FGM: wedded forever to religion?

A powerful and provocative guest piece today from our old friend Leonard Sisyphus Mann, whose Consenting Humans blog is highly recommended and who has guested here several times before, as Lensman, perhaps most notably in this profound, forward-looking, contribution: “The future is green, and liberating for children”, which prompted over 30,000 words of comment.
Today’s piece bravely identifies female genital mutilation (FGM) as primarily an Islamic problem, and a growing one, in the modern world. While acknowledging the pre-Islamic roots of the phenomenon, LSM sees specifically religious factors as responsible for its perpetuation.
There is evidence to support this claim but Heretic TOC does not endorse any anti-Islamic polemics that might be inferred from LSM’s essay. My belief is that Islam is capable of evolving in response to the needs and values of modern life, just as Christianity has adapted enormously: far fewer believers now hold fast to simplistic, literal, interpretations of the Bible, for example, than prevailed before Darwin and modern scriptural exegesis.
Accordingly, it would be mistaken to insist that Islam, especially in the West, will remain wedded to the practice of FGM, and certainly not to its more harmful forms. We should be supporting Muslims who themselves seek to end such practices (there are plenty of them), rather than be taking an accusatorial stance: finger-pointing smacks of dangerously confrontational “Islamophobia” that will only sustain and deepen entrenched customs.
Nevertheless, I know that LSM has put a huge amount of research into this piece and on the basis of its reliable information alone it is well worth reading and pondering deeply. I will not be surprised if it prompts a lively response.
 
FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION: ITS ORIGINS, PERSISTENCE AND SPREAD
Despite modernisation, feminism, improving education and rising living-standards female genital mutilation (FGM) is flourishing where already established, re-emerging where once eradicated, and spreading to hitherto unaffected places – notably the West. By conservative estimate some 200,000,000 – one in twenty – women and girls alive today have undergone the procedure.
FGM involves one or more of 3 interventions that can be performed with varying degrees of severity:

  • clitoridectomy (amputation of the clitoris),
  • excision of the labia,
  • infibulation (sealing the vagina by grafting together opposing labia majora, leaving a small hole for urination and eventual menstruation).

Infibulation and excision usually also involve clitoridectomy. ‘Sunnah Circumcision’ is a rare procedure, analogous to male circumcision in that only the clitoral prepuce is removed. FGM is generally reserved for prepubescents, seven being the average age. Anaesthetics are seldom used, pain being an important part of the procedure.
Short-term consequences include severe pain, bleeding, shock, urinary retention, infections, injury to nearby genital tissue, and sometimes death. Contusions, dislocations and fractures can result from the girl’s struggles against those restraining her (typically aunts or her mother).
Long-term consequences include chronic pain, pelvic infections, fistula, cysts, abscesses and ulcers, infections of the reproductive system, infertility, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, frigidity and death. Infibulation can cause hematocolpos and chronic dysmenorrhea.
FGM increases complications during childbirth. Scar tissue resulting from excision and infibulation lacks the elasticity of healthy vulval and vaginal tissue, resulting in obstructed labour. One study found that a fifth of babies born to infibulated mothers died in child-birth, two-thirds experienced oxygen deprivation.

