I highly recommend taking the time to listen because Ali is an articulate and gracious speaker. To demonstrate, I have typed out a few excerpts of what she has to say.
Early in the show, the host asks her about female genital mutilation and Ali’s decision to write about it in Infidel. She says:
“[Female genital mutilation] is terrible. As someone who has undergone that, the most important thing that you want to do is forget it. To put it behind you. But again and again I was convinced by people that I’ve been lucky. I’m now in a position where it’s not [pause] I mean shouldn’t only be angered by the sexual morality within the Islamic world and with those women who are in my position but I should speak up and by describing what happened to me it’s not to groan and moan about, oh this is what my parents did to me and maybe I should go in therapy. But it’s to say look this is why it was done and these are the circumstances under which it was done. What I try to explain in Infidel is there is no [pause] zero tolerance against female genital mutilation will not help unless you really discuss the sexual morality on which it rests, pretty much like the veil. You have to tackle questions such as virginity. You have to tackle the fact that, for example, my grandmother thought we would never find a husband if we were not mutilated. And in that context it was true, she was doing me a favor. The superstition that if you don’t cut off the clitoris it might grow into something very big that will dangle in-between your legs, those are the root causes that we have to address before we start to look at the symptom which is female genital mutilation.”
Following this, she briefly discusses that fact the female genital mutilation pre-dates Islam but that many of the countries that continue the practice are Muslim. She says:
“One of the things that makes it very useful for Muslims is their attitude towards virginity and pre-marital sex. The Koran is very clear and says that those who engage in pre-marital sex should be flogged a hundred times, both men and women. But it’s of course much easier to prove that a woman has had pre-marital sex. And Islam, like some of the other monotheistic faiths, tries to control the sexuality of the woman first. Now you can’t guarantee this virginity all the time. Saudi Arabia has a lot of money and has brought about a segregation of the genders but in nomadic societies like my grandmother’s female genital mutilation, which was probably already a practice, is quite useful because you cut off the clitoris to diminish the sexual, at least that’s what people think, the sexuality of a woman. But you also seal the opening of the vagina so that on the wedding night, you can prove that no one has been there before you. And again and again, I’m trying to say this is what you should talk about first, this whole obsession with virginity and equaling a human being to whether her hymen has been pierced or not.”
The first caller to the show follows soon after. This is actually not the first time he has called into the show but what he has to say is very similar to the previous call I heard. He is very concerned with the idea of “colonial feminism” in Muslim countries and he states his belief that the guest, Ali, is being used by the forces of colonial feminism. Ali’s reaction to being called a tool on NPR can only be described as absurdly gracious; she very respectfully disagrees and states her reasons. The caller simply responds that they will have to agree to disagree, she is obviously being used.
The third call is somewhat briefer, a man essentially stating that he agrees with the first caller. Unfortunately Ali’s (again, gracious) response is cut short by a break and I leave the room.
I can't help but notice the eagerness of these two male callers to throw down the health and freedom of women as a sacrifice to their political ideology. Let’s take a quick step back: here is a woman who has just described her very personal experience with female genital mutilation. From what she has said it can be presumed that her clitoris has been cut off. She has also mentioned infibulation which makes me think it is entirely possible that this is a procedure that was performed on her as a child. And here are two men calling to tell her that her mutilation is part of their religious and cultural heritage, that it is essential to defend these practices from colonialism in the form of Western feminism, so sack up ho.
I’ll grant that I’m white and American and I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m perfectly willing to accept that wearing the veil is very important to many Muslim women. But when it comes to a man telling a woman that she’s a tool for the White Man because she doesn’t want to have her clitoris cut off and her vulva sewn shut? I say Fuck. That. Noise.
[Cross posting at Cnidarians]