on FGM.

  • Rob, you are still digging a hole for yourself without understanding what you are saying: ‘ Now you are telling me that there is a process called abrogation which allows things to change. ‘

    The point is that the principle of abrogation is in the context of the Quran, which is what I pulled you up on and was the context of my questioning you about the verse you quoted. You seem to be anxious to avoid admitting your lack of knowledge, and yet it is plainly in sight and recognisable by anybody who has spent even a few hours looking into the matter. The best thing would be for you to concede that you need to spend an amount of time reading up on it before continuing to make pronouncements upon Islam.

    There are verses within the Quran itself which describe the principle of abrogation. Therefore the change which is permissible already occurred some 14 centuries ago when the Quran text was collated and standardised by Caliph Uthman. There is zero chance that the Quran text will changed today.

    Nowhere did I claim that Islam is monolithic. The Quran is not the only text. There is a huge body of text called the Hadith. That does not help you however, because as already linked to, (which you appear not to have read), the Hadith verses quoted also show that FGM is permissible within Islam. There is some discussion amongst Islamic scholars regarding whether it is permissible or obligatory, however that in no way helps us to abolish FGM within the Islamic communities either in the UK or worldwide. The fact is that FGM is indeed condoned within the Islamic faith. If you want to put an end to it, even in the UK, then it has to be done in opposition to Islam. Good luck with that one, particularly given the lack of understanding that you have demonstrated in your comments here, why on earth would you expect them to enter into dialogue with you?

    Our party is well on the way to alienating itself from the Muslim communities, see the more recent comments on the Maajid Nawaz article. The Muslim population of the UK increased by about 80% between 2001 and 2011, the overall UK population increased by about 7% in the same decade. Simple maths that you would use for calculating compound interest indicates that the Muslim population of the UK will be in the majority somewhere around the years 2050 to 2060 if current trends continue. It does seem to be a general and established trend. Even under Mrs Thatcher and John Major the Muslim population was increasing by 60% and 70% per decade. In other words a very large percentage for the last 3 decades, we cannot blame it all on Labour.

    If our party alienates the Muslim communities, we make ourselves increasingly unelectable, simply because of the demographic changes. Why not simply accept that Islam has some teachings that are a bit unpalatable to us, and try to rebuild the bridges with the Muslim communities that the Nawaz situation has destroyed?

    I am trying to keep our party relevant for the 21st century, a sensitivity towards Islam is what is needed, not getting on our high horse regarding equality, free speech etc, which as you can imagine will make us unelectable in just a few decades time, or restricted to a handful of secular enclaves.

  • Robert Firth 28th Jan '14 - 9:09am

    Insofar as FGM in the UK is concerned, I agree with Alex Baldwin, that the issue of MGM should be kept firmly separate, for the reasons he gives. But the problem with eradicating it has nothing to do with “public opinion”; the problem is the poisonous political correctness of the prosecution services and the judiciary, who are simply terrified of enforcing the law against our ethnic minorities. The result, as was predicted, is almost indistinguishable from a barbarian invasion, and if Joe King wants to ingratiate himself with these invaders then I part company with him.

    If we look at FGM worldwide, I remember when my father fought it in Africa as an employee of the Ministry of Health. The commonest (printable) rejoinder was “We’re just doing to our girls what you do to your boys”, and that ends the debate. That is a very tough attitude to overcome, not least because it is to some extent justified. There is in most countries zero regulation of who may gentially mutilate small boys – the law gives more protection to cats and dogs. And anyway, before lecturing other countries, shoudn’t we put our own house in order?

    Thanks for listening.

  • Joe, you seem to be arguing that the Islamic attitude to FGM is based on their belief in the unchanging nature of the Quran, which mandates it, and therefore the attitude will not change. Please tell me if that is not the case. All I have been arguing for is the fact – demonstrated by evidence throughout Africa – that Islamic communities’ attitude to FGM is changing, and that we can work with them to keep changing. You have been arguing against my point of view all along. If you don’t agree with me about that, the evidence says you are wrong.

