Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Female Genital Mutilation in Egypt

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal Amr Bargisi suggested that Egypt is culturally unprepared for liberal democracy. Link here.

In his words: “But regardless of my own opinion, what is clear is that Egypt lacks the sort of political culture that can sustain a liberal democratic regime. The superficiality of the opposition's demands is matched only by the absurdity of the regime's discourse. Without knowledge of the likes of Locke and Burke, Hamilton and Jefferson, my country is doomed to either unbridled radicalism or continued repression.”

And that is barely the half of it. It’s one thing to have missed out on Locke and Jefferson. The sad truth is that 35% of Egyptians are illiterate. Among women, the number rises to 45%.

I found these statistics in the Spengler column in the Online Asian Times. I am grateful to the anonymous commenter who posted in on this blog yesterday. Link here.

The article begins with a sober analysis of the role that food prices have played in the current protest demonstrations.

And then, it takes a turn toward the cultural, and, unfortunately, toward unspeakable horrors.

For all of the discussions and debates we have been having about Egypt, how many of us know that Egyptians systematically mutilate the genitals of their daughters?

According to Spengler, upwards of 90% of females in Egypt have been genitally mutilated. Other sources put the number closer to 80%.

Do you believe that a culture that practices this form of savagery is about to transform itself into a liberal democracy? Do you think that this problem is going to be solved once people gain the right to vote? Anyone who believes that Egypt is seeing a revolution that will lead to a liberal democracy should answer those questions.

Hearing Barack Obama's clarion calls for human rights in Egypt, Spengler asks: “Does Obama think that genital mutilation is a human rights violation? To expect Egypt to leap from the intimate violence of traditional society to the full rights of a modern democracy seems whimsical.”

Whimsical? I fear that Spengler has toned down his rhetoric more than he should have. A culture that systematically mutilates young girls is not going to advance down the road to human freedom and dignity any time soon.

A while back Lt. Col. Ralph Peters was being interviewed on a television show. When asked what the Taliban were fighting for, Peters replied: The Taliban will fight to the death for their right to beat their wives.

It may sound a bit glib, but it contains a basic truth about the culture the Taliban want to install in Afghanistan.

Now, what if the average Egyptian is protesting and demonstrating because he wants to enjoy the right to continue to abuse his daughters.

The next time you are tempted to jump on the Egyptian freedom train and to praise their glorious Revolution, ask yourself what these people want to do with their freedom?

And the next time you decide to direct your most venomous emotions against Pres. Mubarak, remind yourself that he and his wife have been trying to outlaw this savagery. Would you consider that to be an oppressive action? Even though it certainly defies the will of the people?

As Spengler explains, the Egyptian people have openly rebelled against the Mubaraks over this issue for years now.  In his words: “In fact, the vast majority of Egyptians has practiced civil disobedience against the Mubarak regime for years. The Mubarakgovernment announced a ‘complete‘ ban on genital mutilation in 2007, the second time it has done so - without success, for the Egyptian population ignored the enlightened pronouncements of its government. Do Western liberals cheer at this quiet revolt against Mubarak's authority?”

He continues: “Egypt is wallowing in backwardness, not because the Mubarak regime has suppressed the creative energies of the people, but because the people themselves cling to the most oppressive practices of traditional society. And countries can only languish in backwardness so long before some event makes their position untenable.”

We are all stirred by the Revolution narrative. And we are all sympathetic to people who are fighting for their dignity and their pride and their honor.

But, let’s not allow the media to lull us into complacency about what the average Egyptian understands by honor and dignity.

If he supports Sharia law, as most Egyptians do, then his warped notion of honor tells him that he has a right and duty to murder his teenaged daughter if she falls in love.

What is his concept of human dignity if it does not prevent him from insisting that his daughters be mutilated? Thus, that they suffer a horrifying form of child sexual abuse. As Spengler points out, the practice of genital mutilation is not intrinsic to Islam, but seems to derive from a specifically Egyptian variant of it.

If you cannot treat your daughters with dignity, then your claim for human dignity is a ploy, designed to dupe unsuspecting Westerners.

One can only wonder what American feminists have to say about this? To my knowledge they have had nothing at all to say? Wouldn't it be a good thing for this information to be disseminated more widely.

I cannot agree with Christopher Hitchens when he says that the Egyptian people have been shamed into  fighting for their freedom and dignity. Link here. Surely, some Egyptians want to enter the modern world, but many of them are fighting for their right to continue more primitive cultural practices.

