>Female genital mutilation cannot be defended as part of Islam | George Readings | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

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Female genital mutilation cannot be defended as part of Islam

Ken Livingstone is wrong to describe Yusuf al-Qaradawi as a leading progressive in the Muslim world

Ken Livingstone with Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi in 2004 Ken Livingstone with Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi in 2004. Photograph: Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Should a man who supports female genital mutilation (FGM) really be considered a “leading progressive in the Muslim world”?

When I recently asked this question, I thought that the only people to answer “yes” would be far-right bigots who, choosing to ignore the many mainstream Muslims opposed to FGM, believe that Islam is inherently backwards and violent.

I shouldn’t have been so naive. My expression of concern at Ken Livingstone’s continued endorsement of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian televangelist who supports FGM, as a “progressive” swiftly led to me being denounced on one prominent leftwing blog as writing a “dishonest hatchet-job against a leading Muslim figure”.

The facts are this: Qaradawi, who has been described as the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, issued a fatwa (hosted on the Muslim Brotherhood’s http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite%3Fpagename%3DIslamOnline-English…&cd=1&hl=fr&ct=clnk&gl=fr” title=”Islam Online on female circumcision”>Islam Online website) arguing that “circumcision [in this case cutting the labia minora, not the clitoris – what the World Health Organisation (WHO) refers to as Type IIa FGM] is better for a woman’s health and it enhances her conjugal relation with her husband” and that, while it is “not obligatory”, “whoever finds it serving the interest of his daughters should do it, and I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world”.

Rather than sharing my horror at Qaradawi’s support for FGM and the fact it is a direct, physical and brutal tool of patriarchal control, some so-called leftists responded to my article by trying to downplay the regressiveness of Qaradawi’s views. Bob Pitt, writing at Socialist Unity, and Andy Newman, that blog’s editor (commenting on Pitt’s article), suggested that Type IIa FGM is merely an “anatomical equivalent” to male circumcision. As they know that most audiences are likely to be pretty au fait with male circumcision, this is a neat way of arguing that Qaradawi’s views are not that bad after all.

But not only is Type IIa FGM far from anatomically equivalent to male circumcision, there are absolutely no health benefits for its subject. According to WHO, if male circumcision is carried out professionally in hygienic conditions it “has significant health benefits that outweigh the very low risk of complications”.

How is it that two people who claim to be leftists – a term I would also apply to myself – are defending a man who advocates one of the most violently patriarchal acts imaginable, FGM, by downplaying the regressiveness of his views? And how can they possibly reconcile this with their claimed leftwing values?

The answer lies in their misunderstanding of multiculturalism. Newman argues that Qaradawi’s support for FGM is not really that bad because “a truly multicultural society cannot regard the current state of social attitudes we have in Britain as self-evidently normative, and that anyone who disagrees is a bigot”. Put in less abstruse terms, he is saying the right of young girls not to be mutilated is culturally specific rather than universal and that, as FGM is part of some, mainly African, cultures, we should just accept it. Similarly, we should not hold Qaradawi’s support for it against him. Who are we, Newman is effectively asking, to judge that FGM is so wrong?

By suggesting that Qaradawi and his pro-FGM views are progressive relative to those of other Muslims, these so-called leftists are unwittingly mirroring the anti-Muslim bigotry of people such as Pamela Geller, Geert Wilders and others who suggest that all Muslims are inherently violent, misogynistic and backwards and therefore we shouldn’t expect anything better from them than support for mutilating the genitalia of female offspring.

But Muslims speak out against FGM just as much as anybody else. The former head of al-Azhar, Shaikh Tantawi, and 34 Mauritanian scholars who did so are just two examples among many. And it is not “culturally insensitive” to highlight this statement on FGM from WHO and various other UN agencies:

“Female genital mutilation has no known health benefits. On the contrary, it is known to be harmful to girls and women in many ways.”

