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Mutilation a double standard

The Tuning Fork

As a writer I try to stray from response column — normally it feels like selling out to journalism, that rather than come up with a point on my own doing, I would take someone else’s argument and counter it. The column in question came from an issue of The Daily Targum last week — not the Tuesday column, as rebutting that would be the intellectual equal of my 6-foot-4 self playing basketball with toddlers — too easy #dunkcity — on Friday, March 23, “Denounce Genital Mutilation.” My problem lies not with the theme of the column. I, like most people of sound minds, find the genital mutilation of baby girls — particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia — despicable and disgusting. My problem is that the argument doesn’t go far enough.

The removal of certain portions of a baby girl’s genitals — especially in Africa, where it is rarely, if ever, done cleanly — is a heartbreaking, disgusting practice that is practiced quite commonly. However, I found issue with the relative ease that the author shrugged off male genital mutilation, a practice we commonly call circumcision. Why the author chose to be so selectively outraged is beyond my understanding. The fact that the genital mutilation of females was enough to warrant commentary but the concept of male circumcision gets an implicit nod is beyond me.

The author points out that FGM has “no cultural, no traditional and no religious aspect.” The practice was started in Africa before the Common Era, or “Before Christ,” and has spread through many countries in Africa. Baby girls are taken, have their genitals mutilated, and are returned to their family. Considering that most of this is in impoverished, sub-Saharan Africa — the author points out that it is countries such as Somalia where this is most widespread — we can assume that the procedure is not done in any manner of safety or cleanliness.

With or without clean facilities and instruments, the horror of the practice is inherent in the name — genital mutilation. What piqued my interest was the implicit assent to male genital mutilation on the basis of religious or cultural tradition.

In the act of circumcision, a baby boy’s foreskin is removed from his genitals, in some cases — particularly in Orthodox Jewish communities, where one mohel spreads herpes to babies through the “tradition” or removing the foreskin with the mouth — in unsanitary conditions. A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1999 also reported that the babies do feel a significant amount of physical pain and psychological stress during the procedure, yet the practice continues. Where is the outrage? Since the horrible practice of female genital mutilation is practiced with no link to religion or culture, it is disgusting, but male genital mutilation gets a pass because of Genesis 17:10-14 and Leviticus 12:3?

If your first defense is to claim that our government maintains a separation of church and state, consider some other archaic, silly laws in Leviticus — not letting cattle graze with other kinds of cattle (19:19), not wearing clothes of mixed fabrics (19:19), not having sex with a menstruating woman on penalty of social isolation (20:18), the death of any person who curses their parents (20:9), the banning from altars of people who are “blind or lame,” or people with flat noses (21:17-18), the banning of shaving or cutting certain parts of someone’s hair (19:27). The list of barbaric or inane laws we ignore that are found in the Old Testament can go on for pages and pages, but I have a 1200-word limit and an even smaller amount of patience. Yet the practice of genitally mutilating babies — the most defenseless subjects one can imagine — is not only constitutionally protected, but culturally accepted? When was the last time we threw a party for someone who had killed their wife for not being a virgin on their wedding night (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)? Dale and Shannon Hickman in Oregon are currently facing second-degree manslaughter charges for following the word of a holy book and attempting “faith healing” rather than taking their baby to a hospital. Are we as a people so morally bankrupt and insensibly lacking in self-awareness that we’ll hold the hangers-on to remnants of archaic code accountable for some harm instilled from mindless adherence, but not others?

Let the record show that I am not attempting to “one-up” the practice of FGM, nor am I dismissing it as an undeniable, categorical evil in the world. Simply put, I am fed up with double standards in our culture. I find it hard to believe that reasonable people, who can be so moved by a woman’s account of FGM in Africa, are dismissive of the act performed on those girls’ brothers, fathers and cousins simply because a stipulation in a millennia-old book written by mostly illiterate Bronze-Age nomads told them to. To paraphrase Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg, regardless of religion, good people will do good and evil people will do evil. But for an entire culture, for literally millions of people to shrug off the genital mutilation of some children while taking an affront to others, for good people to do an ultimate evil — deny a problem with the genital mutilation of babies — that takes religion.

Cody Gorman is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science and Middle Eastern studies with a minor in history.

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