Some of America's most respected attorneys have been willing to earn the ire of their colleagues and critics for the sake of what is right and good defending the rights of Muslims. Many other Americans have also defended the rights of Muslims to pray and to have access to halal food. These positions, while not always popular in certain circles, are consistent with America's commitment to religious liberty and the first amendment of the Constitution. Many of us Muslims have appreciated and applauded these outspoken heroes for their commitment to religious liberty and principled positions on matters pertaining to free speech and human rights. They have often taken stances representative of the best of America's commitment to freedom.
It therefore came as a shock and a serious disappointment to learn that the great attorney, Mr. Alan M. Dershowitz, America's most vigorous defender of religious liberty, has chosen to participate as a consultant in the defense of a Michigan doctor, Jumana Nagarwala, who has been arrested for mutilating the genitals of girls in her Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Our American Islamic Forum for Democracy made this statement in April at the time of her arrest. We also then sent an open letter to Mr. Janel Amil Saheb, the head of her Detroit Dawoodi Bohra community, which very likely created an environment that was complicit in the crimes. Rather than enable them by consulting in their defense as Mr. Dershowitz seems want to do, it is incumbent upon all genuine defenders of women's rights to demand immediate reform.
It has been revealed that Nagarwala and others in the community have essentially been trafficking young girls from out of state to her "practice" so that she can cut and maim their bodies, all the while claiming to uphold the Hippocratic oath – one I also took and hold sacred as a physician – to "do no harm."
Responding to criticism, according to Breitbart, Mr. Dershowitz now says of his consulting agreement with the Dawat-e-Hadiyah:
"This group rejects female genital mutilation. I agreed to consult with them and to work toward an acceptance of merely a symbolic pin prick, not even of the clitoris, but just of the clitoral hood, which is the equivalent of the foreskin... The idea really is the functional equivalent of what Jews do. If a non-Jewish kid were circumcised at birth, as many are but didn't have a bris, didn't have a religious circumcision and he wants to convert to Judaism or his parents want to convert him to Judaism, he has a little symbolic pin prick, it draws one tiny bit of blood and that takes the place of a circumcision and that's what I propose."
Mr. Dershowitz is apparently seeking to divert criticism and justify his choice to defend this doctor and her accomplices – who, from various courtroom testimony accounts – was doing more than "pin pricking" with objective reports of severe scarring and disfigurement upon the victims of this familial and community conspiracy against these 6-8 year old girls.
Despite whatever Mr. Dershowitz may claim, or twisted tales he wishes to weave about adults choosing to press blades to the genitals of little girls, any cutting or prick upon a female's genitalia that is not actually, absolutely medically necessary, but rather demanded by twisted interpretation of religion and misogynistic manifestations of culture, is abuse.
A campaign against female genital mutilation – a road sign near Kapchorwa, Uganda. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
First, as a physician it is important to alert Mr. Dershowitz and anyone potentially sympathetic to his views, that a "nick or cut" to the clitoral hood is not as benign as apologists who falsely wrap themselves in religious freedom would have you believe. The clitoral hood protects the glans of the clitoris, covers its shaft, and forms part of the structure of the labia minora. Basic information as to the clerical, familial and societal intent of the procedure, the structure of the female anatomy, the practice's dangerous link to extremist ideology, and the horrific psychological impact of it all no matter how small the 'prick' seem to be lost by those who wish to placate those communities who wish to control, mutilate, and usurp the bodily autonomy of these girls.
Second, as the attorney, Mr. Dershowitz surely knows, the morality and legality of the procedure follows directly from the familial, societal, and clerical intent of the procedure. Even if, one were to submit the medical part of the procedure could possibly be done with no physical trauma (and that's a big fictitious 'if'), the whole intent of the procedure is ceremonially to desexualize women and place their bodies under patriarchal control. No physician or modern culture that respects the equality of men and women should agree to participate in a procedure based in hate or supremacy. To compare the established non-sexual, non-oppressive intent of male circumcision done in Jewish and Muslim communities to the medieval intent of any procedure done by misogynistic Islamists upon the genitals of young girls is dangerously ignorant.