*

In his 1996 paper entitled “Ending Footbinding And Infibulation” American political scientist Gerry Mackie offers a coherent account of the origins and persistence of FGM, and proposes a means of eradicating it. According to Mackie both FGM and the Chinese practice of footbinding arose from the extreme polygyny that becomes possible where extreme wealth inequality prevails. Because the number of concubines (wives and sex slaves) one can keep is proportionate to one’s wealth, extreme polygyny became a status symbol. Under these conditions, women can better attain the security and resources necessary for child-rearing as an elite man’s nth wife than as a pauper’s only wife. These conditions make hypergyny (females aspiring to marry into higher-ranking families) normative.
Mothers know that their children are indeed theirs; no man can be certain that a child he’s raising is his own. Polygynous men’s fidelity assurance problems are proportional to how many concubines they must keep faithful. Fidelity assurance measures include footbinding (which renders concubines housebound); domestic seclusion; gender segregation; veiling; arranged marriage (eliminating the risks to chastity attendant on socialising, choosing a partner and courtship); child marriage (before a girl can spoil her reputation); ‘honour’ codes (making ‘unchastity’ a life-and-death affair), and FGM.
Infibulation and excision promote fidelity by making penetration painful and dangerous. With infibulation, the resulting laceration and haemorrhaging also make penetration hard to conceal. FGM also promotes fidelity by instilling trauma-induced sex-negativity (hence the non-use of anaesthetics, even when available). FGM also acts similarly to slave-branding: teaching the child that submission and suffering (especially in sexual matters) are a woman’s lot, and rendering her servile to the perpetrators (god, religion, community, family, husband). FGM is practised on girls when they are at their most receptive to such lessons: mid-childhood.
Polygynous males require fidelity not only in their concubines, but prospective concubines must also guarantee their fidelity and chastity to become their brides. Adopting  these practices is a way for non-elite families to make their daughters eligible for an elite marriage, and therefore improve their situation (and the lower-ranking the family, the more they have to gain by successful hypergyny). FGM tends to increase in severity over time, because polygyny creates competitive marriage-markets which push families to advertise their commitment to chastity and fidelity by engaging in more extreme interventions (vide sexual selection). FGM becomes normative, only the poorest families suffering the stigma of having uncut daughters.

*

Mackie postulates two ‘traps’ which explain the persistence of FGM beyond the above originating conditions.
Firstly: as FGM becomes normative it generates self-justifying narratives: female sexuality must be excessive to require such extreme restraints; uncut girls are unchaste, impure, unfaithful; FGM promotes hygiene, fertility and beauty; the clitoris, if it touches the baby during childbirth, or the husband during intercourse, will kill them; left uncut the clitoris will grow to the length of a goose neck. Such beliefs makes ‘uncut’ girls unmarriageable.
Because FGM tends to be universal in practising communities these beliefs remain untested: practitioners generally assume all women worldwide undergo FGM – and encountering uncut women (in person, or magazines, TV, films) does not test this belief since their genitals are hidden (and are rarely discussed).
Secondly: even parents free of such beliefs, who disapprove of FGM, conform because abstaining would result in their daughter remaining unmarried and stigmatised. They are caught in a trap similar to that of paedophiles, whose condition would be improved by mass ‘coming out’, but for whom ‘going it alone’ would be disastrous. In typical FGM-practising communities marriage is a girl’s only route to security or status. Spinsters remain dependent on their family, or are condemned to begging or prostitution. In such circumstances not cutting one’s daughter is as much an act of bad parenting as depriving a child of education is for Westerners.
The Chinese abandonment of footbinding shows how these ‘traps’ can be escaped: families formed local associations whose members publicly pledged to not bind their daughters’ feet and (crucially) to only marry their sons to girls with natural feet. Soon, enough families had taken this pledge so that parents no longer feared that their daughters would remain unmarried if their feet weren’t bound. This tipping point reached, abandonment became contagious. For example Tinghsien province went from a 94% binding-rate in 1899 to zero in 1919.

*

Geography (as in ‘FGM is an African practice’), under-development, religion, and sexually-regressive attitudes and institutions have all been proposed as causes or aggravators of FGM. We can make a coarse-grained evaluation of these factors by comparing their distribution with that of FGM (follow hyperlinks for multivariate comparisons).
The following map reveals that FGM is not an ‘African practice’: most of Africa has very low FGM rates. Moreover, between a third and a half of FGM occurs outside Africa.

Prevalence of Female Genital Cutting
Prevalence of Female Genital Cutting

Development variables (such as poverty, education, health care, life expectancy) also correlate weakly with FGM.
FGM + Population Living Below Poverty Line
FGM + Population Living Below Poverty Line

Variables indicative of sexually-regressive institutions and attitudes (polygyny, dowries, child marriage, consanguineous marriage, forced marriage, sexual slavery, rape) correlate with, but also subsume, FGM.
FGM and Prevalence + Legal Status of Polygyny
FGM and Prevalence + Legal Status of Polygyny

The strongest correlate with FGM, and one which (I will argue) underlies the afore-listed regressive attitudes and practices, is that of Islam (compare Animism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism).
FGM + World Muslim Population
FGM + World Muslim Population

Mackie himself notes that FGM is found only in or adjacent to Islamic groups.

