He taught me critical thinking »« Get out

My faith dispels any doubts

And by the way three cheers for female genital mutilation.

…some communities see the practice as an integral part of their culture. “I have two daughters and five nieces, all circumcised by doctors. I do not consider it a human rights violation because, according to our religious teachings, it has been divinely ordained. My faith dispels any doubts that some might put in my mind,” says Shaheen Abdullah.

Good old god! “He” designed us the way we are and then ordained that the females of us have to have our genitals chopped off. Why not just not include the genitals in the original package then? Why construct the thing only to ordain that it should be carved up and peeled away and stitched closed?

Human rights v divinely ordained – that’s what it keeps coming down to, time after time. “Divinely ordained” turns a stupid, brutal,  destructive mutilation into a good thing and “an integral part of their culture.” A pox on “divinely ordained.”

Comments

  1. julian says

    I do not consider it a human rights violation because, according to our religious teachings, it has been divinely ordained.

    This would be one of those times where ‘How do you know that?’ should be posed to the speaker until she breaks. You have no right mutilating the genitalia of a child to please your god and no one is obligated to show respect for your beliefs (or you, really) when they are so clearly harming others.

  2. Josh Slocum says

    I’ll have to remember this the next time someone claims “It’s not Islam. . .it’s culture/an African practice/a Middle Eastern Practice/anything-but-religious. Don’t blame the religion.”

    As they invariably do, and frequently on skeptical and atheist websites. Even if that claim were true, it makes no bloody difference when Abdullah up there believes it’s religiously ordained (and therefore justified) and is willing to act as if that is the case.

  3. SallyStrange says

    Whether it’s a cultural practice or a religious one, it’s despicable.

    However, adding religious justification makes it that much harder to get people to understand how utterly horrible it is.

  4. Roger says

    “some communities see the practice as an integral part of their culture.”
    Well, I see imprisoning people who do that for a long time and never again allowing them near children- their own included- as an integral part of my culture.

  5. Greg Laden says

    Almost all human rights violators consider what they are doing to be unconnected with the issue of human rights.

  6. julian says

    Well, I see imprisoning people who do that for a long time and never again allowing them near children- their own included- as an integral part of my culture.

    Heh. The classics never get old.

  7. says

    I’ll have to remember this the next time someone claims “It’s not Islam. . .it’s culture/an African practice/a Middle Eastern Practice/anything-but-religious. Don’t blame the religion.”

    As they invariably do, and frequently on skeptical and atheist websites. Even if that claim were true, it makes no bloody difference when Abdullah up there believes it’s religiously ordained (and therefore justified) and is willing to act as if that is the case.

    You are entirely right in terms of the present structure of Islamic thinking.

    I think the strategy people are employing is to say, “Look, the odds of persuading enough Muslims to abandon their faith so that such heinous practices go extinct are precisely nil. But, at least there is a shot to change people’s interpretations of what is really required by Islam. If it’s a practice that is at all capable of being disassociated from “true Islam” then that’s worth a shot.

    It’s the same political strategy with all the violent and intolerant aspects of the religion: deny the rights of the dangerous to define and influence a major world religion. Encourage the delegitimization of their interpretations within their own communities. Don’t endorse that the dangerous extremists have the true understanding of their faith and make it that much harder on the moderates to persuade anyone that they are not infidels or heretics for disagreeing with received practices.

    In a calculation that they are more likely to moderate their religion en masse than abandon it en masse, I can understand the line of reasoning and temper my otherwise furious righteous desire to see faith-based religion get blamed for its harms.

  8. Josh Slocum says

    Camels:

    I think the strategy people are employing is to say, “Look, the odds of persuading enough Muslims to abandon their faith so that such heinous practices go extinct are precisely nil. But, at least there is a shot to change people’s interpretations of what is really required by Islam. If it’s a practice that is at all capable of being disassociated from “true Islam” then that’s worth a shot.

    Yes, I think you’re right that that is the triangulation and strategy. But it’s wrong-headed and doomed to fail. It cannot work. It merely delays the inevitable declaration that, um, guess what? Whether it’s your “culture” or your “faith” that decrees this, you’re wrong, you’re acting barbarically, and you need to stop. How can anyone not see that?

    As other commenters above have noted, to hell with FGM/honor killings/whatever-human-rights-atrocity-du-jour regardless of whether it’s labeled as “cultural” or “religious.” The problem is not which overarching-and-not-to-be-questioned identity is used to justify the act. The problem is that anyone recognizes and affirms any overarching-and-not-to-be-questioned identity category as something that can legitimately enforce human rights violations. It doesn’t matter whether we call it “culture,” or “geography,” or “tradition,” or “religion,” or whether it’s an amalgamation of all of them.

    The problems are:

    1. That any of us accept that there’s some legitimate excuse for murdering or oppressing anyone.

    2. That anyone is more concerned with making sure that one identity category is not “tarnished” with the stain of responsibility for inhuman behavior than they are concerned with loudly and immediately condemning that behavior at the top of their lungs.