Rather than taking blindly the deceptive explanations of Islamist religious leaders using the cloak of religious freedom to conceal their subjugation of women, Mr. Dershowitz would do well to research the real theological underpinnings of female genital mutilation and any associated so called "compromise" procedure or "nicking". In any form, whether mutilation or 'cutting' the procedure is inflicted upon women due to a draconian belief that girls need to be physically 'cleansed of their innate hypersexuality,' which will persist if the clitoral organ is left without alteration from birth. This is not only inhumanly ignorant but complicit with a patriarchal culture that seeks from birth to keep girls and women under the psychological subjugation of the men in their family and community. Watch and listen, thanks to MEMRI, to the obvious words of Imam Shaker El Sayed, one of America's leading Sunni imams, only a few weeks ago at Dar Al-Hijra mosque in Northern Virginia who explained the exact reasoning behind this culture of abuse against women:
"On the contrary, you see in societies where circumcision of girls is completely prohibited, hypersexuality takes over the entire society, and a woman is not satisfied with one person, or two, or three. This, God forbid, is now happening even in Muslim societies where they prohibit circumcision. They use a mistake in practice to prohibit the tradition, and they end up causing a lot of damage on the extreme side of the sexual life of the woman."
For hundreds if not a few thousand years, any and all of the physical acts of mutilation, nicking, cutting or any procedure done to the genitals of young girls has been done in order to appease this Neanderthal mentality. There is no other established alternative intent or rational explanation. In this case, the arrested physicians and cases in Detroit which Mr. Dershowitz is seeking to aid and abet, are part of a network of the Dawat-e-Hadiyah, an organization that oversees a small heterodox Shiite Muslim sect called the Dawoodi Bohras. But make no mistake. From Sunni to Shia, the victimization of women and girls through FGM practices is not peculiar to that one sect. Its misogynistic origins are both tribal and also bolstered with a deeply Salafist and Islamist interpretation of Islam across Sunni and Shia sects, and includes leading theologians.
Mr. Dershowitz's position that he now claims to propose is actually not new. The American Islamic Forum for Democracy and I spoke out very publicly in February 2016 condemning a similar proposal of a new so-called "compromise" which the Journal of Medical Ethics bizarrely dubbed "Female genital alteration: A new compromise procedure" by Drs. Kavita Shah Arora and Allan J. Jacobs as if they were speaking about a pair of pants or a dress. AIFD then spoke out nationally in response to all of the mainstream media attention given to Dr. Arora and Jacobs, who were for the most part, sadly lauded by a politically correct media as courageous for posing a utilitarian solution to the trafficking of girls abroad to countries where FGM is permitted. We pleaded that there is no compromise for the free world with the misogyny, abuse, and torture of the familial, community and individual oppressive forces involved in the draconian Islamist behaviors around FGM. It was a false compromise and a false moral equivalency with male circumcision.
We took our protest to the AMA House of Delegates in November 2016 against protests from representatives of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) to the AMA, which also happened to include Dr. Arora, the author. The AMA Board of Trustees six months later returned an opinion in our favor in June 2017, which basically stood by existing AMA policy that any and all forms of FGM including nicking were prohibited by the AMA and thus deemed to be entirely inappropriate and unethical.
It is critical that all people familiarize themselves with the opinion of the AMA and other leading medical professionals and ethicists before carrying the water for the inhuman medical criminals arrested in Detroit or physicians like Dr. Arora and Jacobs who are apologists for this unethical procedure.