*

Islam is the only religion which mentions FGM in its sacred texts. Moslems consider the Koran to be infallible and divinely-revealed. Equal in authority to the Koran is Mohammed’s example and teachings as recorded in eyewitness accounts (Hadith). Collections of Hadith compiled by the Moslem scholars al-Bukhari and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj are judged entirely reliable and authentic (sahih), and are indeed of high evidentiary quality. Many core Islamic practices and tenets – male genital mutilation (MGM), the Hajj, how to pray, the Five Pillars of Islam – are derived from the sahih Hadith.
While the Koran mentions neither FGM nor MGM explicitly, verse 30:30 prescribes them implicitly by commanding Moslems to:

“Adhere to the fitrah”

The Koran doesn’t explain what ‘fitrah’ means; for that we turn to the Hadith (I note in bold the Arabic words used for ‘circumcision’):

[…] I heard [Mohammed] say: “The fitrah is five things […] circumcision [khitan], shaving the pubes, trimming the moustache, cutting the nails and plucking the armpit hairs.”” Bukhari 77:106

Mohammed touches on FGM in three more Hadith (‘sits amidst four parts’ is a euphemism for sexual intercourse):

[…Mohammed] said: When anyone sits amidst four parts (of the woman) and circumcised part [khitan] meets circumcised part [khitan] a ritual bath becomes obligatory.” Muslim 3:684

[…] A woman used to perform circumcision [khitan] in Medina. [Mohammed] said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.” Sunan Abu Dawud 41:5251

[…Mohammed] said: “Circumcision [khitan] is a law for men and a preservation of honour for women.”” Ahmad Ibn Hanbal 5:75

Note that the above Hadith prescribes both MGM and FGM.
(There exists a fifth Hadith – the Hadith of Abdalla ibnu Umar – in which Mohammed enjoins the Medinan women to practice FGM. I have yet to see the actual text of this Hadith.)
Some Hadith report the practices not of Mohammed, but of his followers: they are therefore not ‘Revelation’, but are useful insofar as they inform us of what was normative amongst Mohammed’s companions:

[…] Umm al-Muhajir said, “I was captured with some girls from Byzantium. Uthman [a close companion of Mohammed] offered us Islam, but only myself and one other girl accepted Islam. Uthman said, ‘Go trim them down [khifaad hma] and purify them.’”” Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 53:1245

“Umm Alqama related that when the daughters of Aisha’s brother were circumcised [khitan], Aisha was asked, ‘Shall we call someone to amuse them?’ ‘Yes,’ she replied. Adi was sent for […]’ Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 53:1247

Note that several of these Hadith report purely female genital mutilation and that the word ‘Khitan’ is used for both FGM and MGM. Today, ‘Khitan’ is used only for MGM, leading some to mistakenly claim that the ‘fitrah’ and the ‘four parts’ Hadiths advocate only MGM.

*

Increasing globalisation and advancing women’s rights have made the world more aware of, and concerned about FGM. These developments, and secularism, have penetrated the Islamic world, so that many Moslems are also uneasy about FGM. The most frequently-cited fatwa critical of FGM is Dr Ahmed Talib’s (a former Dean of the Faculty of Shariah of Al Azhar university, Islam’s most prestigious seat of scholarship).

“All practices of female circumcision and mutilation are crimes and have no relationship with Islam. Whether it involves the removal of the skin or the cutting of the flesh of the female genital organs…it is not an obligation in Islam.” (2005)

The statement [FGM] is not an obligation in Islam’ actually boils down to 1/ FGM is allowed in Islam, and 2/ it can’t be forbidden (for if it were he would have said so). Yet primed by his opening condemnations, his conclusion is easily misread as being prohibitory.
(The obfuscatory nature of his statement becomes clearer if one replaces ‘FGM’ with some equivalent act: [rape] is not an obligation in Islam’. Moreover, most core precepts and practices of all religions/ideologies are not ‘obligatory’: Holy Communion is no less ‘Christian’ for not being obligatory; many forms of prayer are voluntary in Islam, but that makes them no less ‘Islamic’.)
Dr Talib’s prevarication results from his conscience being in conflict with Islamic jurisprudence, an axiom of which is that only that which god or Mohammed unambiguously forbade can be forbidden. As we saw earlier, Mohammed, far from forbidding, FGM, advocated it. This means that no school of Islamic jurisprudence (Sharia) can forbid FGM.
Not that Mohammed was shy about forbidding things. Compare Dr Talib’s prevarication over FGM with a fatwa concerning alcohol:

