The Corner


“Culturally Loaded”

From the New York Times’ Public Editor (my emphasis added):

One reader wrote in this week to ask why The Times, in a story on a Michigan doctor who is accused of performing female genital mutilation on two 7-year-old girls referred to the practice as “genital cutting.”

We asked Celia Dugger, the editor of Health and Science, to explain the reasoning behind the decision.

“I began writing about this back in 1996 when I was an immigration reporter on the Metro desk covering the asylum case of Fauziya Kassindja. I decided in the course of reporting that case — especially after a reporting trip to Togo, her home country, and the Ivory Coast — to call it genital cutting rather than mutilation. I never minced words in describing exactly what form of cutting was involved, and there are many gradations of severity, and the terrible damage it did, and stayed away from the euphemistic circumcision, but chose to use the less culturally loaded term, genital cutting. There’s a gulf between the Western (and some African) advocates who campaign against the practice and the people who follow the rite, and I felt the language used widened that chasm.”

I was just going to let those words stand there in all their squalor, but then I read this in the Washington Post, a newspaper that, unlike Ms. Dugger, seems comfortable with an accurate description of this barbaric procedure:

The attorney for a Detroit-area doctor accused of mutilating the genitals of young girls acknowledges that her client performed the procedure, but she says it was part of a religious practice.

The revelation came during a detention hearing on Monday, a few days after Jumana Nagarwala was charged in what authorities say is the first case of its kind in the country. Shannon Smith said in federal court in Michigan that her client removed the girls’ genital membrane as part of a custom practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra, a small sect of Indian Muslims of which Nagarwala is a part, the Detroit Free-Press reported.

I imagine that a First Amendment defense would fail on, among other grounds, the fact this particular ‘religious practice’ involved third parties (and young children at that), but the fact that religion is even mentioned, albeit by a defense attorney trying to throw in some supposedly mitigating circumstances for her client is—and I’ll put it no more strongly than this— an interesting straw in the wind.

Back to The Washington Post:

Female genital mutilation — or removing all or part of a female’s genital for nonmedical reasons — is considered a human rights violation, though it is practiced extensively in some African countries and areas of the Middle East, according to UNICEF. A June 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office found that increased immigration from countries where it is practiced had brought it to the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in 2012, 513,000 women and girls here were “at risk of or had been subjected” to it.

The report also found that while female genital mutilation was a crime under federal and many state laws, there were few investigations or prosecutions stemming from it — because of underreporting and other problems, The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky reported. The report said the FBI had two investigations from 1997 to 2015, one which resulted in a prosecution on other charges. Department of Justice officials indicated to the Government Accountability Office they were aware of two state prosecutions involving the practice.

“And other problems.”


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