    As for the Islamic population of the UK, I do not think your figures will prove to be right demographically. The population expansion of the past three decades will not happen again in the future – there will not be again anything like the immigration that we have seen in the past, and birthrates will drop markedly – as they always do in improving economic conditions. You are also assuming that every Muslim in this country will be in favour of FGM. This is not so, Two examples of many: http://www.forwarduk.org.uk/key-issues/fgm/fgm-islam and http://www.mwnuk.co.uk/Female_Genital_Mutilation_8_factsheets.php

  • Kelev, I agree with both of your statements but they are partial. There is a big difference between circumcision and FGM as normally practised. Cicumcision can be very invasive; FGM can be, but rarely is, little more than a nick. FGM as normally practised, removes all possibility of sexual pleasure from the woman (which I think is the whole idea if you look back at the reasons why it is done). Circumcision, as normally practised, does not do that.

    In terms of what and how to combat, you are right, both are untenable. And you are right, we should try to combat both. And you are right it is not colonising to oppose both. But there are some men who do try to colonise, and that is what I was writing about in the original article. I was not saying that all men do it, they clearly don’t. But some men do, and that is unhelpful. We don’t have to – none of us have to. It’s great to oppose both, but they do work in different ways and to different degrees, and it is reasonable both in principle and tactically to work against them differently.

  • Andrew Colman 28th Jan '14 - 4:14pm

    Joes comment above (which I profoundly disagrees with) reveals one of the great flaws in modern democratic politics, particularly on the left. Its the chasing of opinion poll ratings at any cost, ultimately power at any cost. Nothing is sacred, the only thing matters is public opinion. This was Tony Blair’s big failing. Because of Blair’s phobia of unpopularity, he failed to deal with the housing bubble when he could and the rest bis history.

    Suppose the % of muslims in the UK population did rise to above 50% and they all supported FGM. Would that make it right?

    I joined the Lib Dems because it was a party of values. There are values we need to stick to whatever some religions may think.

  • Kelev Katan 28th Jan '14 - 7:04pm

    Rob, I’m a doctoral candidate who works on issues of STD prevention, sex education, and health. I’ve researched and taught on this and related issues for nearly twenty years in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the US. You are incorrect in your assertion that female circumcision, as it is “normally done”, is only a nick. That form of female circumcision is actually the norm in places like Malaysia and Indonesia (the world’s most populous Muslim nation). Indeed, the assertion that female circumcision normally involves the removal of large amounts of tissue actually works against us when people in Indonesia point out that this assertion is mistaken. It makes anti-FGM activists lose credibility and helps those who promote cutting do so by pointing out that, far from the drastic procedure described by critics, what is really happening is far less invasive. This argument has actually been made repeatedly in Indonesian and Malaysian media recently. So the false claim that female circumcision “normally” removes so much tissue does real harm to the cause.

    Too, in the years I have been educating on this issue, I have never seen men who want to make the issue only about male circumcision. I have certainly seen those who oppose FGM claim that male circumcision is not an issue and that only female circumcision should be the focus of attention. I have encountered many anti-FGM activists who are actually pro-male circumcision, but I can safely say that I have never met an opponent of male circumcision who supports female circumcision. If you have references or citations for articles, editorials, or testimony from men “colonising” the issue in the way you claim, I would be interested in seeing that. For now, though, I think it’s a myth. It’s a common myth, but a myth all the same.

  • Kelev Katan 28th Jan '14 - 7:09pm

    Sorry, my mistake, my above post should read: You are incorrect in your assertion that female circumcision, as it is “normally” done, is rarely only nick.

  • Rob Parsons 28th Jan '14 - 7:58pm

    Kelev – quick response now, to be followed later. I wrote my post in response to an attempt to muscle the male circumcision issue into FGM – that is linked from my original post.

  • Andrew: ‘Suppose the % of muslims in the UK population did rise to above 50% and they all supported FGM. Would that make it right?’

    If they are in the majority, then in a democracy they would get their way. I personally dislike FGM, it seems barbaric to me. However if Muslims believe that it is either their religious duty, or at least permissible under Sharia, then if they vote in favour of it and have the majority of votes, then that is democracy isn’t it?

