Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is definitively top of the list for being the worst kind of evil exercised against women to date. In the course of my research regarding this issue, the cases that I have come across have left me stunned and sick to the stomach. No other form of degradation quite compared to FGM. What I also find troubling is how the practice is associated / attributed with Islam / Islamic practice, and particularly so by the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Ayaan Ali Hersi.
How could it be that God could order (or through Islamic teaching encourage) such an unjust act? Firstly, it is important to note that the simplistic label of FGM fails to differentiate between the different types of cutting. Not all forms of this practice are equal in procedure and do not result in such horrific consequences, which can then be labelled as mutilation. A more accurate term therefore would perhaps be female circumcision. Take for example Labiaplasty which has become very popular in the West. This procedure is just one of an endless list of body improvement options available to women. That is, along with breast enlargement, buttock augmentation and toe surgery (yes, even toes have not been spared from the rigorous procedures required to obtain 'perfection'). What is Labiaplasty? Cosmetic Labiaplasty (labia minora reduction surgery) involves surgically reducing and/or reshaping the female external genital structures (genital lips). There are various reasons why an increasing number of women are requesting this procedure. For many women they simply want to enhance or improve appearance of "butterfly" or asymmetrical labia. 'Feeling good about how you look often builds self-confidence and self-esteem' says one plastic surgery website.
It is important to note that female circumcision is not a phenomena restricted to Muslim communities, nor is it restricted, more generally, to any ethnic, religious or socioeconomic classes in society. Female circumcision has been practiced for centuries within various ancient cultures. For example Egyptian mummies were found to have been circumcised as far back as 200 BC. Interestingly, and less well known, a form of female circumcision was promoted among teenage girls in Britain and the United States during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was seen as a cure for lesbian practices or suspected masturbation, hysteria, epilepsy, and nervousness. Currently, the practice is most prevalent in African countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Egypt, Ghana and also in parts of the Middle East. With respect to religious adherence, the practice is carried out not only by Muslims but, followers of different religions such as Christians (Catholics, Protestants and Copts) and Animists.
"The Quran makes no references to any form of FGM or lesser procedures."
There are three main types of FGM. Firstly, the removal of the tip of the clitoris. Secondly, total removal of the clitoris and surrounding labia. Thirdly, the most severe form, where all external genitalia are removed and the vaginal opening is stitched nearly closed: only a small opening is left for urine and menstrual blood.
Is this an Islamic practice? The answer is a definitive no. It is more so a cultural practice. It is simply the case that actions that are done for purely cultural reasons, over time, acquire an Islamic justification: FGM is no different. In Islam an act will only be considered Islamic if it has a basis in the Quran, the divine words of Allah-SWT) and the Sunnah, comprised of hadith which are the deeds, words, or statements of approval of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Like any other issue requiring a clear Islamic verdict, it is necessary to refer to these fundamental sources to establish whether there is any evidence substantiating approval for the practice of FGM. The traditions (sunnah) of the Prophet (PBUH), which are well documented should indicate whether or not there are any authentic or relevant traditions that can be used to support the practice.
The Quran makes no references to any form of FGM or lesser procedures. There are also no implicit orders form the Sunnah to support such a practice. There are, however, narrations mentioning female circumcision. These narrations are considered weak (related to the weak nature of their transmission rendering it lacking in juristic value). Those who argue FGM/C has an Islamic basis often do so on the basis that that the following hadith establishes it as part of the Sunnah or Tradition of the Prophet:
'Um Atiyyat al-Ansariyyah: A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (pbuh) said to her: "O Umm `Atiyyah! Trim, but do not cut into it, for this is brighter for the face (of the girl) and more favorable with the husband."
On first impressions it may seem as if this practice was ordered/encouraged by the Prophet. However the Prophet Muhammad encountered a woman who was going to proceed with the circumcision anyway, all he did was suggest that she remove a smaller amount of genitalia than she had originally intended, and in doing so avoid excessive measures. There is no order here to conduct any form of female circumcision- that is, unlike male circumcision, where a direct request to do so is explicit in other narrations/Quranic texts.
In a Hadith narrated by Abu Hureira (RA), the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) said, "whenever a man becomes a Muslim he must be circumcised."
Even if one were to argue that trimming is of Islamic value since it is mentioned in the hadith, it does not necessarily follow that Islam allows what is considered to be FGM. Making the jump from this to the abhorrent practice of FGM is too large a leap. The most one can possibly infer from this hadith is trimming, which is commonly referred to as Labiaplasty in the West (and not cutting into it which is involved in FGM).
"One commonality persists; they are grounded primarily in ignorance and superstition."
So if Islam doesn't legitimate this practice what are the reasons behind it being carried out? A study in Nigeria by the World Health Organisation found that women within the Igbos tribe believe that FGM makes them more feminine and thus more attractive to men. The organisation's social study in other African communities established that the practice is believed to raise the social status of families and generates income when the daughters get married and the dowry is paid. Behind the illusion of 'Islamic practice' we clearly see the overwhelming factor for its justification is cultural influence and traditions, social acceptance within the community, ensuring chastity and fidelity by attenuating sexual desire. Reasons may vary from culture to culture but one commonality persists; they are grounded primarily in ignorance and superstition.