    Shorter me: STFU about the particular identity category that allows FGM to happen. Refocus indignation on the fact that it does happen, and work to stop that.

    Seriously. . .why the hell are there liberal, Western people who care more about ensuring that “Islam” as they conceive it isn’t “slandered” than they care about clits being cut off? And yeah, that’s exactly what it appears their priorities are.

  9. Josh Slocum says

    It’s the same political strategy with all the violent and intolerant aspects of the religion: deny the rights of the dangerous to define and influence a major world religion. Encourage the delegitimization of their interpretations within their own communities. Don’t endorse that the dangerous extremists have the true understanding of their faith and make it that much harder on the moderates to persuade anyone that they are not infidels or heretics for disagreeing with received practices.

    So, how’s that working out for the world, Camels? Seriously. How do you think that’s working out? Please think about that for a minute before you answer.

    See, I’ve been down this road before. For many years. I did it with the gay rights movement, and I quickly learned it didn’t help anyone when fussy old queens wrung their hands about how “confrontational” and “deviant” those young Act Up queers were. In fact, those fussy old queens were an active hindrance because they spent more time casting aspersions on outspoken activists than they did actually fighting for justice.

    You should be a lot more skeptical than you are about the idea that it’s effective to mollify people and let them “ease into” a less radical version of their preferred bullshit. Women didn’t get the right to vote by gently reminding men that only the most rational women, those who could control their hysterical reactions, would vote, so the men didn’t have to worry.

    That’s a fool’s game that just pushes the ultimate question a little farther down the timeline. Eventually we have to have a showdown (yep, a black and white, yes or no) with people who believe in Enlightenment ideals of human rights and those who don’t.

    There isn’t a middle ground. And there isn’t a waystation halfway between.

  10. says

    “Good old god! “He” designed us the way we are and then ordained that the females of us have to have our genitals chopped off.”

    They do it to males as well, you know, Ophelia. Why is that so easy to forgive/forget? Because Americans do it?

  11. badjim says

    Perhaps because clitorectomy is just a little tiny bit more extreme than penile circumcision? I know boys like to go “wee wee wee” all the way home, but it’s really not the same.

    It’s my understanding that being stitched closed isn’t always part of the deal. If I’m wrong, I’d rather not be disabused of my ignorance. This may be the only subject I know anything about that I deeply wish I didn’t.

  12. gordon says

    I think all the people who waffle on about how faith “is a comfort” and how it “doesn’t harm anyone” should have to red this.

    Or at the very least they should have to stop and think what 10 year anniverary is coming up. Did something big and faith based happen a decade ago?

  13. says

    I’ll have to remember this the next time someone claims “It’s not Islam. . .it’s culture/an African practice/a Middle Eastern Practice/anything-but-religious. Don’t blame the religion.

    I suggest you do a bit of reading before, because the person who said this would be more correct than you, who would then simply be as ignorant as the woman in the actual quote. (Just like many christians, many muslims never read the Q’ran, but lots of them have the good excuse of being illiterate)
    Because female circumcission was born long before islam and an integral part of the culture of that region.
    That doesn’t make it any less horrible, but not knowing makes you look stupid and most importantly hinders the fight against FGM.
    Do a bit of research and you’ll discover that FGM is absoultely not practised in a lot of muslim countries like Turkey. Find out that it’s not prescribed in the Q’ran and that according to the Q’ran, Mohammed’s own daughters weren’t circumcised.
    You know, there are groups out there already taking that path with quite some success. Because they pick the right battle-ground, which in this case is FGM. They educate people with the help and support of muslim scholars about the fact that according to their holy book, they won’t go to hell if they leave their daughters intact.
    Because they actually care about the women.
    Shifting the debate to “Islam and religion” instead moves you to a different battle-field on which:
    A) The first good muslim scholar makes you look like Ray Comfort with a bunch of bananas
    B) makes the fates of girls and women a mere argument instead of a real issue.

  14. Ophelia Benson says

    Peter Magellan, I can’t find the place where I said I forgive and forget male genital mutilation. I suspect you can’t either.

    badjim, no, you’re right, sewing closed (infibulation) is part of the most drastic version of FGM. There’s a range of practices.

  15. says

    As other commenters above have noted, to hell with FGM/honor killings/whatever-human-rights-atrocity-du-jour regardless of whether it’s labeled as “cultural” or “religious.” The problem is not which overarching-and-not-to-be-questioned identity is used to justify the act. The problem is that anyone recognizes and affirms any overarching-and-not-to-be-questioned identity category as something that can legitimately enforce human rights violations. It doesn’t matter whether we call it “culture,” or “geography,” or “tradition,” or “religion,” or whether it’s an amalgamation of all of them.