    ‘I joined the Lib Dems because it was a party of values. There are values we need to stick to whatever some religions may think.’ Indeed so. Unfortunately we have been breaking promises, despite the election video. The key value that we have to preserve is ‘my word is my bond’, unfortunately we have already proven ourselves to have fallen short. That is why we are being punished in the polls.

  • Kelev Katan 29th Jan '14 - 1:12am

    Rob, I perused the link you provided in your piece. At least from what I read, I didn’t see men trying to “muscle in” male circumcision to the female circumcision debate. I see men rightly pointing out that, if one is illegal and prosecutable, then both should be. I would also add (as many opponents of forced genital surgery do) that operations on intersex children should also be banned until which time intersex individuals are able to make informed decisions for themselves about what, if any, action should be taken to alter their bodies.

    Again, the notion that these are somehow separate issues is a false construct and bad logic, akin to saying that lesbians are trying to “colonise” discussions about homophobia by insisting that they’re recognised within gay rights legislation, or that Asians are trying to “muscle in” when trying to address racism. When the problem at hand affects multiple groups, it’s entirely fair for each group to demand redress. We can certainly talk about the differences that may apply to each group in question, just like we can discuss how lesbians may face different problems from gay men, or Asians may face unique forms of discrimination from Africans, etc. But to claim that one group is attempting to co-opt the discussion when all that is being proposed is simple equality is simply untrue.

  • Kelev, I think there are issues of interpretation. One of them is that some propound that the two procedures are equivalent, and others do not. I defer to your knowledge of practice in Eastern Asia, but in Africa FGM is significantly more invasive than circumcision, so there is a different effect, (see, for instance http://ispub.com/IJTWM/9/1/5621) and I do not accept that you can just say they are the same because cicumcision is sometimes worse than FGM. FGM is often significantly worse than circumcision and is often catastrophic for the woman. It does deserve a platform of its own then. I can see that your opinion on that is going to differ from mine, so we will have to agree to differ.

    As to the example I gave, again I think there are perception issues. I do see attempts to muscle in. If you don’t see the two procedures as being different, then maybe there is less of a problem. As I’ve just said, I accept your evidence that FGM is less invasive in Malaysia, but that evidence does not hold for Africa. FGM is much more invasive and therefore needs to be treated separately. There has been a big debate in America about the equivalence or non-equivalence of the two, which I followed for a while, via bodies like 50 million missing https://twitter.com/50millionmissin I stopped because there clearly was going to be no resolution.

    Your final point I think excapsulates the difference between us – there is a difference. I do not think that this is a question of opinion but of evidence. Your evidence says that in Malaysia there is less of a difference, but you cannot make that a general statement because in Africa practices are clearly different from in Malaysia. And I would like to note that I have not generalised. I do not say that all men are attempting to co-opt the discussion. I do say that some men are, because they are, and that is a particular example of a general sexism still at large in our society which we need to work away from.

  • Kelev Katan 29th Jan '14 - 4:46pm

    Sorry Rob, but again the facts don’t bear out your assertion. If you compare African female circumcision with African male circumcision, the differences are not that significant to warrant treating the two procedures differently. Please refer to the information on this page, especially the photos:
    http://www.ulwaluko.co.za/Home.html

    Both procedures are done in the bush in unsanitary conditions using an array of found objects and non-sterile instruments. There are disfiguring complications from both procedures. And of deaths frequently occur. African newspapers often run stories about whole swaths of boys who die following circumcision rituals performed during traditional tribal ceremonies.

    What happens frequently in the circumcision debate (and what you seem to be doing here) is comparing the worst forms of African female circumcision with the types of male circumcision performed in American hospitals, for example, in order to create what is actually a false distinction. But if you compare African male circumcision performed in the bush with African female circumcision performed in the bush, that distinction disappears. Likewise, if you compare hospital circumcisions of boys in America with hospital circumcisions of girls in places like Malaysia, Indonesia, or Egypt, you’ll see the two procedures are again more comparable than not in terms of complication rates, tissue removed, rationalisations, etc.