FGM of any kind is unacceptable. No leftist should be making excuses for its advocates, nor should they be whitewashing it as “anatomically analogous” to male circumcision. Instead, we should be leading the charge against this most brutal example of patriarchy and all those who support it.

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  • Birdyboy

    15 October 2010 2:03PM

    FGM of any kind is unacceptable. No leftist should be making excuses for its advocates, nor should they be whitewashing it as “anatomically analogous” to male circumcision. Instead, we should be leading the charge against this most brutal example of patriarchy and all those who support it

    I could not agree more, the cultural revisionism of some supposed members of the ‘left’ in these matters is truly disgraceful.

  • RedFlagFlying

    15 October 2010 2:05PM

    The last thing Ken Livingstone needs is an attack from a so-called ‘Lefty’!!!

    We need people like Ken to take on the Tories and get Labour back on track, back on a Left track.

    This will only damage him and you should withdraw this article at once.

    Think of the bigger picture, you are handing London to Boris Johnson.

    You should be burying stories like this, not showing the world any Left wing mistakes.

    Shame on you.

  • Optymystic

    15 October 2010 2:08PM

    Are all groups that practice FGM Islamic? Is it not the case that some of the practitioners are notionally christian?. The problem seems to be more about ignorance and authoritarian control than a specific religion.

  • dreamer06

    15 October 2010 2:09PM

    Its crazy what is happening to parts of the left and its obsession with identity politics and defending what are unacceptable beliefs, groups and attitudes(remember the ‘we are all Hezbollah’ chants from the SWP, etc on A/W demos), FGM is disgusting anti-freedom and wrong and should be robustly opposed, the left failing to do so is a very good reason why it is fading away, irrelevant, etc which is a disaster at a time of cuts, etc.

  • marionl

    15 October 2010 2:10PM

    Yusuf al-Qaradawi should be prosecuted for encouraging child abuse.

    And certainly not allwoed into the UK.

    Why do so many on the left fawn on these medievalists?

  • ReginaldMolehusband

    15 October 2010 2:11PM

    @Optymystic

    Are all groups that practice FGM Islamic? Is it not the case that some of the practitioners are notionally christian

    You might be right mate but is Ken Livingstone hanging out with them?

  • smpugh

    15 October 2010 2:11PM

    Think of the bigger picture, you are handing London to Boris Johnson (Redflagflying)

    .
    I do hope this is meant sarcastically, and that you don’t really think the mutilation of children is less important than which of two vain men does a minor political job.

  • AlexJones

    15 October 2010 2:11PM

    While I agree completely with what George Readings says, I do wonder who these people like Bob Pitt and Andy Newman are, and who they represent? I’ve never heard of them, and I just wonder if they represent half a dozen nutters of the People’s Front of Judea variety.

  • num5

    15 October 2010 2:12PM

    Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has been described as the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, issued a fatwa (hosted on the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islam Online website) arguing that “circumcision [in this case cutting the labia minora, not the clitoris – what the World Health Organisation refers to as Type IIa FGM] is better for a woman’s health and it enhances her conjugal relation with her husband” and that, while it is “not obligatory“, “whoever finds it serving the interest of his daughters should do it, and I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world”.

  • maxsceptic1

    15 October 2010 2:12PM

    RedFlagFlying
    15 October 2010 2:05PM

    You should be burying stories like this, not showing the world any Left wing mistakes.

    You must be a Right Wing Troll.

  • meravie

    15 October 2010 2:12PM

    The last thing Ken Livingstone needs is an attack from a so-called ‘Lefty’!!!

    We need people like Ken to take on the Tories and get Labour back on track, back on a Left track.

    This will only damage him and you should withdraw this article at once.

    Think of the bigger picture, you are handing London to Boris Johnson.

    Wow! Yes! Wonderful idea! Let’s censor any media which contains negative facts about Ken Livingstone, as hey, support for a guy who loves FGM is totally worth it when looking at the “Bigger Picture” of Boris Johnson being London Mayor!!!

