Why Is Female Genital Mutilation Still Happening in the U.S.?

Originally published under the title “FGM is Illegal in the United States. So Why Is It Still Happening Here?”

Let’s be clear: FGM (female genital mutilation) is illegal in the United States. That fact did not stop Drs. Humana Nagarwala, Fakhruddin Attar, and his wife Farida Attar, from allegedly performing these criminal and human rights atrocities against two vulnerable 7-year-old girls in the Detroit metro area. The physicians and Attar’s wife have all been arrested. According to Fox 2 News in Detroit the three have been charged with female genital mutilation and conspiracy. The doctors are also charged with making false statements to investigators and trying to obstruct the investigation.Genital Mutilation

For years, many Muslims have insisted that the practice of FGM has nothing to do with Islam, that it is, originally, an African and pagan custom. This may be true. However, many Muslims believe it is religiously required.

Boldly, cleverly, the Detroit-area physicians are arguing that FGM is a “religious practice” and that to interfere with it is tantamount to religious discrimination. There is some proof that Mohammed allowed a female “exciser” to perform this mutilation — but he advised her not to “overdo it.”

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In the Islamic world, FGM is practiced most widely in the in the Arab Muslim Middle East, both in the Gulf and in African states such as Egypt, Somalia, and Sudan; but it has increasingly spread to Muslim communities in Central Asia (parts of Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran) and to the Far East (Malaysia and Indonesia).

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is not at all like male circumcision. Not only is the capacity for sexual pleasure destroyed, but complications are routine and include bleeding, painful urination, cysts, and dangerous and recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections. The growth of scar tissue can make marital intercourse a nightmare and turn childbirth into an experience of danger and torture.

FGM also increases the likelihood of newborn deaths. In addition, some girls and women develop fistulas and become incontinent. They are doomed to defecate and urinate without control. Absent effective surgery, this is a life-long condition that leads to a woman being shunned by her family.

And then there is a life-long post-traumatic stress disorder that normally accompanies the experience of having been forced into such suffering, traditionally at the hands of a female butcher, usually the mother or grandmother.

In the West, misguided concepts of “multi-cultural relativism” and fear of offending an increasingly hostile Muslim and African immigrant population has condemned those girls and women who live among us and who deserve their rights under Western law.

Whether FGM is understood to be a religious or a tribal custom, like polygamy, child marriage, normalized daughter-and-wife battering, incest, and “honor killing,” it has no place in the West.

Those who choose to live here should obey our laws; the freedoms for which we have fought should extend to all Americans, not only to some.

Phyllis Chesler, a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum, is an emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies and the author of sixteen books.

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