“[Mohammed] cursed alcohol and the one who drinks it, the one who sells it, the one who buys it, the one who carries it, the one to whom it is carried, the one who consumes its price, the one who squeezes the grapes and the one for whom they are squeezed.” Selling alcohol to kaafirs Islam Q&A 2000

One can only wonder how things would be different if Mohammed had similarly cursed and forbidden FGM.
Nor is Dr Talib correct in stating that FGM ‘is not an obligation in Islam’: Shafi’ism – one of the four schools of Sunni Islam (which constitutes 90% of Moslems) decrees FGM as obligatory (the other three schools recommend FGM as ‘optional’ or ‘honourable’). Unsurprisingly FGM rates are highest under Shafi’ism (e.g. Somalia 98%).

Schools of Fiqh + FGM
Schools of Fiqh + FGM

*

“FGM/C [is] stubbornly resistant to change” Gerry Mackie (2009)

In 1996 Mackie predicted that pledge associations would accomplish FGM’s eradication. Where tried, results have been disappointing, especially when compared to China’s spectacular abandonment of footbinding. FGM is instead increasing in incidence, spreading to previously unaffected countries and reappearing where eradicated.
Why?
Firstly, Mackie assumes that the extreme polygyny that engenders FGM is no longer practiced. He overlooks that:
– Moslems can have up to four wives (which is arguably enough to require fidelity-assurance measures),
– neither the Koran nor the Hadith set a limit to how many sex-slaves a Moslem male may own (whose chastity must also be guaranteed). Sexual slavery is still common in the Islamic world – whether overt (Islamic State, Boko Haram etc.) or covert (Islamic grooming gangs in the West).

Trafficking of women
Trafficking of women

But the oversight that most limits the explanatory scope of Mackie’s theory is that, unlike footbinding, FGM is not just a social convention but is also a religious practice.
There are two ways in which this religious dimension determines FGM’s perpetuation, spread, and resistance to eradication: directly via doctrines favouring or allowing FGM, and indirectly via doctrines which create conditions where chastity protection measures may be necessary or useful.
Islamic doctrine engenders an obsession with preserving female pre-marital virginity, upon which depends the ‘honour’ of the girl, her family and clan. Women/girls are held responsible for not only their own sexual behaviour, but also that of men, including any sexual crimes committed against them. Shifting responsibility for male sexual violence from the perpetrators to the victims creates sexually violent societies in which chastity-control measures may be necessary.
Polygyny creates ‘bride vacuums’ amongst non-elite men that can be alleviated either through sexual violence, which increases the need for fidelity assurance measures such as FGM (see maps below) or by taking women from non-Moslem communities as sex slaves – engendering an expansionist dynamic which spreads Islam and FGM. As Islam expanded and subjugated new peoples it also sanctified any indigenous FGM it encountered, FGM that would have died out but for Islam’s patronage.
Prevalence and Legal status of Polygyny + Weighted Relative International Rape Scale
Prevalence and Legal status of Polygyny + Weighted Relative International Rape Scale

Likewise bride-to-groom dowries place a financial value on a girl’s chastity and reputation; and Sharia law makes it almost impossible for a woman or child to bring a prosecution for rape.
FGM was practised by Mohammed’s tribe (the Banu Hashim) in pre-Islamic Arabia. Other tribes (notably Jews and Christians) didn’t practise FGM. By integrating FGM into his new religion, rather than following the Jewish example and forbidding it, and by pronouncing his own example and teachings as divine revelation, Mohammed sanctified and eternised a practice that would otherwise have died out. Enshrined in its sacred texts, Islam became the ever-fecund wellspring of FGM.
The world history of FGM is essentially one of its eradication. In Mankind’s early history FGM probably occurred world-wide, but sporadically where the precursors outlined by Mackie prevailed. However, it died out on exposure to monogamous kinship structures and the relatively advanced human rights of Graeco-Roman civilisation and Christianity. By resisting these, and by sanctifying FGM and the factors that engender it (polygyny and slavery – females captured for sex-slavery were infibulated), Islam has prevented this process from reaching completion, and consequently today defines the zones where FGM continues to flourish.
FGM + World Muslim Population
FGM + World Muslim Population

