Monday, May 10, 2010

Dhimmi Pricks and Prickesses


Well, "Muslim perversion" is not a very apt term for what is (female genital mutiliation) only perverse if done from within women-respecting cultures. (I know there are "modernizing" Muslims who argue that the hadith in which Mohammed counsels a mutilator not to cut too severely (hence seeming to sanction some cutting), is of poor authenticity and that female genital mutilation is a pre-Islamic practice not required by Islam. Such pleading for a religion that has not yet often gone out of its way to stop various "tribal" practices, and is in many ways not exemplary when it comes to making women into full persons, does not impress me greatly.)

Nonetheless, despite the emotional headline, the article from an anti-Islam site is of some interest. It seems that the pediatric medical authorities in the (former?) US of A have convinced themselves that female genital mutilation is essentially a "ceremonial procedure", and that if they sanction pin pricking - a "ritual nick" - of the girl's clitoris, so that a drop of blood may be taken, then this will satisfy the modern American Muslims and the American Academy of Pediatrics sanction of this ceremonical procedure will not too often entail families wanting to go further (cutting outside the American medical system), nor will it contradict the American law against female genital mutilation.

In other words, the medical authorities don't seem to think or acknowledge that female genital mutilation has a "rational" purpose: to control and limit women's sexuality. But if this reason is in fact normative, then the sanctioning of pin pricking is but a dhimmi's nod of acquiescence to the authority of a religious-tribal worldview that will often not stop at a mere pin prick. So if this American Academy of Pediatrics policy goes into effect, we will all be able to place our bets on reality: is "female genital mutilation" largely a "ceremonial" practise? Or, has America become a nation of dhimmis?

One of the questions one must ask of modern America is whether the relative feminization of the culture and professional life has so far led to a kind of refusal, in general, to sanction conflict as a necessary aspect of life and has led instead to a compulsion to seek ways to withdraw from (and not merely defer) conflict, howevermuch that cannot be done without someone losing something (without cutting one's own):
A member of the academy’s bioethics committee, Dr. Lainie Friedman Ross, associate director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago, said the panel’s intent was to issue a “statement on safety in a culturally sensitive context.”

Dr. Friedman Ross said that the committee members “oppose all types of female genital cutting that impose risks or physical or psychological harm,” and consider the ritual nick “a last resort,” but that the nick is “supposed to be as benign as getting a girl’s ears pierced. It’s taking a pin and creating a drop of blood.”

She said the panel had only heard hackneyed anecdotes from worried doctors.

“If we just told parents, ‘No, this is wrong,’ our concern is they may take their daughters back to their home countries, where the procedure may be more extensive cutting and may even be done without anesthesia, with unsterilized knives or even glass,” she said. “A just-say-no policy may end up alienating these families, who are going to then find an alternative that will do more harm than good.”
No doubt a "just-say-no" policy would alienate some Muslims from the American medical system. But then one needs ask whether or not alienation is something necessary, in all possible human societies. Isn't alienation simply a necessary relationship to one or another social norm? I am alienated in degrees from the norms of my society but I embrace these norms not because, as in leftist thinking (where norms are seen as a source of victimization), I am a "hypocrite" but because I realize that norms (variously old and new) that we can never fully live up to are nonetheless necessary, in some shape or form, to serve as a basis, or focus, for human reciprocity and building order through the exchange of norms, through the different possible ways of re-presenting them in attempts to live up to them. In short, I think we should want to alienate Muslims who want to cut their daughters' genitalia. Alienation can entail dead-end resentment, in the worst cases, but also it can entail a conversion away from one norm or representation to another. But one cannot begin to orient towards something better without first being alienated.

Furthermore, I'll argue that all rituals or ceremonies have a rational element to them, though the reason inherent in a long-lasting ritual's origins may become outdated so that we can, at some point, begin to speak of a "mindless" ritual. But if this is so, it is a fool's game to think one can simply speak of "ritual pricks" without first confronting and subsuming the "reason" with which the ritual of mutilation originated.

I was just reading Barry Rubin's latest column, an homage to Walter Laqueur and it had a couple of observations that are worth repeating here:
I want to get back to why you should read this latest [Laqueur] book. One of the greatest deficits today is the ignorance or distortion of history (most often into an anti-democratic, anti-Western, anti-capitalist narrative), especially the last 90 years since the end of World War One. Walter has lived through this and it has left him with sound and sober judgments.
"Some of the main sources of error [in comprehending history and predicting politics include] mirror imaging ["They are people like you and me"]; the belief of academics that the main assignment of an intellectual is to be critical; the contention that conflicts can always or almost always be evaded; the idea that in the case of a conflict, truth is more often than not to be found somewhere in the middle and that one's own country is very likely to be in the wrong." (p. 17)
There is one story Walter tells in the book that particularly haunts me given attitudes today. During the period before the Nazis came to power, his parents took him on a river cruise. One of the passengers jumped off the boat, swam around for a while, and climbed back. He used the boat’s Weimar Republic flag as a towel to dry himself. Some of the passengers laughed and applauded. When people no longer appreciate their democratic country and the freedom it provides they are well on their way to losing it.

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