  • Rob Parsons 29th Jan '14 - 5:27pm

    I think we differ on what counts as normal. I accept that circumcisions happen in dreadful conditions. But there are different factors involved. the African circumcision is still a relatively minor removal compared to the African FGM. Unsanitary conditions can blight any operation, but it is still the case that the blighted or unblighted African FGM is far worse than the blighted or unblighted African circumcision. But that still does not deal with my argument, which is that some men try to muscle in on the FGM debate. Women do not try to muscle in on the circumcision debate, they respect it, they support it where appropriate, they do not try to submerge it in their concerns about FGM. Ther are men – not all men – who try to colonise deabtes about FGM.

  • Kelev Katan 29th Jan '14 - 6:06pm

    Rob, did you look at the photos present on the website I linked to? Did you look at any of the other information provided by the Dutch doctor who has researched the issue and posted that information? It seems like you haven’t done much research on this issue yourself since you keep repeating things that simply aren’t true. Again, in terms of sheer amount of tissue loss, damage, complications, and mortality, African male circumcision and African female circumcision are more alike than not (as alike as two procedures can be when one is performed on males, the other on females). Obviously there are differences, but the differences are ones of degrees, not extremes, as the information on that website I referenced (among others) attests to.

    I’m still unclear by what you mean by “muscling in.” You provided a link to another article where you alleged men were “muscling in” and “colonising” and you have allowed as to how such things can be a matter of perception and interpretation. But I still don’t see any examples there of what I would consider “muscling in” or see anything there that would lead someone to that interpretation. Can you point to some specific posts there that would, in your interpretation, be examples of men “muscling in” on the FGM debate? Perhaps if I saw some of the specific statements made by those in these discussions, it would help me understand your perspective.

  • Rob Parsons 29th Jan '14 - 8:14pm

    Kelev, I have looked at your evidence, and you are clearly not looking at mine. There is a difference between the intended extent of the operation and the conditions in which it is carried out. Male circumcision is limited to removing the foreskin. FGM in Africa is at least as invasive and usually more so. OK, men suffer from complications, usually from operating conditions, not the operation itself.

    The WHO definition of FGM has four types:
    1. Type I (commonly referred to as clitoridectomy)

    Excision (removal) of the clitoral hood, with or without removal of all or part of the clitoris.

    2. Type II (commonly referred to as excision)

    Excision (removal) of the clitoris, together with part or all of the labia minora (the inner vaginal lips). This is the most widely practised form.

    3. Type III (commonly referred to as infibulation)

    Excision (removal) of part or all of the external genitalia (clitoris, labia minora and labia majora), and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening, leaving a very small opening, about the size of a matchstick, to allow for the flow of urine and menstrual blood. Also known as pharaonic circumcision.

    4. Type IV (Unclassified/Introcision)

    Pricking, piercing or incision of the clitoris and/or labia:

    • Stretching the clitoris and/or labia
    • Cauterisation by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissues
    • Scraping of the vaginal orifice or cutting of the vagina
    • Introduction of corrosive substances into the vagina to cause bleeding, or introduction of herbs into the vagina to tighten or narrow it
    • Any other procedure that falls under the definition of female genital mutilation

    Do you really think the WHO which moves at snail’s pace most of the time, would bother with such a definition if the practices were not widespread? You want more evidence? OK:
    http://www.fgm.co.nz/complications-of-fgm
    http://www.accmuk.com/?target=facts&menuitem=FGM&submenuitem=Facts+about+FGM
    http://www.witchhazel.it/female_genital_mutilation.htm
    https://www.academia.edu/1387351/Writing_against_the_Grain_African_Womens_Texts_on_Female_Infibulation_as_Literature_of_Resistance
    http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/sudan/clitoridectomy-and-infibulation
    http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/06/2013616133646814781.html
    http://www.irinnews.org/in-depth/62462/15/razor-s-edge-the-controversy-of-female-genital-mutilation
    http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/
    http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/oct/14/waris-dirie-female-genital-mutilation-fgm

    I could go on.

    Against this, the chief effect of circumcision on men who survive the operation seems to be that they think they can have unprotected sex because the toughening of the penis tip protects them against AIDS. Not equivalent in the slightest.