    Absolutely. I 100% agree that culture or religion should not be authoritarian, unquestionable sources of practices that no one can criticize. I’m not disputing that. I am just saying that the strategy of disassociating Islam from culture is the choice to say to Muslims, “Look it is the arbitrariness of a cultural tradition, not your religion that makes you do this heinous thing, so you don’t have to keep it to keep your religion.”

    The point is NOT to affirm FGM just because it’s arbitrarily asserted as necessary independent of actual contribution to human flourishing. The point is to say, LOOK, this is arbitrary, it’s just culture. Now of course so is Islam just arbitrary and only culture. But how is the plan to deconvert all Muslims going? Changes in religious thinking about what’s really important or not important in a religion are ALWAYS happening.

    Remember, for example, the most violent Wahabi Islam we are confronted with today is a novel, new strand of authoritarianism in Islam. There have always been other kinds of Islam. There is a form of Islam in Turkey that does not think apostates need to be killed (even as most of their neighbors outrageously do). This was achieved without Turkey having to leave Islam altogether. If our only two choices are expecting everyone to deconvert or convincing Muslims to understand their religion more moderately, I don’t see how the former is more realistic.

    We can AT THE SAME TIME argue against the legitimacy of Islam and point out that faith-based thinking is illicit and point out that the religion’s inherent intellectual and moral authoritarianism (which it shares with other religions that are even predominantly found in otherwise liberal cultures) are illicit.

    I don’t see where it is an either/or between on the one hand denouncing Islam for being based on falsehoods and on the other pointing out that the worst practices of the religions’ adherents need not be the only way the religion has to be understood or practiced.

    So, how’s that working out for the world, Camels? Seriously. How do you think that’s working out? Please think about that for a minute before you answer.

    See, I’ve been down this road before. For many years. I did it with the gay rights movement, and I quickly learned it didn’t help anyone when fussy old queens wrung their hands about how “confrontational” and “deviant” those young Act Up queers were. In fact, those fussy old queens were an active hindrance because they spent more time casting aspersions on outspoken activists than they did actually fighting for justice.

    You should be a lot more skeptical than you are about the idea that it’s effective to mollify people and let them “ease into” a less radical version of their preferred bullshit. Women didn’t get the right to vote by gently reminding men that only the most rational women, those who could control their hysterical reactions, would vote, so the men didn’t have to worry.

    That’s a fool’s game that just pushes the ultimate question a little farther down the timeline. Eventually we have to have a showdown (yep, a black and white, yes or no) with people who believe in Enlightenment ideals of human rights and those who don’t.

    There isn’t a middle ground. And there isn’t a waystation halfway between.

    How is it working out? Have you heard of Western liberal democracies? Do you think if the Enlightenment thinkers had said, “You must choose—Christianity, an eternally theocratic, authoritarian religion based on a dictator of a God—or democracy and science!” that we would have our liberal society? Do you think if the Enlightenment sold to people that its values were antithetical to Christianity rather than a rationalistic reformulation and justification for it that this would have worked?

    You might argue it eventually worked in France despite the rough and bloody start with the French Revolution. But would puritan America have tolerated it?

    Kicking the questions down the road meant in America allowing a couple centuries of letting the ethos of secularism grow and develop legs to where it can move beyond just a political understanding to become a cultural force and now, possibly, an actual threat to religion in the next 50-100 years.

    But in the meantime, it has been useful for abolitionists and for civil rights leaders to argue AGAINST slave-holding ideologies of Christians by saying “you don’t have to, and you shouldn’t, interpret your bible as promoting slavery.” It’s abundantly clear that the Bible is okay with slavery in principle. But the argument that Christianity NEED NOT think that way was much more successful than a choice between keeping Christianity or abandoning slavery/giving civil rights.

    It’s the same thing here. You’re dealing with people convinced FGM is good and convinced their religion supports it. They won’t abandon Islam because FGM is awful when they don’t see it as awful. Given that choice, they’re keeping FGM. But if convinced that Islam is compatible with abandoning FGM, then maybe they can look independently at FGM and start to see it as awful and feel free to abandon it.

    Look, I am in NO way excusing FGM IN THE LEAST. Don’t try to tar me with that. And I AM NOT saying we should pussyfoot around the question of whether the faith-based beliefs of religions are false and falsely formed.

    It is a DIFFERENT thing to try to unloosen the fundamentalists’ grip on people’s minds that tells them they are the right interpreters of their religions. There are no “right” interpretations of religions. They are evolving institutions that constantly change. There is nothing that says they MUST slavishly obey the Koran or the Bible or whatever if one day (or over time) they all start thinking that’s a stupid idea. So why NOT side with the moderates when the question is whether or not a heinous practice is immutably necessary for the practice of the religion?

  16. TomZ, a miasma of incandescent plasma says

    Wait… DOCTORS did this 7 times?? I would like the names please, I have an 8 month old daughter and would love their info so I can have their licenses revoked and publically expose them for the barbarians they are um, like, ask them child-rearing questions and stuff.