*

About 80% of FGM is attributable to Moslems. However it would be wrong to conclude from this that the remaining 20% is ‘non-Islamic’. Virtually all non-Moslem FGM occurs under the aegis of Islam – either at the historical centres of the Islamic slave trade (Nigeria, Eritrea & Ethiopia, Kenya), or amongst religious minorities living in Islamic countries where FGM is normative and institutionalised.
These minorities, for centuries isolated from their religions’ mainstream, have adopted the dominant community’s practices, including FGM, in order to blend in and minimise discrimination and persecution. Though Moslem women can’t marry outside their religion, Moslem men can (Mohammed married a Jewess). As marginalised and persecuted groups in Moslem-dominated societies, non-Moslems have much to gain by successful hypergyny and this incentivises non-Moslem families to adopt FGM.
The notable mass abandonments of FGM have occurred amongst minority non-Moslem practitioners, such as the Beta Israel Jews of Ethiopia; and the successes of the Pledge Association method reported by Mackie in his 2009 paper were Egyptian Copts and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. Such groups, because not doctrinally shackled to the practice, readily abandon it when Pledge Associations make abandonment possible.
Compare this to Moslem practitioners who, on moving to non-Islamic countries where FGM is not normative, go to great lengths, to the point of breaking their adopted country’s laws, in order to maintain the practice (see here, here & here).

*

Imagine a society that doesn’t forbid, punish or even stigmatise murder, that instead tolerates, recommends, even commands it. Would it be surprising if that society were rife with murder?

Imagine societies defined by an ideology that, far from forbidding or stigmatising FGM, tolerates, praises, and commands it even. Should we surprised that such societies are rife with FGM?
Religions are keen to take credit for any good they can lay claim to, but should they not be held equally responsible for any ills they (knowingly or inadvertently) engender, aggravate or perpetuate?
If FGM is indeed un-Islamic then why, over its 1400 year existence, has Islam not even attempted to eliminate it, as it does all things ‘un-Islamic’, but instead tolerated, spread and promoted it?
Had Mohammed forbidden FGM (as he did alcohol and pork), or criticised it, or even just not mentioned it, FGM would have died out under Islam, as it has done under every other ideology, religion and social system. And the world would have been spared 1400 years-worth of the practice.
No problem is resolvable whose causes remain unaddressed. Pointing out the causal links between Islam and FGM has become taboo, dismissed as a symptom of a ‘phobia’. This taboo will ensure FGM’s continued flourishing and spread. Establishing a discourse around FGM that is free of taboos, insults and imputed motives is the crucial first step in resisting the growing ascendancy of FGM. It is a first step each one of us can take.

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Simon Pope

Very interesting reading, thanks for the input to the circumcision debate.
You state that FGM involves one or more of 3 interventions that can be performed with varying degrees of severity, this is not entirely correct as it involves any intentional injury to the external female genitalia. So for example even a pin prick drawing a drop of blood, a not uncommon form, is included. This definition doesn’t include intent so western cosmetic genital surgery is also included. The “husband stitch” is a western form of infibulation as this includes all non medical procedures restricting the vaginal orifice. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation
All communities practicing FGM also practice MGM and for the same reasons. This makes it difficult to assert, as you do through Gerry Mackie, that it is practiced to assure fidelity especially since MGM is far more widespread. Also you state the non-use of anaesthetics, even when available, which I don’t see any evidence for. In fact rather the reverse as it is being used more and more for example in Egypt, as practitioners are inspired by western medicalisation of MGM. It appears to be used whenever it is affordable and available and all else equal it must make it easier fro the cutter. If you are right that genital mutilation also acts similarly to slave-branding: teaching the child that submission and suffering are a women’s lot, then why is this only a women’s lot, when the very same is practiced on both sexes?
Genital mutilation originates from Africa from the time we were all Africans and spread with us to other parts of the world in prehistoric times. While FGM all but died out, outside Africa, MGM continued to be practiced becoming an important religious rite with monotheism. In modern times both FGM and MGM was introduced into mainstream western anglo culture on the spurious medical cure belief as germ theory gained ground. FGM never really caught on whereas MGM with the religious support from Jewish minorities in the medical profession did. Western hegemony has therefore resulted in an acceptance of MGM worldwide while FGM is condemned. Naturally this is untenable in the long run with modern human rights but in the meantime FGM enjoys some protection under the MGM umbrella allowing it to grow despite all the hype created by anti FGM activists.
So yes, FGM is wedded to religion as you make the case for however not entirely as you claim and there is more to it.