As we stated in a statement on this issue last year, the clitoral hood serves protective, immunological, and erogenous purposes. The structure of this hood varies from woman to woman; some women have clitoral hoods that do not retract fully, thus leaving these women vulnerable to even more severe cutting should a practitioner be trying to remove the hood. Cutting of the clitoral hood on infants, children, and many women would necessarily lead to the cutting and damaging of the clitoral shaft and the clitoris itself, as well as the labia. Of course, there is also the risk of infection and excessive bleeding and the certainty of trauma. If such "procedures" were ever permitted, there would be no ability actually to review whether the microscopic area of the clitoral hood of an infant or small girl were not actually scarred, setting aside the lifetime of associated psychological oppression carried with the ritual. Scar tissue from "nicking," particularly on women prone to keloid scarring (as many women of color are) and difficult healing, can inhibit erogenous response and cause discomfort. In fact, some courtroom reports in the government's case against Dr. Nagarwala in Detroit is that in fact some of the 7-year-old girls suffered significant physical harm and scarring despite the defendant's claim of only a pin-prick.
In addition to sacrificing girls and women to physical torture by defending the alleged "compromise" of a "pin prick," supporters of this unenforceable and therefore fake "compromise" are disappointingly and alarmingly ceding to extremist interpretations of Islam and radical tribal culture. As I wrote last year:
"Female genital mutilation is advocated by misogynists, many of whom are radical Islamists; and is carried out in families who seek to forcibly deny girls and women their bodily autonomy and normal healthy sexuality. This procedure serves no purpose other than to diminish the sexuality of women in the name of religion and/or culture.
"Allowing a girl or woman to be forcibly mutilated in any way sets the stage for male-dominant psychological torture, control, and dehumanization of that woman in her family forever. Whether it's a so-called "nick" or a more extensive cut, the [inability to] forcefully reject this practice in its entirety is an act of complacency, and a medically unethical act of criminally negligent proportions."
Survivors of, and advocates against, FGM also reject these "compromises" on genital mutilation. Survivors such as Khadija Gbla, Hibo Wardere, Leyla Hussein (who is also a psychotherapist), and others warn that those who propose or defend "nicking," or in this instance "pin-pricking," are glorifying mutilation and harm against girls and women. One should speak to any survivors or leading women's rights activists who have dedicated their lives to fighting any and all forms of cutting. Sahiyo, for instance, is an entire organization dedicated specifically to countering the ignorance in the Dawoodi Bohra community of those who try to endorse female genital cutting, nicking or any procedure as justifiable alternatives or any different from horrific mutilation.
It is stunning, and frightening, to see champions of liberty and ethics bend on this issue. While freedom of religion is an essential and foundational American value, it cannot mean the "freedom" to deny universal human rights via the mutilation of another human being's body – especially one who cannot consent, such as a 7-year-old girl or a woman doing so under compulsion, or extreme societal pressure. Mr. Dershowitz and others who hold his view have to know this. While they may think they are making the right decision and protecting freedom of religion as a whole by participating in this "torture theater," we hope they realize that Muslim women, and Muslim reformers as a whole, are betrayed by his actions, and can only see that they are no allies or friends to those who seek to end the barbarism of FGM and of radical Islam.
If supposed liberals can defend FGM in the name of freedom of religion, what is next on the list of Islamist requests for religious freedom? Beating your wife "just a little bit" without lifting your elbow from your hip? Marital rape? After all, religious texts have been widely used to justify both. What about breast ironing? Acid attacks – with just a little acid -- as punishment for sin?
You see, women always pay when freedom is sacrificed to "cultural sensitivity." Deep down, liberals are good people, who know better, but sadly many have proceeded anyway – a chilling and tragic fact.
No! It is not just a "prick" or a "cut". At the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, we call it what it is -- mutilation.
There is no compromise against the immorality and barbarism of FGM. To offer any compromise, even a so-called, easily abused, "pin prick," sacrifices girls and women to barbarism and sets back the movement for women's rights in Muslim communities hundreds of years.
Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser is the President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement and a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander. He is an internal medicine physician in private practice in Phoenix with an expertise in bioethics serving as an ethics consultant for a large healthcare corporation. He can be found online at www.takebackIslam.com