Leyla Hussein hoped that fellow Londoners would speak out against female genital mutilation (FGM), but instead found that they were more likely to support such mutilation in the name of cultural sensitivity. She started a fake petition in favor of FGM to see how many people would sign it. Nineteen people signed it within 30 minutes, with some saying that they would support FGM as a cultural practice although they personally believed it was wrong.
Ms. Hussein, founder of Daughters of Eve, an anti-FGM charity, had this to say:
FGM is not culture, it is violence. Stop using the culture word. This is happening to children. We are human beings, we can’t watch children being cut, I don’t care what culture you belong to.
Although most Westerners are properly horrified by FGM, we often fail to apply the same scrutiny to our own behavior. After all, infant male circumcision is still widely practiced in the Western world. While in most cases, male circumcision does not usually produce the same excruciatingly painful results as FGM and may be beneficial in limited circumstances, the American Association of Pediatrics has stated that the potential benefits do not warrant recommending universal male circumcision, leaving parents to make the decision based on their own religious and cultural beliefs, which their child, once grown, may not share. In light of ethical concerns, the child’s right to bodily integrity, and the lack of clear medical benefits, it becomes increasingly clear that the decision to circumcise is best left to the child once he reaches adulthood.
Think of it this way: how many people have you heard complaining that some parent pierced their infant daughter’s ears, saying that this decision should be left to the child when she’s old enough? Yet our society continues to accept male circumcision almost without question, in much the same way FGM is accepted in the countries and cultures that practice it. In the very recent past, American doctors frequently recommended male circumcision, telling parents that it prevented a whole host of medical problems (as the mother of three boys I can personally attest to this), as proponents of FGM now do with their patients. Most Western people do not think of male circumcision as male genital mutilation, although arguably that’s what it is.
The bottom line is that we should question our own cultural and religious practices as well as the practices of those unfamiliar to us. Such practices should not be given special dispensation merely because they are widely accepted in some culture, be it our own or an unfamiliar one. After all, as many moms worldwide have pointed out, the fact that ‘everyone’s doing it’ doesn’t make it right. As Ms. Hussein points out, cutting any child’s genitals is violence, not culture, and we should not tiptoe around it in the name of ‘political correctness’ or ‘cultural awareness.’