  17. Carlie says

    Dear Peter: Female genital mutilation and male genital mutilation are related topics. However, that does not mean that every single sentence or paragraph or blog post that mentions female genital mutilation must also be directly paired in-post with a parallel discussion of male genital mutilation, any more than, for example, a discussion of trigonometry must always be paired with a simultaneous discussion of geometry.

  18. Gregory says

    Let us not forget the pervasiveness of male genital mutilation. It is amazing how many people who scream against the surgical removal of the clitoral hood as “barbaric” and “obscene” will screech just as loudly at how the identical surgery in men — removal of the foreskin — is a sacred and needful act.

  19. Stephen Wells says

    @Camels: one can “side with the moderates” on the question of whether FGM is bad, without “siding with the moderates” on the question of religious interpretations, because all religious interpretations are made-up bullshit. Condemning FGM does not require praising the religious positions of people who say their religion doesn’t require FGM.

  20. Stephen Wells says

    One day there will be an FGM thread that isn’t taken over by The Importance Of Penises. But not, sadly, today.

  21. Ophelia Benson says

    Ohhhhhhh for christ’s sake.

    All genital mutilation is bad. Ok? But this post is about the female kind.

  22. rork says

    Anthropology 101: Traditions become encoded in the local religion, regardless of what that religion is.

    The thread is not being overtaken, yet.

  23. Rieux says

    Giliell, responding to Josh Slocum:

    I’ll have to remember this the next time someone claims “It’s not Islam. . .it’s culture/an African practice/a Middle Eastern Practice/anything-but-religious. Don’t blame the religion.

    I suggest you do a bit of reading before, because the person who said this would be more correct than you, who would then simply be as ignorant as the woman in the actual quote.

    Awesome! Head-up-ass arrogance and No True Scotsman in one sentence!

    News flash: what “the woman in the actual quote” believes, no matter how “ignorant” you baselessly declare her (or her beliefs) to be, is Islam. No True Scotsman bullshit about “muslim scholars”—that is, the “scholars” you happen to consult, rather than the ones Ms. Abdullah respects and follows—doesn’t actually change anything.

    In the real world, religions are defined by their adherents, not particular “scholars” hand-picked by external partisans.

    There are, of course, numerous Muslim scholars who argue strenuously that FGM is required by Islam—but accommodationism never has been interested in an honest account of the breadth of religious doctrine, has it? The No True Scotsman fallacy is pretty well baked in.

    (Just like many christians, many muslims never read the Q’ran, but lots of them have the good excuse of being illiterate)

    So what? The Qur’an never says that FGM is not “divinely ordained.” And Islam is obviously much more than merely what the Qur’an says.

    Because female circumcission was born long before islam….

    As was theism, and indeed monotheism. As were old myths about Moses, Abraham, Ishmael, et al. As was the notion that Jesus was born of a virgin. And yet all of the above are part of Islam.

    …and an integral part of the culture of that region.

    Which entirely fails to make it any less a part of Islam.

    That doesn’t make it any less horrible, but not knowing makes you look stupid….

    Oh, really? Disagreeing on a doctrinal point with you and your favored “muslim scholars” “makes [one] look stupid”? How convenient. Guess that’s the solution, then—we’ll just tell the millions of Muslims who think that FGM is an integral part of their Islam that they’re “stupid.” Sounds fab.

    …and most importantly hinders the fight against FGM.

    Accommodationism is so silly. Obviously what perspectives like Josh’s “hinder” is the defense of religious privilege. Ms. Abdullah doesn’t need to be convinced by Josh Slocum, or any other secular Westerner, that the FGM she considers “divinely ordained” is part of Islam. She’s got that on high authority (and far better than a distant infidel) already.

    Do a bit of research and you’ll discover that FGM is absoultely not practised in a lot of muslim countries like Turkey.

    Baseless and arrogant implication that Josh is ignorant noted. And your assertion is utterly irrelevant. The fact that FGM is practiced by a minority of Muslims does not actually demonstrate that FGM is not a part of Islam; doctrinal and denominational differences are overwhelmingly common in every religion of any meaningful size in the world. Shia Islam, for example, is “absoultely not practised” by significant numbers of people “in a lot of [M]uslim countries,” and yet it very obviously is a form of Islam. …Though of course a partisan as willfully blinkered as yourself, by consulting only particular ideologically committed Sunni “scholars,” could pretend that Shia isn’t Islam at all.

    Pretending that a religion is nothing more than what hand-picked “scholars” say it is does nothing but provide overwhelming privilege to the notions those “scholars” happen to have, at the expense of the reality of the beliefs and lives of any adherent the “scholars” disdain as potently as you do. Again, religions are defined by their adherents, not (a cherry-picked selection of) ivory-tower academics.