    As for the effect of men on women’s conversations, I have a feeling that whatever example I come up with, you are going to say doesn’t show what I say it shows. We already disagree about the one example I have brought forward, and you will not agree about the terms on which the conversation is taking place. I will see if I can find another example.

  • Yes, FGM and male circumcision are different.
    80% of girls who are circumcised have a small part of their foreskin/clitoral hood removed. 20% have a far more invasive procedure. Both are deplorable and human rights violations.

    About 56% of newborn boys in the US have their foreskin removed… a far larger area than 80% of girls who are circumcised.

    The foreskin in baby/young boys is fused on to the penis head, much like a nail is fused to the finger, until it retracts on it’s own, some time between the toddler years and their teens.

    To circumcise a newborn boy, the doctor has to first strap down the baby to a plastic board by his arms and legs.
    S/he then clips a slit in the foreskin and inserts a metal probe to separate the foreskin from the head, before the foreskin is then cut or crushed off.

    Most American doctors do this with no pain medication whatsoever……..

    Imagine being strapped down to a table and having someone insert a metal probe under your nails and then ripping them off…… with no pain medications…..
    There is another term for this.

    There are several risks associated with routine infant circumcision, like amputations, lacerations, infection and many others, including death. It is estimated that about 117 boys a year die in the USA as a result of routine infant circumcision.

    There are several studies proving that just like FGM, male circumcision affects sexuality of not only the circumcised man, but also his partners.

    Just like FGM, male circumcision is completely unnecessary, has no benefits and is a strictly cosmetic surgery.
    Only Americans, Jews and Muslims routinely circumcise their boys. Boys and men in the rest of the world are happily intact.

    So FGM and male circumcision are different, but only because the physical differences between the male and female genitalia. Both FGM and MGM are human rights violations.

  • Yes, Rob, I’m quite familiar with the WHO’s classification system where female circumcision is concerned. As I’ve pointed out, I teach and write on this subject professionally, and use the WHO’s own classification system as part of my classes on the subject and cite them in my doctoral work.

    The WHO’s information on the subject actually reinforces everything I’ve said. According to the WHO, the majority of female circumcisions entail some variations of type I, II, and IV . This is what I referred to when I mentioned Malaysia, Indonesia, and Egypt. In many of these procedures, relatively small amounts of tissue is removed. And according to defenders of female circumcision publishing recent articles in places like the Jakarta Post, NO tissue is removed at all — the procedure simply involves a ritual nick.

    This is exactly why victims and opponents of female circumcision, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former Dutch MP, and Soraya Mire in the US, point out that males often suffer more than females from circumcision. This is exactly why Hirsi Ali was in favour of Dutch legislation that would have banned male circumcision along with female circumcision. I don’t think either of these women can justifiably be charged with “colonising” or “muscling in” on the FGM discussion with their concern for equal protection for all children.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaEoQVZnN8I

    Once again, your assertion that men suffer only from complications of the procedure and not due to the procedure itself is ^exactly* the argument that defenders of female circumcision use to try and justify why FGM should be done in hospitals and sterile conditions rather than in the bush. Their claim is that most, if not all, of the harms of female circumcision (especially those falling under the Type I, II, and IV headings) are due to unsanitary conditions rather than from the operation itself.

    The fact that ALL the arguments for male circumcision can be and are used regularly by defenders of female circumcision is exactly why opponents to FGM must oppose MGM as well. Defenders of FGM only see wetern tolerance of MGM as hypocrisy, while insisting that FGM is no worse than what boys go through. They are at least half-right. It is hypocritical to oppose one while tolerating the other, but the answer is not to allow both as they argue. The answer is to stop being hypocritical by opposing both. Thus, one of their main defenses of FGM is defused.

  • I also suggest you look at this short video containing testimony from Egyptian women defending circumcision of girls. As you can see, it is defended with all of the same arguments used to defend male circumcision, especially since that advent of modern medicine has replaced the traditional village circumciser and given the operation a veneer of medical respectability. And as you can see, the fact that boys are circumcised in these cultures is one of the many rationales used to justify cutting girls. What’s good for the gander is good for the goose, to tweak the old saying.