Proponents of the practice argue that if a woman's genitalia is not cut she will be sexually uncontrollable and sexually overactive, so cutting ensures that women remain chaste. In some cultures, the practice is believed to enhance love as girls are taught how to satisfy a man sexually (improves a woman's sexuality) and other matrimonial rituals that 'cement' a marriage. It is also a way a woman can achieve recognition and economic security through marriage and child bearing. FGM is also often a prerequisite for qualifying for wifehood. The practice therefore accords a woman economic and social protection. In addition, FGM is also believed to improve a woman's sexuality as it brings about "dry sex," which provides more pleasurable sex to men. This dryness is achieved by using certain herbs and ingredients that reduce vaginal fluids and increase friction during intercourse, which is attained by using the fourth type (unclassified) of FGM. Men are understood to love dry sex and if a woman is wet, they think it is not normal.
If a practice is not Islamic and simply permissible (mubah) it may or may not be carried out- remains the choice of the individual. If it is forbidden i.e. Haram, which we can substantiate through the Quran and the Sunnah, then we can conclude inductively that FGM is prohibited. FGM may cause numerous physical complications, including hemorrhage and severe pain, which can cause shock and even death. Long-term complications resulting from interference with the drainage of urine and menstrual blood can result including infertility, chronic urinary tract infections or kidney damage. Kidney damage is caused by recurrent urinary tract infection, which causes bladder and ureters infections. Infections can spread to the pelvic girdle, causing chronic uterus, fallopian tube and ovary infections. FGM increases problems associated with childbirth. Severe forms of mutilation cause partial or total occlusion of the vaginal opening, labour may be prolonged or obstructed this can cause lead to stillbirth and maternal death.
The Quran states in surah 2 verse 195 "...do not contribute to your destruction with your own hands..." This verse is understood generally to outlaw suicide and other forms of self harm. Some jurists use this verse to argue that smoking is prohibited since it harms the body. FGM is far in comparison.
Also, Prophet Moahmmed(pbuh) said: "There shall be no inflicting of harm on oneself'.
Furthermore, It can be argued that this practice is prohibited since mutilated genitalia reduces/eliminates a woman's pleasure during sex. It is well known in the Islamic tradition that men are not allowed to finish having sex until a women is satisfied. So how can an act which interferes with this process be allowed if it eliminates a women's sexual pleasure?
In light of the above it seems a gross error to connect FGM with Islam/Islamic practice. There are in fact good reasons to argue female circumcision (Labiaplasty) is not valued in Islam. FGM, in my view, amounts to a reflection of deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is a practice that violates a woman's rights to health, security and physical integrity. Such an act is akin to the cruel and evil pre-Islamic practice against women of burying their daughter alive. Prophet Mohammed vehemently opposed and attacked this practice. Just as burying the daughter alive was axiomatic to the pre -Islamic society and the Prophet attacked this so should the evil cultural practice of FGM be condemned and fought against today.
"Please indicate if your Web site contains any of the following (select all that apply): Al Waxman, Alanis Morissette, Alan Thicke, Alex Trebeck, Anne of Green Gables, Anne Murray, back bacon, bears, beavers..."
It hasn't come to that - yet. The CRTC firing off questionnaires to professional web designers, amateur enthusiasts, or awkward teenagers reminding us yet again that the world simply doesn't understand them. Anyone possessing the time and the inclination can create a website and have it up and running within hours. As of July 9, 2002 there were 2,073,418,204 web sites listed on Google with "no way of knowing definitely." With that amount of sheer numeric volume, it is nearly impossible for any organization to tackle the responsibility of regulating web site content.
For the time being, the CRTC has decided not to pursue any regulatory sanctions regarding website content. Although the dearth of websites - Canadian or otherwise - has no doubt had an influence on the CRTC's ruling, the official results of their inquiry were as follows:
oThe internet is not, by definition, broadcasting.
oThe internet compliments broadcasting. It is not a replacement.
oMaterial can be customized by its user. The web is a "push media."
oThere is already a large Canadian presence on the internet.
oThe Criminal Code and web filtering equipment can effectively deal with offensive content present on the internet.
Currently, these findings serve as a perishable template for the CRTC to conduct more research into whether or not there is a place for regulations on the internet. Indeed, there have already been public hearings where both the provider and the consumer of websites have had the opportunity to voice their opinions on the matter. Undoubtedly there will be many more discussions and debates regarding whether or not the CRTC should regulate the internet.
So, the question is: should the CRTC regulate the internet?
Perhaps the question should be directed thusly: can the CRTC regulate the internet? To the former question, the answer is "probably not." To the latter, the response is "absolutely not." There are many roadblocks that prevent the CRTC from claiming any kind of regulatory influence over the internet. These barriers can be viewed as permanent reminders that any attempt at defining Canadian content on the internet will be thwarted. The four mandates that will ultimately dictate any CRTC decision are:
oPersonal and Moral Choices
oAvailability of Resources.