Shaming is a very powerful motivator. And yet, while we are applauding the courage of the Egyptians who are protesting against the tyrant, I cannot help but think of the little girls who have been and will be mutilated for no other reason than that they were born female.

And keep in mind that the tyrant who everybody despises today is also the tyrant who tried to put an end to the abuse.

Egyptians do need to be shamed, even more forcefully, into abandoning the disgraceful, undignified, and barbaric practice of female genital mutilation.

It would only be one small step toward liberal democracy, but it is certainly a necessary step.


Anonymous said...

Quick, somebody get this to those brainless CNN reporters!! And thank you for this piece. Remember to read Andrew McCarthy's "Fear the Muslim Brotherhood" which is written by a pro. He says "history is not the quest for freedom..." To harken back to Wilde, we should be careful what we wish for...Monica, Paris

David Foster said...

Leftists tend to view rights through the prism of the group rather than the individual, and today are also heavily influenced by cultural relativism. Thus, they are very concerned about ensuring the right of, say, the Egyptian people to live under shariah law; less concerned about the rights of the girl who doesn't want to have her clitoris sawed off or the man who wants to be able to leave Islam without being executed.

Anonymous said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: Finally....

Do you believe that a culture that practices this form of savagery is about to transform itself into a liberal democracy? -- Stuart Schneiderman

....catching on?


[You used to call me 'paranoid'....PRESSURE! -- Billy Joel]

Antigone Amplified said...

A courageous blog, Dr Schneiderman - thanks for bringing this horrific issue to the attention of your blog readers,when so many writers are too 'delicate' to broach it.

Praying this revolution in Egypt helps Egypt's women whose voices aren't being heard.Why are 45% illiterate and 90% enduring FGM? This must end! I sincerely hope a programme of education and cultural change can be achieved in a democratic Egypt with support from those who care enough.

dinnty said...

What about societies that practice systematic genital mutilation of young males? Please note that this Egyptian custom used to be called "female circumcision" just as our term for our own behavior is called "male circumcision". Does calling it "circumcision" make it okay? Is it right to be concerned about the rights of helpless young girls, but not helpless young boys?

The parallels continue: Like the Egyptians, we justify it using cultural relativism, and ancient religious authority.

Everyone I know does it to their sons, too!

Unknown said...

I agree with much of your analysis, but while Locke, Jefferson, et al created the framework for the successful republic that was born, it also sanctioned the most vile form of human abuse, allowing for the holding of human beings as property, separating families, beating,maiming, raping, and reducing them legally to fractional humans to personally enrich a a massive portion of our "educated" culturally advanced land. I suppose you could say female genital mutilation is "worse" but you could also say slavery in all of its horrific iterations and embraced by a huge portion of the population was worse. Yet we moved forward through this horror to a better, more perfect union. I only suggest that saying a nation can't approach democracy with terrific human rights abuses endemic in the culture is not supportable even by looking at our own history.

Anonymous said...

TO: dinnity
RE: Getting it Wrong

Is it right to be concerned about the rights of helpless young girls, but not helpless young boys? -- dinnity

If we did to young boys what is being done to young girls, there'd be NO CHILDREN in Egypt.


Because the equivalence of what the Muslims in Egypt do to young girls, if done to young boys, would mean the boys had no penis afterwards.

Kinda hard to procreate that way.

Don't you think?


[If your parents didn't have children, odds are you won't either.]

P.S. I'm hardly a defender of female mutilation. But you have got a SERIOUS problem with your presentation.

Anonymous said...

TO: Antigone Amplified
RE: Don't....

Praying this revolution in Egypt helps Egypt's women whose voices aren't being heard.Why are 45% illiterate and 90% enduring FGM? -- Antigone Amplified

....hold your breath.

This battle—between Mubarek and the Muslim Brotherhood—is not going to help the people of Egypt one little bit. Indeed, if the MB's prevail and Mubarek is driven the Shah was driven out of Iran by the Islamic fascists, the people of Egypt will be WORSE off than they were under the dictator. Religious dictators are ALWAYS the WORST.

So, if female genital mutilation THRIVES under Mubarek, e.g., 80% of the female population had it done to them, what do you think will happen under the Muslim Brotherhood? Three guesses....first two don't count....


[When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.]