    So again, any allegation that opponents have “colonised” the discussion is completely missing the fact that defenders of female circumcision have already colonised male circumcision in their defense of both. If you don’t want them to get away with defending FGM, you have to deal with their defense of male circumcision, too.

  • I know that women defend FGM: the best way to secure control over people is to get them to do it themselves.

    I don’t mean by colonisation what you describe here. You are describing people using similar (spurious) arguments which they have picked up from somewhere else. The women are not saying you can’t talk about circumcision wihtout talking about FGM, they are just piggy backing on the arguments. Colonisation is when an outsider takes over and tries to dminate the argument by saying that they matter more – which is exactly what happened in the conversation I first referred to.

    You asked for evidence – I gave you a ton of evidence which you have ignored.

  • Kelev Katan 30th Jan '14 - 1:10am

    Rob, I have not ignored anything. I simply have not seen any statements among those you’ve referenced saying that male circumcision “matters more.” Have I missed something?

  • Rob, you give the impression of someone floundering regarding the religious dimension, and also floundering when confronted with a real expert on M/FGM.

    If we are to tackle either MGM or FGM, should we first concentrate on the UK? If we cannot put an end to these practices at home, what hope do we have to put an end elsewhere? I gave the analogy of the abolition of slavery, some countries only abolished it as recently as 1962 through outside pressure not through internal enlightenment. This did of course require that slavery was first abolished in the civilised world. We should start by focusing on the UK.

    If you want to abolish it in the UK, you need to understand Islam. You also need to get proper legal advice regarding the European Convention on Human Rights. Is FGM contrary to the ECHR or not? (Don’t just give your own glib opinion, you have to have firm arguments regarding whether it is or not.)

    If you are to tackle FGM in the UK, a significant aspect of the task will be tackling Islam itself. This is because (as I linked to earlier) FGM is at the least permissible within Islam and some scholars see it as necessary/mandatory. Islam is gaining momentum and influence in the UK, so you will have a considerable fight on your hands since you would have to impose the abolition of FGM against their religious beliefs. If you try too hard you may well be on the receiving end of death threats. Are you prepared to stick your neck out?

    If you wish to abolish MGM in the UK, not only would you have to tackle the Islamic lobby, you would also have to tackle the Jewish lobby. I somehow doubt that you are up to the task. Is this at the root of why you are anxious to keep MGM and FGM as separate issues?

    The irony is that it will be necessary to also tackle MGM if you are to tackle FGM, otherwise you open yourself up to accusations of double standards, and also the onus will be upon you to demonstrate that one is worse than the other. If you are concerned about one, why would you not be concerned about the other?

    We should be proud of the fact that Wilberforce and friends put an end firstly to slave trading and then to slavery itself about two centuries ago. What would Wilberforce do if he were alive today regarding FGM / MGM?

  • Kelev Katan 30th Jan '14 - 8:53am

    Yes, just to reinforce what Joe King says above, *Every* culture that circumcises girls also circumcises boys. Every single one (although the opposite isn’t the case — not all cultures that circumcise boys circumcise girls). Thus, male circumcision is the traditional default in all of the cultures in question — the basis for all of the practices on the implicational hierarchy of genital mutilation. If you want to deal with one, you have to deal with the other.

  • Rob Parsons 30th Jan '14 - 9:47am

    Joe, I am cocnerned about both. We obviously differ about the relative harms caused by each. I know that men die from circumcision, and that is a terribel thing. I have not anywhere here denied that. The article was really about gender relations among those who seek to combat both as much as about the practices. I have learned quite a lot during this discussion but I can see that we will differ on some issues. You conflate FGM and Islam. While many Islamic people pratise it, it is not an Islamic practice. You maintain that it is and that Islam will not change. i have provided evidence that Islam is changing, and I hope that it will continue to change. No doubt outside pressure will help with that. You have maintained that Islamic law, based on the Quran either permits or mandates it, and I have provided evidence that that is not so: plenty of Islamic people contest the justification and campaign against the procedure.