First off, there is a legal history that produces a difficult obstacle for the CRTC to overcome if it wishes to establish a regulatory presence on the web. It deals with the reason that the internet is a popular tool: pornography. A popular adage is that pornography created the internet. At last glance, there is nothing wrong with viewing naked people on your computer and...excuse me, I was distracted for a moment. Yet, on May 3, 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada made a precedent setting ruling.
On that day, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in a horrific (aren't they all?) child pornography case involving John Sharpe: a British Columbia man who possessed child pornography on his computer and who enjoyed writing explicit sex stories featuring children. His loathsome defense lied in the theory that his work and possessions had "artistic value" and that should override any legal discrepancies that may arise. Shockingly, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed with him, ruling that:
"His possessing...child pornography." And the "graphic child sex stories Sharpe had wrote had artistic merit and were therefore exempt from child pornography laws."
This ruling contradicts the CRTC's earlier proclamation that the Criminal Code of Canada would act as a legal buffer to deter web users from viewing illicit material. Any attempt by the CRTC to enforce restrictive content limits would no doubt be challenged by a referral to this specific case. If one element of the Criminal Code can be circumnavigated in the name of aesthetic expression, then why not another? The result of this landmark case - which is not lost on Canadians who either wish to post or view illegal material on the web is that Mr. Sharpe has no criminal record to reflect his sickening actions.
Along with juristic background, another basis that precludes the CRTC from regulating the internet are the personal and moral rights that Canadians have under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This document, born on April 17, 1982, is the guide to the liberties that individuals who step within Canadian borders are entitled to. Section 2 (b) of the Charter, listed under Fundamental Freedoms, is an important passage. It decrees that:
"Freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication."
The internet is the new communication tool of the 21st century. At the very least, it can be identified as "other media of communication." Name another device that enables its user to communicate with a fellow in Malaysia, play chess with a lass in New Zealand, and view a Cuban's opinions on thermodynamics? The internet allows for people to mass communicate their letselschade berekenen ideas, thoughts, opinions and expressions. For the CRTC to impose limits on that ability would contradict Section 2 (b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Also, the Fundamental Freedom to speak your mind is a right valued dearly by all Canadians. Although freedom of expression is protected under the Charter, a more widespread belief is that freedom is a "right given by God, and not by law." Canada takes its pride on the fact that it's a mosaic of cultures. However, freedom of speech is a link unifying an Italian in Halifax to a Sikh living in Whitehorse. The internet is the conduit to spread those expressions. Not every Canadian can appear on national television or radio to state their point of view. But every Canadian can log onto a chat room, or design a web site to expose their beliefs. The CRTC simply can not interfere with that ability.
The third factor that should exempt the internet from CRTC influence is the simple fact the Canadian web sites are flourishing at an impressive rate already without any regulatory guidelines. Currently "5% of content on the internet is Canadian." That is a significant percentile when considering the amount of web sites available (recall 2,073,418,204 total web sites as of July 9, 2002).
Canadian web sites are earning a reputation on the international stage as being highly creative in both terms of creativity and content. Many Canadian web sites, either personal or professional have garnered acclaim from those in the internet community who appreciate the importance of a good web site. Perhaps the ultimate compliment was paid to the web page of The Edge 102.1 FM, a Toronto based web site for its radio station.
Peter J. Maurin, Professor of Media Studies at Mohawk College in Hamilton, made this announcement of the Edge 102.1 FM web page:
"According to Broadcast Magazine, a publication that monitors media web sites, the Edge 102.1 FM web site is the fifth most visited web site in the world regarding radio station web sites. In the entire world, for all radio station web sites, it ranks number 5 in terms of visitation."
The CRTC, baring the banner of good intentions, may wish to provide a regulatory guide for the internet in Canada. However, there is no reason for it. Canadian operated web sites are strong and vibrant. As stated in the CRTC's original ruling, there is already a strong Canadian presence on the internet and any outside interference could possibly put "Canadian internet media at a disadvantage in the global market."
In today's hyper-connected global market, any advantage that can be gained can possibly make the difference between commercial success and failure. Today's e-commerce is built on international interaction between individuals, not faceless communications. It would be excessively unwise for the CRTC to impose regulations as to how Canadians conduct business on the web.
Along with current Canadian success on the web, the resources available to Canadians prohibits the CRTC from setting regulations. Television stations and radio stations are not purchasable at the local Future Shop. Not everyone has the means to launch a national newspaper. However, everyone can buy a computer and acquire web design software to create their own web sites. Imagine the outrage that would ensue if Canadians had to apply to the CRTC for a license to purchase web design material? A draconian proposal indeed if there ever was one.
Modern technology gives average citizens the ability to buy the technology to express their views. As this technology improves, the ability of the CRTC to have any influence over it will wane. Personal cell phones are now equipped with internet access, with wrist watches