    No.

  • robi

    15 October 2010 2:12PM

    I agree witht he basic points of this article.

    I also think that male circumcision is wrong if done for religious reasons.

    You can’t really argue that most male circumcision is done for health benefits, especially in relatively affluent countries. It is a cultural and religious practice (that might ahve originally stemmed from cultural hygenice practises).

    I think there is a direct equivalence between most types of male circumcision and this type of FGM. SInce both are usually unnecessary cultural practices and neither have a massive ‘practical’ effect on the person it is done to. I think both types are equally wrong in most cases.

  • Wardinator

    15 October 2010 2:13PM

    “Female genital mutilation has no known health benefits. On the contrary, it is known to be harmful to girls and women in many ways.”

    FGM of any kind is unacceptable. No leftist should be making excuses for its advocates, nor should they be whitewashing it as “anatomically analogous” to male circumcision. Instead, we should be leading the charge against this most brutal example of patriarchy and all those who support it.

    Absolutely, utterly true. There are no ways in which FGM can be justified, and anyone who tries to do so is just kidding themselves. Reading this article just makes me very sad, seeing that there are people out there who are naive enough to believe FGM is anything other than an extreme and unnecessary form of brutality.

    Great, informative read, even though it is shocking. Thanks.

  • maxsceptic1

    15 October 2010 2:13PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • RedChrome

    15 October 2010 2:13PM

    It is called grievous bodily harm. It is called conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm.
    Ban it and liked forced marriage anyone caught organising it abroad to be charged.

    And Ken. When are you going to resign from the right wing middle class party you are in?

  • speaker

    15 October 2010 2:13PM

    Redflagflying…and there you have it – everything you need to know about Labour. Cover-up and lie!! Burry the truth at all costs no matter what the implications.

    Labour thankfully will not re-gain government for a generation, thank goodness.

  • Contributor

    SE26lad

    15 October 2010 2:14PM

    It is terrifying and I am shocked by the reaction of Messrs Pitt and Newman. Whilst I do nto agree that male circumcision is justified or acceptable (I believe it shoudl banned except in the case of medical emergency or an adult male choosing to have it done and in no other circumstances) t9o compare it to FGM is grotesque.

  • num5

    15 October 2010 2:14PM

    Optimystic

    Are all groups that practice FGM Islamic? Is it not the case that some of the practitioners are notionally christian?

    Yes. It is a cultural thing which is older than both Islam and Christianity. Mostly an African problem.

  • VoxAC30

    15 October 2010 2:14PM

    When will our cultural imperialism end?

    The 21st century west does not necessarily know better than every other society.

    What do you want to do George, start a ‘War of the Labia’?

  • gymnutkamal

    15 October 2010 2:14PM

    Fortunately for me my parents did not even accept MGM let alone FGM. They considered the practice barbaric and unnecessary too.
    Quite happy with my left wing foreskin 🙂

  • Birdyboy

    15 October 2010 2:14PM

    Might I be so bold as to suggest the the way the ‘left’ defends the right for a woman to wear a burka is nearly as bad?

    Its almost as if the world is going mad. I have know idea where I am any more.

  • windows12

    15 October 2010 2:14PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • GodThorIncarnate

    15 October 2010 2:14PM

    Jeez, I cannot believe we are having this discussion about something to utterly evil as female genital mutilation!

    How is it religions of all types are used to justify, nay even cause, the most horrendous right wing savagery.

    we have christians in the US justifying the persecution of gay teenagers on the grounds that it against the teachings of their sky pixie religion

    We have muslims justifying FGM and the persecution of gays (nay murder of gays) because it says so in their sky pixie religion

    Surely I cannot be the only one who is beginning to think that religions have to be controlled by more civilised people and the religious told their views are not acceptable in a society, any society, but particularly ours.

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