Exactly Who are the Barbarians? Female Genital Mutilation as Pictured in the West

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The Grey Lady editors just slipped it right in there–the magazine spread was so big (eight pages,with eight huge color photos), and so unbelievable, that I actually missed it. I am talking about the Sunday New York Times magazine article about female genital mutilation in Indonesia.


Not until Dr. Andrew Bostom called it to my attention, did I stop, look, and let the headline sink in: “A Cutting Tradition.” I probably thought it was a rather long article about a recipe–not for a lifetime of agony, but for another way to cut and prepare a meal. Something Asian, maybe Fusion. The women’s faces were Asian faces.

But, the article is essentially a National Geographic-style photo essay subtitled: “Inside a female circumcision ceremony for young Muslim girls.” The photos are by Stephanie Sinclair, the brief text is by Sara Corbett.

What is a human rights atrocity with life-long and life-threatening consequences is here being presented as a “tradition,” often a harmless one, sometimes not, but always a well-intentioned one.

According to the article, there is “little blood involved”–well, how bad can that be? And, “antiseptic is used”– well, this is not dangerous at all, is it? Finally, afterwards, the child is given a “celebratory gift”–what, am I the kind of westerner who, Grinch-style, would deny the child her gift in order to make my twisted, “racist” argument? As the article states , the child clutching (or drinking) her gift “has now joined a quiet majority in Indonesia.”


These photographs were taken in 2006 on a day where 200 girls were genitally mutilated . In honor of the “prophet Mohammed’s birthday,” the Assalaam Foundation subsidized both the mutilation–and the “gift.” According to the Foundation’s chairman of social services, the cutting/mutilation will “stabilize her libido;” “make a woman look more beautiful in the eyes of her husband’; and “will balance her psychology.”

Ninety six percent of all Indonesian families have sliced their daughters’ clitorises right off.

No orgasms for you, you naughty, wicked hussy of a child.

In the article, an Italian physician who is also a World Health Organization official states: “To judge them (the female mutilators) “harsly is to isolate them. You cannot make change that way. These mothers believe they are doing something good for their children.”

The Indonesian “cutting” is presented as less severe, less “extreme” than African versions. Oh yeah? Then why does one photo show us a child in extraordinary pain. Yes, right there in the New York Times. The caption is: “A girl cries as she is circumcized. ” Well, its like being vaccinated, right? And there is a second photo of a highly anxious child just before the mutilation. This one is captioned: “A girl is soothed by an attendant before her circumcision.”


The photographer has captured a live human rights atrocity in progress and we are seeing it in color with our morning coffee and croissants. Or bagels. Or muffins. Whatever.

Who exactly are the barbarians here? Those who genitally mutilate their daughters or those who deem the atrocity as something of a soft core “tradition” to be “enjoyed” at Sunday brunch?

And why has no one commented upon the fact that it is only women who perform such mutilations? The psychological trauma of undergoing such a painful procedure, (albeit with very different consequences), among both male and female children and adolesecents, is unbelievable. How can a girl ever trust an older woman again? (Actually, she can’t).

I will let Dr. Bostom, who is a physician and the author of the forthcoming book, “The Legacy of Islamic AntiSemitism” (a daunting, compelling, and indispensable book), have the last words. He has written a passionate article titled “Clitoral Relativism-Female Genital Mutilation in ‘Tolerant” Islamic Indonesia. ” Quoting from the British Medical Journal on the subject, he reminds us that:

“Female genital mutilation, also misleadingly known as female circumcision, is usually performed on girls ranging in age from 1 week to puberty. Immediate physical complications include severe pain, shock, infection, bleeding, acute urinary infection, tetanus, and death. Long-term problems include chronic pain, difficulties with micturition [urination] and menstruation, pelvic infection leading to infertility, and prolonged and obstructed labor during childbirth. ”


He notes that FGM is illegal in the United States. He views the above article as “misleading.”

Read Dr. Bostom http://www.andrewbostom.org/blog/2008/01/20/clitoral-relativism%e2%80%94female-genital-mutilation-in-%e2%80%9ctolerant%e2%80%9d-islamic-indonesia/”>here.


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