    Find out that it’s not prescribed in the Q’ran….

    So what? It isn’t prOscribed in the Qur’an, either. And Ms. Abdullah has every bit as solid a foundation for believing that FGM is “divinely inspired” as you or any “scholar” has to declare it’s not. Imaginary deities are notably malleable that way.

    The Christian Bible does not contain a single discouraging word against abortion. Is all anti-abortion advocacy therefore non-Christian? How stupid are you pretending to be?

    And again, I love your implication that Josh is too ignorant to be aware of the all-important (or not) fact that FGM “[i]s not prescribed in the Q’ran.” That’s some old-school accommodationist slime, there.

    …and that according to the Q’ran, Mohammed’s own daughters weren’t circumcised.

    Oh, really? Which sura is that? You couldn’t possibly be garbling the reality, could you—say, that the Qur’an doesn’t state that his daughters were (or indeed weren’t) circumcised? Funny how an argument from silence becomes something entirely different in your “analysis.”

    Meanwhile, as the “scholars” you dismiss out of hand note, there is a hadith in which Muhammad instructs a woman performing FGM on how she should do so. Shockingly enough, numerous Muslims take that as condoning and/or mandating FGM. And others don’t. Regardless of your (or any “scholar”‘s) arbitrary resolution of that dispute, the former viewpoint is in fact part of Islam.

    You know, there are groups out there already taking that path with quite some success.

    Swell. Why does “that path” require flinging slimy bullshit at atheists criticizing Islam?

    Because they pick the right battle-ground, which in this case is FGM.

    Oh, that’s “the right battle-ground,” is it? And thus anyone who thinks destroying religious privilege and marginalizing religious faith is a more worthwhile battleground… anyone like that needs to be silenced, eh? One wonders where you get the authority to make such a pronouncement.

    They educate people with the help and support of muslim scholars about the fact that according to their holy book, they won’t go to hell if they leave their daughters intact.

    Except that “their holy book” says nothing remotely like that. And advocates of FGM know perfectly well it doesn’t. You think Josh would look “stupid” making his case?

    Because they actually care about the women.

    Fuck you. Fuck you and your superior, religion-privileging bullshit. How dare you pretend that those of us who disagree with you don’t “actually care about the women,” or about any of the hundreds of millions of people brutalized by religion? How much gall are you willing to spew here?

    Shifting the debate to “Islam and religion” instead moves you to a different battle-field on which:
    A) The first good muslim scholar makes you look like Ray Comfort with a bunch of bananas

    Bullshit. “Ray Comfort with a bunch of bananas” was arguing about evolution, about science, about reality—and in that arena, in which propositions are tested by evidence and reason, it was and is not difficult to show that he’s full of shit.

    The nature of internecine disputes over religious doctrine, by contrast, is that one slab of fanciful nonsense is as good as another—which is why those “‘good’ muslim scholars” of yours have not and will not vanquish the pro-FGM scholars (and ordinary pro-FGM Muslims) you pretend don’t exist. There are grounds for Muslims to believe that FGM is religiously obligatory, those grounds are no less legitimate (in light of how religious faith works) than are assertions to the contrary, and no amount of handwaving from you or “‘good’ muslim scholars” will ever change that. No True Scotsman may serve to make you feel all smug and fabulous, but does nothing to convince Ms. Abdullah or millions of others like her.

    B) makes the fates of girls and women a mere argument instead of a real issue.

    Your belligerent denial notwithstanding, “the fates of girls and women” with regard to genital mutilation are an argument within the real-life Muslim world. Stupid pretense does not change the fact that millions of Muslims have it on perfectly good religious authority—that is, authority that’s no less legitimate than any other religious authority—that girls must be mutilated. You can pretend that that “argument” doesn’t exist (and that the more fundamental Gnu critique of religious authority per se makes the damage religion does to humanity into something other than “a real issue”), but you’re just bullshitting.

  24. says

    Of course, it’s just stupid to say what Shaheen Abdullah says, but you won’t convince many religious people. Faith does allay doubts. That’s what it’s for. But there’s something open and honest about her position. In the Catholic Church they justify their horrors by referring to natural law — which, let’s be honest, has no more foundation in nature than the the belief that Allah commands the FGM of women and girls. It’s just a way for them to hide behind the language of Aristotle, and I doubt whether Aristotle’s (or, for that matter, the Stoic’s) use of the language of natural law has the kinds of narrow-minded consequences that the RCC wants to draw from it. However, the incredibly complex chains of reasoning on which RCC natural law theory rests serves to conceal the religious basis of their position. At least Shaheen Abdullah says it straight out: My conscience is not troubled. My faith tells me that this is god’s command. Therefore it must be done. Just as stupid, of course, but not as dishonest.

  25. Rieux says

    Ophelia:

    All genital mutilation is bad. Ok? But this post is about the female kind.

