Hi again Louise,
My initial view of female genital modification – FGM - was very negative towards the indigenous practitioners. I read the book Infidel
by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and its author, a former Muslim Somalian, addresses circumcision - infibulation and scraping - in the first chapter. I even found the excerpt and posted it somewhere on this forum as I found it so objectionable to Africans. This was my first exposure to the practice and I saw the movie Desert Flower about Somalian model Waris Dirie. Both, and a number of articles I found online, are testimonies by African females on the practice. They are very graphic, emotional and painful. If someone experiences it, then it’s true, which ‘equates’ to it being the truth and that’s all I need to know
, is how I felt about it. I was reacting to the act not giving consideration to other perspectives and the overall issue.
However, a lot of attitudes towards FGM are very western generated, not discussions within these communities. These discussions are often divisive and destructive in attempts to show the superiority of western ideas, culture and influence, both towards African cultures in general and Islam as well. The practice is done in countries such as India, Indonesia and Pakistan as well as numerous Middle Eastern countries. I've noticed also that Africans who publicly present views on this issue are often persons who have been educated in western/European institutions, but are used to portray the idea that Africans have these positions. This article
is an example of western attempts to process the argument from a theoretical position – cultural relativism
- but ultimately I think it still becomes biased by the author who concludes that FGM as a moral issue trumps culture and therefore tradition.
As KiwNak stated, Africans quote WHO and other white authors or supposed 'authorities' on the subject and how it should be viewed or addressed – ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’. Something the west knows all about, and others know nothing about. So at the time you asked the question I really didn’t know exactly how to express what I felt about the practice and the experiences I’ve read, but this response by Ayinde is truly how I feel about it "Menstruation Stigmas in India
" and many others involving indigenous practices.
Not all these indigenous practices that are largely based on ignorance are about arrogance. Sometimes, people who follow tradition are so distrustful of modern society with its high degree of disrespect, arrogance and intolerance that they remain unwilling to embrace ideas for change. Western ideas and practices have a long history of robbing peoples of resources and stifles dissenting voices. It is not surprising, therefore, that some find conforming to modern societies discouraging.
So while I do not support the practice as there are no real medical benefits to the practice outside of adherence to tradition, I am cautious about how I heap scorn on people who are reluctant to walk away from tradition.
Perhaps the word indigenous itself should be used with some measure of caution regarding FGM. I think it’s important to note the connection between Islam and FGM as the majority of practicing countries are Muslim. In the expansion of Arabs across Africa there are many examples of indigenous cultures assimilating Islamic practices to varying degrees, I think circumcision - cutting and sowing of various genital tissue - could be an example of such – versus other forms of modification e.g. pulling of the labia. There are many articles that promote the view that FGM predates Islam, thus rejecting the outward negative association between Islam and FGM. Many say there is nothing in Islam that encourages FGM. However, in this article "Qur'an, Hadith and Scholars: Female Genital Mutilation
" there are a number of examples where it is cited in Isalmic texts. I am not sure what books influence which cultures, but surely it’s not something imams and prominent males in the Arab world are shouting from podiums for it to be stopped. Also, arguments about FGM transcending religion because some Christians practice it are not very strong. The Christian FGM population is far less significant and is restricted to a couple countries such as Egypt and Sudan.
While there is still no common agreement on the origin of FGM, it still aligns itself strongly with misogynist aspects of Islam and other religions as a means to maintain control over females. As such, it is a practice we can do without.