The United States of America has effectively displayed sexism in the assessment of the religious practice of genital cutting. In the Annual Report of the Commission on International Religious Freedom, the authors deplore that Western Europe is limiting religious circumcision (of male infants), while not making any mention at all of religious female circumcision, when in fact the United States has effectively limited the practice of religious female circumcision not only in its territory, but also uses its economic power to force other countries to limit this practice.
What we deplore here is not the limitation of FGM (which is a horrible practice and should be abhorred), but that a different standard is used when it comes to the genitals of baby boys. Such overseeing can only be the result of over 150 years of cultural bias.
The report states that
RESTRICTIONS ON RELIGIOUS DRESS,
PRACTICES, AND PLACES OF WORSHIP
During the past few years there have been increasing restrictions on, and efforts to restrict, various forms of religious expression in Western Europe, particularly religious dress and visible symbols, ritual slaughter, religious circumcision, and the construction of mosques and minarets. These, along with limits on freedom of conscience and hate speech laws, are creating a growing atmosphere of intimidation against certain forms of religious activity in Western Europe. These restrictions also seriously limit social integration and educational and employment opportunities for the individuals affected.
United States Commission on
International Religious Freedom
732 North Capitol Street, N.W. Suite A714
Washington, D.C. 20401
tel: (202) 523-3240, fax: (202) 523-5020
Annual Report 2013
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Interestingly enough, female circumcision (or female genital mutilation) is not mentioned at all in the report, neither to condemn those countries where FGM is considered to be a religious ritual, neither to defend the practice of FGM in those countries where the practice has been restricted by existing legislation (including the United States).
Some will argue that the practice of FGM is cultural and not religious, as it is not mentioned on religious texts (such as the Qur’an). However, in many of the places where FGM is practiced, people (including religious leaders) consider it to be a part of their religion (especially among some Islamic groups).
In the United States, the practice of FGM is prohibited by law, and the law specifically does not allow for religious exceptions, see H.R. 941:
Sec. 116. Female genital mutilation
`(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.
`(b) A surgical operation is not a violation of this section if the operation is–
`(1) necessary to the health of the person on whom it is performed, and is performed by a person licensed in the place of its performance as a medical practitioner; or
`(2) performed on a person in labor or who has just given birth and is performed for medical purposes connected with that labor or birth by a person licensed in the place it is performed as a medical practitioner, midwife, or person in training to become such a practitioner or midwife.
`(c) In applying subsection (b)(1), no account shall be taken of the effect on the person on whom the operation is to be performed of any belief on the part of that or any other person that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual.
And in fact, Section 645 of H.R. 4278 effectively uses the economic power of the United States to force other nations into limiting the practice of FGM:
FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION
SEC. 579. (a) LIMITATION- Beginning 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States Executive Director of each international financial institution to use the voice and vote of the United States to oppose any loan or other utilization of the funds of their respective institution, other than to address basic human needs, for the government of any country which the Secretary of the Treasury determines–
(1) has, as a cultural custom, a known history of the practice of female genital mutilation; and
(2) has not taken steps to implement educational programs designed to prevent the practice of female genital mutilation.
Not only that, but it’s interesting that a State Bill introduced in Illinois in 2013 by Don Harmon (which was rejected), while trying to prevent the ritualized abuse of children, specifically stated that male circumcision was not covered under that bill. In other words, had it been approved, it would have been unlawful to ritually force the ingestion of a narcotics and anesthesia, followed by torture, and mutilation of a minor, unless his foreskin was being removed as the result of the ritual.
Sec. 12-33. Ritualized abuse of a child.
16 (a) A person commits ritualized abuse of a child when he or
17 she knowingly commits any of the following acts with, upon, or
18 in the presence of a child as part of a ceremony, rite or any
19 similar observance:
20 (1) actually or in simulation, tortures, mutilates, or
21 sacrifices any warm-blooded animal or human being;
22 (2) forces ingestion, injection or other application
23 of any narcotic, drug, hallucinogen or anesthetic for the
24 purpose of dulling sensitivity, cognition, recollection
25 of, or resistance to any criminal activity;
16 (b) The provisions of this Section shall not be construed
17 to apply to:
21 (2) the lawful medical practice of male circumcision or
22 any ceremony related to male circumcision;
So why is it that it is improper to cut the genitals of a female minor regardless of religious or cultural beliefs, but it is deplorable to limit the perceived “right” to cut male minors’ genitals as part of a religious ritual?
Perhaps because “circumcision” sounds respectable… Until we describe it as what it really is, cutting part of the penis of a baby!