    Precisely. I’m as anti-MGM as close to anyone, and when there’s a thread involving it I’ll be happy to say so at length. But that’s not this thread.

  26. Ophelia Benson says

    At least Shaheen Abdullah says it straight out: My conscience is not troubled. My faith tells me that this is god’s command.

    Which is what the militia in Kismayu, Somalia said when they were about to stone 13-year-old Aisha Duhulow to death: “We will do what Allah has instructed us.”

    It’s exactly what the Sokoto (Nigeria) state attorney general told the BBC about the sentence of death by stoning for a woman who was convicted of adultery although she said she was raped by a neighbor: “It is the law of Allah. By executing anybody that is convicted under Islamic law, we are just complying with the laws of Allah, so we don’t have anything to worry about.”

    That’s what’s so deadly about it. The conscience is untroubled. They don’t have anything to worry about. There is no need even to think twice, even to reflect, even to question. They are just complying with the laws of Allah.

  27. says

    @Stephen Wells, when I said side with the moderates it was on the following proposition: “The roots of FGM are not distinctly Islamic, FGM predates Islam, and Islam is conceivable without it.” The point is historically true and conceptually true and if by promulgating it and denouncing the distinct horrors of FGM the more progressive Muslims are capable of removing it from Islamic countries, I think we should support this meme that FGM and Islam don’t have to go together. It is true, it does not endorse any false faith-based beliefs or faith-based methods of thinking (it only helps those already thinking by faith to at least make a moral advance), and it could lead to the end of FGM in time.

    That seems to me a better strategy than encouraging literalist readings to be “what Islam really says” and to fight liberals’ attempts to associate Islam IN THE MINDS OF MUSLIMS only with its more morally progressive forms. Why support the extremist’s claim that he is a true representative of his religion and not use historical facts and conceptual truths (such that islam can be whatever people make it into in the future) to support the moral progress.

  28. Rieux says

    Daniel:

    “The roots of FGM are not distinctly Islamic, FGM predates Islam, and Islam is conceivable without it.”

    Well, that’s obviously a lot more careful (and defensible) than the No True Scotsman garbage Giliell pushed earlier. I don’t entirely see what difference it makes which versions of a major world religion are “conceivable,” especially to a bunch of atheists, though. (As a former Unitarian Universalist, I can “conceive” of flavors of various mainstream religions that remove just about everything that the vast majority of real-life believers are interested in besides the name. Along those lines, UU Christianity is sometimes a bit amusing.)

    if by promulgating it and denouncing the distinct horrors of FGM the more progressive Muslims are capable of removing it from Islamic countries, I think we should support this meme that FGM and Islam don’t have to go together.

    There’s a significant change in subject there—the party doing the “promulgating” and “denouncing” is quite a ways separate from the party doing the meme-“supporting.” Again, it’s difficult to understand how an atheist in Washington State or Nova Scotia or wherever Stephen is (I trust it ain’t Egypt) is in a real position to provide meaningful support or opposition to the efforts of “progressive Muslims” to advocate an anti-FGM brand of Islam.

    The Giliell-style No True Scotsman brand of defending religion and religious privilege, however (by denying that religions bear any responsibility for the horrors that are perpetrated under their name, doctrine, and authority as long as some “scholar” somewhere says they don’t), is of somewhat more global concern. You contend that progressive religion can limit at least some kinds of real-world damage done by more regressive forms—but even if that’s true (and it’s not self-evidently so), liberal religion itself has plenty to answer for. Many of us regard religious faith and authority, and not just conservative applications thereof, to be the fundamental problems at hand, and thus the actual phenomena that deserve to be targeted.

    That seems to me a better strategy than encouraging literalist readings to be “what Islam really says”….

    I don’t see anyone here arguing or “encouraging” that. It merely happens to be the case that (1) millions of real-life Muslims do believe that that’s “what Islam really says”;
    (2) attempts to ignore that reality and/or denigrate people who dare to point it out by blathering No True Scotsman bullshit and waving around cherry-picked “scholars” are ignoble; and (3) it’s at least not clear that a public discourse that treats religious faith and authority as legitimate bases for beliefs and actions can ever avoid causing widespread adherence to “literalist readings” and allowing the damage such beliefs inflict on humanity.

    Ms. Abdullah’s clearest and most fundamental error is in believing that there is a “divine” that is capable of “ordaining” genital mutilation—and then, second, in believing that she ought to obey such a command if the deity giving it were real. It’s not incidental that she’s flatly wrong on both points. By contrast, whether a proper reading of various mythology and religious doctrine supports mandating, permitting, or barring FGM is a messy and indeterminate argument that reactionary forces very much can (and possibly even should) win. Indeed, historically, they nearly always have. Religions do not generally liberalize from within.

    Why support the extremist’s claim that he is a true representative of his religion and not use historical facts and conceptual truths (such that islam can be whatever people make it into in the future) to support the moral progress.