Cyril
leonard sisyphus mann

Thanks for those interesting links, Cyril.
Yes, FGM has been performed in WEIRD countries. Nothing in my essay implies otherwise, though constraints of word-count prevented me from developing this issue. Indeed, FGM is becoming increasingly common in WEIRD countries – the practice being introduced and nurtured by mass moslem immigration (“More than 5,000 new cases of FGM recorded in the last year – and over ONE HUNDRED involving British-born women and girls” https://tinyurl.com/y3s8eusm.
But the pages you link to are of non-Moslem FGM in WEIRD countries.
I may be misrepresenting you, and apologies if I am doing so. But the links you have shared are of the sort sometimes used as evidence in support of the argument that “non-Moslems practice FGM. Therefore FGM can’t be Islamic”.
This argument is first of all wrong on a simple logical level.
The Zakat (giving to charity) is commanded by the Koran and the Sunnah.
Does the fact that Christians, Atheists, Jews, Hindus and Satanists also sometimes give to charity make charitable giving ‘un-Islamic’?
Of course not.
Male genital mutilation is commanded by the Sunnah.
Does the fact that Jews, Christians and atheists sometimes circumcise their sons, and that it is an occasionally medically necessary practice, make ‘male circumcision’ un-Islmic?
of course not.
The laws of probability means that every day millions of Hindus, Buddhists, Christians accidentally face Mecca whilst praying – does this make ‘facing Mecca whilst praying’ u-Islamic?
Of course not.
Something is not rendered ‘un-Islamic’ because some none Moslems also do it.
Secondly my theory is not that “Islam is responsible for ALL FGM in the world today, or in modern history” – but that it is responsible for ‘nearly all FGM’.
FGM, like all forms of cruelty, injustice and mutilation, can arise almost any where and any time spontaneously, or for perverse reasons. These ‘black swan’ events are interesting and worthy of note and much can be learnt from them.
But what really matters is that 80% of all FGM today is performed by 20% of the world’s population (Moslems) and nearly all of the remaining 20% is performed by non-Moslems living under Moslem domination.
What I note from the links are that these instances of non-Moslem WEIRD FGM were sufficiently rare and unusual that they could be filed under the individual doctors’ identities. Imagine Wikipedia compiling an equivalent page for every Moslem that has practiced or colluded with FGM over the past 150 years!
I would also draw attention to the fact that Western culture, in the case of Isaac Baker Brown and Dr. Bloch, exerted corrective mechanisms that ensured that this practice did not flourish, persist or spread. The auto-immune mechanisms of science, democracy, human rights, and secularism acted quickly to contain this ‘outbreak’.
‘Science’ because it was determined that clitoridectomy was not “a cure for several conditions, including epilepsy, catalepsy and mania”.
‘Democracy’ because people did not want this treatment for their daughters and rejected it by market mechanism,
‘human rights’ because it was considered wrong to perform clitoridectomies without the consent of the patients or the families,
‘secularism’ because the motivation for performing the clitoridectomies were not religious, and therefore not protected from the above corrective mechanisms.
On the other hand there are no mechanisms in Islam that can correct the ‘will of the Moslem God’ or the ‘example and teachings of Mohammmed’. If moslems perceive FGM as being a recommended or obligatory religious practice (which it is under islam) then there is no ‘corrective’ that can deter them – other than secularisation – a loosening of the grips of Islam on their lives.
This is why Islam has been nurturing and spreading FGM unchecked for over 1400, whereas whenever FGM appears in WEIRD countries it is swiftly rejected, punished and eliminated (at least up until the onset of Moslem immigration – things are different now as we are having FGM forced on us and our ‘leaders’ are too pusillanimous to ‘correct’ the problem).