    I most certainly want to combat both; I do not think it is helpful to find when we talk about FGM, that some voices always say what about the men. To return to the original issue, we can campaign about both, but there are separate issues because they affect people differently. Just to give one last piece of evidence http://www.african-women.org/FGM/consequences.php outline a survey in which 83% of women suffered long term medical consequences. There are consequences of circumcision too, but they are mostly the result of unhygienic working; long term medical consequences of the actual operation are rare. I am completely happy to campaign about circumcision too, but there is no need for circumcision to be mentioned every time we talk about FGM.

    It’s been both interesting and educational to take part in this debate. I regret I am going to have to decline to comment further. I am extremely busy at the moment and I did not realise how much time this debate would take out of my working day. I would like to thank all my correspondents for your frank and passionate views. I hope that we can continue the good work that is going on in the campaigns against both FGM and circumcision. I will myself continue to work, so far as I can, against FGM, and support my fellow citizens who work against circumcision.

  • Kelev Katan 30th Jan '14 - 6:50pm

    Rob, thank you for your commitment to fight both female and male circumcision and for your willingness to discuss this issue openly and intelligently.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Feb '14 - 6:02pm

    Let’s use the male and female voice on FGM to back Lynne’s campaign:

    tinyurl.com/oe8qnyc

    We can tackle boy circumcision in a different campaign.

  • Richard Underhill 21st Feb '18 - 4:42pm

    During the coalition the Lib Dem MP for Lewes was a Home Office minister for crime prevention. At some stage the Prime Minister was persuaded that female genital mutilation met the criteria previously announced in both houses that such acts are “always torture”. He said so at PMQ. He said nothing about the effect on males.
    One who has is Nelson Mandela, who suffered circumcision at the age of 16 with attendant health risks. The sordid details are in his book Long Walk To Freedom (Abacus,1994) pages 30-34 and 510-511.
    He was not Jewish nor Muslim.
    This was nothing to do with apartheid.
    “Some among us maintained that circumcision as practised by the Xhosa and other tribes was not only an unnecessary mutilation of the body but a reversion to the type of tribalism that the ANC was seeking to overthrow. It was not an unnecessary argument but the prevailing view, was that it was a cultural ritual that … strengthened group identification.
    TheTimes (London) 20 February 2018 page 36 reports under the headline
    “Iceland urges circumcision ban to put children first”
    ‘Circumcising a boy for non-medical reasons would be punishable by up to six years in prison under the bill tabled by Silja Dogg Gunnarsdottir, an MP from the centre-right Progressive Party. She proposed the legislation, which has broad support in parliament and among the public, to ensure that boys are protected in the same way as girls after a ban on female genital mutilation in 2005.
    “I see it as a child protection matter, ” she said “In Iceland we acknowledge the right to believe, but we also acknowledge the right and freedom of everyone to choose and have their opinions. The bill says that circumcision “involves permanent interventions in a child’s body that can cause severe pain”. … The MP said “Children should have their own rights for their own beliefs when they are adults.”
    A court in Germany ruled that circumcision ‘permanently and irreparably changed’ a child’s body and took away their right to decide their own religious affiliation.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Nov '18 - 1:30pm

    The Foreign and Commonwealth Office produces factual information about countries where FGM is embedded in the culture. they tend to be in sub-Saharan Africa.
    “horrible expressions of male power over the female” ???
    “horrible” Yes
    “power” yes, but whose? Mothers and grandmothers in these countries tell young female family members that they will not be able to marry unless they submit to FGM.
    FGM is torture (which implies a breach of Article 4 ECHR and therefore a grant of asylum if credible) so the (overloaded) doctors who work for the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture can be consulted. If the risk of torture on return to one of these countries were high the Immigration tribunal would decide that all such cases should be granted (as it has done for other circumstances and other countries).
    For an asylum claim to succeed it should, in law, be “well founded”.
    In UK jurisdiction there should be no tolerance of acts of FGM. Certainly the cultural alleged fear of remaining unmarried should not be accepted.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Feb '19 - 12:19pm

    The PM is a former Home Secretary.
    At PMQ on 13/2/2109 she has authorised the use of government time for legislation, thereby over-ruling the objection of one Tory MP, Christopher Chope.
    Could she have acted sooner?

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