    Because (1) it’s not clear that that “moral progress” by that route is possible to any meaningful extent and (2) it presents a very real risk of promoting and strengthening religious faith, authority, and privilege. Religions should be made to take responsibility for the pain and suffering they inflict on humanity, rather than enlist the rest of us in pretending not to see any of that so as to provide some kind of mysterious moral support to the subset of believers who happen to be less enthusiastic supporters of the ugliness.

  29. Tim DeLaney says

    In her book, Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes this hideous practice in great detail. She, together with two of her sisters, were mutilated in Somalia as very young girls. They were subjected to the severest form of FGM; I had to force myself to read it.

    It may be that the practice is historically cultural rather than religious, but its practitioners have hijacked Islam to give it religious cover. No doubt, the girls who are thus mutilated are not particularly mindful of this delicate distinction.

  30. says

    This is exactly why religious faith is so pernicious: it dispels doubt, where doubt is really necessary. Faith makes it okay to believe things with no demand for evidence or rational argument or critical thinking. Why is it justified to cut the genitalia of little girls? Because our religious teachings say it is divinely ordained. How do we know those teachings are true? And why would divine ordination make a thing right? Don’t doubt, have faith.

  31. Rieux says

    Why is it justified to cut the genitalia of little girls? Because our religious teachings say it is divinely ordained. How do we know those teachings are true? And why would divine ordination make a thing right? Don’t doubt, have faith.

    And the only quibble that liberal strains of religion have to offer to that story is a dispute over whether “our religious teachings say it is divinely ordained” is factually correct. To the other two (far more important) questions, liberal religion is entirely in agreement with conservative.

    And that’s the problem. If your only response to Fred “GOD HATES FAGS” Phelps is “No God doesn’t,” you’ve just conceded the two much more basic issues on which Phelps is actually vulnerable, and indeed wrong. Conservative believers can and do win debates over what The True Religion Actually Teaches; frequently there’s a strong case to be made that it’s liberals who are perverting (or, as Tim put it, “hijack[ing]“) the religion in question for their own partisan purposes.

    But whether the religious strain in question is liberal or conservative, religious faith and religious authority are baseless and illegitimate. That’s a vital point in any critique of religion, and it’s hard to see how we could ever have confidence that liberally religious people can ever be trusted to make it—or, as a result, to mount a serious attack on religious inhumanity at all.

  32. SinSeeker says

    “You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours” – General Sir Charles James Napier (talking about Satī).

  33. Screechy Monkey says

    Why not just not include the genitals in the original package then? Why construct the thing only to ordain that it should be carved up and peeled away and stitched closed?

    Doubly odd, considering that the typical response to the Problem of Evil is “well, God wanted to give us free will to choose good or evil.” Here you have people saying “oh no you don’t, God — my daughter’s not going to have any of that free will stuff!”

  34. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Camels –

    I appreciate you taking the time to respond in detail.

    I don’t think you understand one of my points because you seem to believe I’ve advocated “taking people’s religion away” or telling them they no longer get to be Muslims/Christians/Whatevers. You describe this as an either/or approach.

    But I didn’t propose that and I’m not sure why you think I did. It’s not up to me or anyone else to tell people they have to do or think this or that. It doesn’t even make sense, because how in the world would that actually work?

    What I am proposing is that practices such as FGM should be firmly and uncompromisingly opposed on secular humanitarian grounds. Not by palpating Islam “for them” so as to make it more comfy –they can do that on their own. I am not willing to help mollycoddle religion because, unlike you, I do not think there’s good evidence that it helps in the long run. Sure, we’ve done it in the West for 250 years or so, like you said. But so what? What might have been different if we hadn’t? It’s puzzling that you’re so confident that well, accommodationism, has such a proven track record. Whatever are you comparing it to? We’ve had nothing but accommodationism.

    If saying no loudly on purely secular grounds so offends the religious. . . I don’t care. That’s part of the problem. We need to stand up for core humanitarian principles and stop giving ground to religion (yes, including giving ground by actively encouraging the faithful to reinterpret). As long as the idea of faith as a determining factor in ethical affairs is allowed to go unchallenged, we will never be safe. There’s nothing to prevent a liberalized religion from having a relapse. That’s no place to stake a claim, and I will not help them do it.

    Why that so exercises you I can’t fathom. I’m not trying to silence people with other approaches (people like me would have no chance of success at that anyway). I am trying to argue that we need more of my way and less accommodating. Does that bother you? If so, why?

  35. Josh Slocum says

    Apologies for the silly ‘nym, above. It evolved at Pharyngula, where almost everyone has some ridiculous ‘nym, and I don’t use it in other places. I knew that would happen with Ophelia comin’ over here!

  36. says

    I am sort of mystified that what I wrote has been construed as (and I’m paraphrasing) “accommodationism” or “the desire to take people’s religions away” or “an unwillingness to hold religions responsible for their complicity with and reinforcement of horrible practices” or an “unwillingness to attack the real problem which is authoritarian faith-based thinking”.