Nada

Given your faith in the superiority of the West, and its “protective mechanisms”, why bother with a special case?
The protective mechanisms seems like little more than prejudice, which align in this special case – not in more general cases, as seen both with MGM and pedophilia.

leonard sisyphus mann

Answer me this question, Nada: are the corrective mechanisms of Islam doing a better job of combating and eliminating MGM than the corrective mechanisms of the West?
As far as I can tell the rates of Islamic infant MGM are still near-as-dammit 100%.
Islam is responsible for almost 60% of all MGM – despite Moslem males constituting less than 20% of the world male population.
Whereas even in the USA there is a major move away from infant MGM ( ‘Popularity Of Circumcision Falls In U.S., Especially Out West’ https://tinyurl.com/y6etl4cf),
And there are strong anti-MGM movements amongst the Jews:
– Brit Shalom (https://tinyurl.com/hu4535t)
– “Jews Against Circumcision: How a New Jewish Generation Views Genital Autonomy and Human Rights” (https://tinyurl.com/y4sveku6
– “Jewish voices against circumcision getting stronger” (https://tinyurl.com/yy367fzj)
As to the paedophilia ‘correction’ – I refer you to the latest posts on my blog.
The Trouble With Radical Paedophilia – Part 1 – Propaganda & Utopias (https://tinyurl.com/y6s4erh5)
The Trouble With Radical Paedophilia – Part 2 – The Third Scenario (https://tinyurl.com/y3bxcksr)

Nada

My comment mentioned the failure of the Western protective mechanisms (if they exist at all). Islam is irrelevant to it.
Genital mutilation of boys is legal in the West. Yet, you focus on a special case (FGM under Islam) – which is already illegal in the West.
How does this aid those, like boys or pedophiles, falling outside of the Western protective mechanisms?

Cyril

I disagree. Religious commandments (in Koran, Sunnah etc.) justify practices (like Zakat, GMs, facing Mecca etc.) but not provoke them. F.i., jihad is interpreted by some theologists like Shafi’i as anti-heathen conquest, another theologists like Ahmad bin Taymiya think that jihad means only defensive warfare, some theologists like Abu Hanifa interpret jihad as proselytizing. Religion does not influence people’s lives, on the contrary, the way of living determines the way how Holy Scriptures are read.
That’s why I don’t believe in “the auto-immune mechanisms of science, democracy, human rights, and secularism”.
• Science of 19-th century had another opinion about FGMs than todays, and who knows what scientists are going to say tomorrow. In the Czech republic sex offenders are surgically castrated, in the US six-years-old children are found guilty of sex offences (https://tomocarroll.wordpress.com/2014/10/18/raised-and-brought-low-on-the-registry/). Why FGM cannot be justified by modern science?
• I don’t believe in democracy either. The majority of Islamic and Victorian parents have always been FGM-friendly — isn’t it democracy? Is not democracy the dictatorship of majority? Anyway no “market mechanism” grants suffrage to children.
• Human Rights? Who cares about Raoul Wuethrich’s and Tony Dimond’s rights? Despite of the fact the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees right to privacy for children (articles 16 & 40:2:vii), the child’s private life is called “sexual abuse” and forbidden. Despite of the fact the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights enunciates that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (article 1) children are not equal in dignity and rights with their parents.
• Secularism changes nothing. Siegmund Freud considered clitoral orgasm as pathologic, thought the clitoris was as useless as the appendix — no matter that Frued was Atheist. Non-Moslem WEIRD FGMs cannot be reduced to Brown & Bloch cases, anti-masturbatory GM was recommended by many physicians like Kraft-Ebing, Broca, Kellogg, Eyer, Robert. “The peak of surgical CGM was from 1850 through 1880 though some cases were documented till 1925” (Norlik, 2013). Nowadays child sexuality is treated with cyproteronacetat-like medicine and aversive therapy which is not better than FGM.

Nada
Explorer

Tom, here is some news for you – and about you: your blog post about child drag queens was noticed outside of MAPs-and-allies circle. And the attention was, predictably, an unfriendly one:
https://www.newswars.com/pedophile-author-says-11-year-old-drag-queen-desmond-is-hot/
What I especially liked about the article, however, is the claim, that you, Tom, is in a process of creating a kind of “international secret society” of “academic child abusers”. In these people’s eyes, you seem to be a truly (even if secretly)globally powerful person! 😉

sugarboy

For the great joy of the writer of that slanderous article I would like to point out that I, for my part, don’t find the “boy” in question “hot” at all. In fact, and without any intention to offend anyone, I can comfort the writer with the happy news that I would prefere to bonk a she-mule rather than a “boy” like that!

