Female Genital Mutilation in the UK

By Bristol Political

Taking a girl of approximately five or six years old, pinning her to the ground, grabbing a razor blade, opening her legs and cutting out her clitoris or labia. Something so mind-bogglingly horrifying and nihilistically cruel that it’s scarcely possible to believe it happens at all, but it does. And this week, the government released its first detailed statistical study into the practice in the UK. Reviewing the data, a very clear pattern emerges.

The government recorded about 5,700 cases in the UK in 2015/16 (the government estimates the true prevalence to be about 140,000). Of the recorded cases (where the victim’s country of birth was known):

73% were born in an overwhelmingly Muslim-majority country;

25% were born in a country with approx 50% Muslim population, and;

2% were born in other places, mostly the UK.

Quite a striking striking finding. Now as we know, FGM predates Islam, and FGM does also happen outside of Islamic communities. However, the fact that anti-semitism predated the Nazis, and to this day happens in all sorts of non-Nazi places, does not exculpate Nazi ideology from the charge of promoting anti-semitism. So does Islam promote FGM?

To find out, I looked at the four main schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam (about 80% of the world’s Muslims are Sunni) and put together this table:

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 19.31.10

A fairly clean sweep, hardly surprising considering the practice is clearly endorsed by the Prophet in several Hadith. Given the findings above, it’s also not surprising that many Muslim-majority countries have near-universal rates of FGM, (86% in Indonesia, 91% in Egypt, 98% in Somalia, 96% in Guinea, 93% in Djibouti, 93% in Mali, 93% of Muslim girls in Malaysia, to name a few).

So let’s be honest about what the problem is here. The problem is not extremism, it isn’t Islamism, and it isn’t jihadism. It’s Islam.

The problem isn’t extremism, because – as we’ve seen above – this isn’t the lunatic fringe we’re talking about. This is the absolute dead-centre mainstream interpretation of the faith.

The problem isn’t Islamism, because there is nothing political about this. This has nothing to do with the desire to impose Islam on society politically. This is private citizens, in their private homes, doing what they want to do with their free time.

The problem isn’t jihadism, because this has nothing to do with waging holy war against the infidel – in fact, there are no infidels involved at all. The people involved are usually the girl’s close female family members, usually her mother, aunts, grandmothers and sometimes a specialist to wield the razor blade.

To deal with a problem, you first have to be honest about what the problem is. When it comes to FGM, often the problem is Islam. Mainstream Islam. Any time we ignore the facts, obfuscate, engage in “whataboutery”, shout the word “islamophobia”, we make ourselves part of the problem.

So let’s not let our cultural sensitivities make us fellow travellers with those who would mutilate little girls. Let’s call out the problem for what it is – Islam. It’s important.

One response to “Female Genital Mutilation in the UK

  1. Globally, Islam is not always associated with FGM. For example, while FGM is wide spread in sub-Saharan Africa, there is no evidence of it in North Afrifan Muslim countries such as Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisa. There is also no evidence of practice in Saudi Arabia. FGM is also found within Christian groups, Ethiopian Jews and other traditional African religions. The UN and much of the literature/research into FGM recognises that it’s a cultural practice rather than a religious one. While religion does play a part it is too simplistic to suggest that one religion is “often the problem”.

    The literature actually identifies ethnicity as the most significant factor in FGM prevelance, cutting across socio-economic class and level of education. It’s also recognised that FGM is a manifestations of deep-rooted gender inequality that is entrenched in social, economic and political structures. It is linked to ideas of virginity, purity, the inferiority and ownership of women and girls and that female genitalia are dirty and unhygienic.

    That being said, no conversation about FGM in the UK would be useful without also talking about Islam, there clearly is a relationship. I don’t believe that the literature supports the idea that it is the religion in and of itself that is the reason behind it though. As such, it would not be productive to talk about FGM just within the context of Islam. What is the key factor is the ethnicity and cultural heritage of the communities in the UK that practice it, not just their religion. We can see from the literature that the biggest indicators are ethnicity, culture, gender inequality and socio-economic status, not religion.

    Something else that highlights the nuance of this subject is that 80% of the Muslims around the world do not practice FGM and we must remember that it is also practiced by Christians, Jews, animists and non-believers at similar rates. An important example comes from the Niger where 55% of Christians are affected by FGM compared to 2% of Muslims.

    Some context – I studied the politics of sub-Saharan Africa during my degree in which I chose to focus on gender based violence, HIV, FGM and male circumsicion.

    Liked by 1 person

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