    No, I’m not an accommodationist, no I never advocated any forceful taking away of anyone’s religion I was referring to attempts to dissuade them of their religion, no I am not saying that the factual histories of violence and oppression by religions should be swept under the carpet or downplayed, and I’m not saying that we should not also attack authoritarian faith-based thinking. Those are all strawmen of my actual remarks and antithetical to what I think about these things (and say over and over about them).

  37. Josh Slocum says

    Camels-

    Well, I was kinda mystified, too, by how you read my remarks. I suspect at this point we’re talking past each other without meaning to, and maybe we should just do a reset. Reading some of your blog posts this evening has clarified your position to me (I hadn’t had the chance to do so earlier).

  38. Rieux says

    Daniel:

    I am sort of mystified that what I wrote has been construed as (and I’m paraphrasing) “accommodationism” or “the desire to take people’s religions away”….

    I did see Josh refer to your approach as accommodationism, but I think he used the notion of “the desire to take people’s religions away” as his sense of what you were accusing him of. (The specific statement: “you [Daniel] seem to believe I [Josh] [ha]ve advocated ‘taking people’s religion away’ or telling them they no longer get to be Muslims/Christians/Whatevers.”) If that makes matters any clearer.

    I’m not sure I’d call the approach you describe in your Sept. 2 8:55 a.m. post accommodationist, though I suppose a case can be made. There are parallels, such as a focus on the importance of strengthening religious liberals’ hand against their conservative counterparts and a concern that outspoken atheists painting a negative picture of a religion might do the opposite. There’s at least a possible implication from those two points that you think atheists who believe that Islam bears some responsibility for (or has a legitimate connection to) FGM ought to shaddup. Though you didn’t actually go that far.

  39. says

    “I do not consider it a human rights violation because, according to our religious teachings, it has been divinely ordained.”

    It is absolutely infuriating that people think saying “God says so” magically prevents something horrible from being horrible.

    Re: Culture vs. Religion
    I’m reminded of something that Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote in her book of essays The Caged Virgin. She pointed out that, while female genital mutilation is not in the Qur’an, there are people who do it for religious reasons. (For example, they’ll use it as a way to prevent premarital sex, and the reason they want to prevent premarital sex is because of their religious beliefs.)

  40. Rieux says

    There’s also a hadith that numerous Muslims read as mandating FGM, Ani. Others dispute the authenticity and/or interpretation of that hadith.

  41. says

    Ophelia:

    Peter Magellan, I can’t find the place where I said I forgive and forget male genital mutilation. I suspect you can’t either.

    No, of course I can’t, as you didn’t. The latter two sentences of my comment were general points rather than specific to you, or to this post; apologies if it seemed like a direct attack.

    However, I found it interesting that you specifically said, ““He” designed us the way we are and then ordained that the females of us have to have our genitals chopped off.” – just the kind of dismissal by omission that feminists used to accuse men of when men excluded women from their discourse. In making the comment specific to females, you imply that the same does not apply to males, which is untrue. If you’d said, for instance, “…ordained that our children have to have their genitals chopped off”, you could then have gone on to discuss FGM exclusively, having gracefully acknowledged that genital mutilation isn’t exclusive to females.

    Carlie:

    Dear Peter: Female genital mutilation and male genital mutilation are related topics. However, that does not mean that every single sentence or paragraph or blog post that mentions female genital mutilation must also be directly paired in-post with a parallel discussion of male genital mutilation, any more than, for example, a discussion of trigonometry must always be paired with a simultaneous discussion of geometry.

    I never said it must. I simply pointed out that it is just as hurtful to men to omit mention of their suffering as it would be if a man did it in regard to women.

    And my comment about American attitudes to male circumcision stands: it seems, from this side of the pond, that male genital mutilation is not taken seriously as a problem in the USA for exactly the same reason FGM is not seen as a problem in, say, Somalia: long-standing tradition. I get that the one is medically and psychologically more serious than the other, but in the final analysis it is either alright to lop bits off children (of either sex) without their consent, or it is not. I tend to the latter view in the case of both sexes; apparently many Americans don’t.

  42. Ophelia Benson says

    Oh, expletive, Peter – that’s because male children don’t get their genitals chopped off.

    All carving of children’s genitals is bad; I said that. I’m still not going to equate the two. Now drop it.

  43. NESTAC says

    Hello,
    I am writing on behalf of a new FGM forum we as NESTAC charity have managed to set up. It’s a great chance for your members on your blog to have a look and it gives people an opportunity to discuss about the certain issues that appear to be happening. It would be wonderful if you could help our new forum gain recognision as we are in search of an increase of members to make the online forum more interesting. If you could post the link below onto your site we would be extremely grateful.

    Thankyou.

    htttps://forums.nestac.org

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