Kit Marlowe

I’d like to respond to some general points made by Leonard in a response to me below, and I’m going to take the liberty of doing this in a fresh post because the way WordPress structures comment threads is frankly mind-boggling.
Leonard says: “I think that you are treading on dangerous epistemological ground in suggesting that certain truths are only accessible to certain identities. Hasn’t the historical development of Knowledge been a journey towards the idea that Truth is universal, universally accessible, and independent of individual identity? What you are suggesting is that ‘identity’ can set up insurmountable epistemological barriers to that communication.”
Actually, I’m going quite a lot further than this. Not only am I suggesting that there are certain truths that are only accessible to members of certain communities, I’m going to propose that actually there are truths that only *exist* for members of those communities. So there are certain facts that are accessible to everyone and that we can all agree upon, like “Canberra is the capital of Australia.” But then there are claims that seem only to make any kind of sense at all if you already have a lot of other foundational beliefs. “Islam is a religion of peace” is a claim that to me, as a non-Muslim, is simply meaningless. I might be able to assemble information that might support or critique that claim (and this information might be more-or-less interesting to an historian or a scholar of religion or a philosopher or a sociologist or whatever). But I can never judge that claim in the way a Muslim would, because there simply is no essential core to Islam so far as I am concerned. For me, Islam is an historical and social phenomenon; it lacks the spiritual reality that Muslims attribute to it, And therefore for me the kinds of claims that Muslims make about their faith are neither true nor untrue but just meaningless. But they’re most certainly not meaningless for other people.
This is where I think we have to acknowledge the limits imposed by our subjectivity; the way we know and encounter the world as subjects with core beliefs and values already assumed. We do not approach the world as innocents, and there are inevitably aspects of other people’s lives that cannot be incorporated into our own basic belief-systems (at least, not without fundamentally challenging them). That of which we cannot speak we must pass over in silence – and whether it is a respectful or a contemptuous silence is entirely up to us.
Leonard says: “I would argue that one does not have to believe in the claims made by an ideology in order to study and understand those claims of that that ideology. In fact, it positively helps NOT to adhere to the ideology because belief is likely to introduce all kinds of biases and confusions.”
This is actually very much the argument that Professor James Cantor (pbuh) made over at BoyChat a couple of years ago: that non-paedophiles like him know much more about paedophiles than we ourselves do, because their minds are not clouded by preconceptions and ideological biases! I can only say to you (though more respectfully) what I said quite robustly to him at the time: that *nobody* is free from preconceptions and ideological biases, least of all those who claim most loudly that they are. ‘Ideology’ is not just something that fanatics and religious people have; we are all ideologues, whether we like it or not. The best we can do is to acknowledge our biases as far as we are aware of them, but also admit that they go much deeper than we know.
Leonard asks: “Can Moslems’s criticise or comment on the practices, beliefs and acts of non-Moslems? And if in the next minute I pronounced the shahada and thus converted Islam, would that earn me the right to make assertions about FGM’s relationship with Islam? And what about exMoslems? Do they lose the right to pronounce on FGM and Islam on repudiating their religion?”
I think this is a bit of a caricature of an extreme relativism that I certainly do not hold to, and which I doubt anyone actually holds in reality. It is not really a question of whether anyone “can” criticise anyone else (of course, anyone can criticise anything – I hate jazz music, for instance) but rather of how much authority any particular criticism carries. If someone were to ask me why I hate jazz, I would struggle to give an honest and intelligent answer. I don’t like jazz, but I’m also deeply ignorant of it – and those two things probably go together. So my opinion holds little authority even in my own view! I don’t doubt that there are many Muslims who are quite ignorant of Islam, but – however much I may be able to correct them on points of history or fact, there are some places they can go that I cannot. And I’d suggest that basic truth claims around the core essence or nature of Islam are one of those places. This is where I have to confess my insurmountable ignorance.
Leonard says: “We see the harmful effects of the position you are defending played out in the world today – in the mess that is intersectionalism – where men can’t speak on questions that affect women, whites aren’t allowed to speak on matters that affect blacks, heterosexuals aren’t allowed to speak on gay matters etc etc. – knowledge and thought and dialogue become Balkanised and each person ‘has his/her own Truth’.
Firstly, I don’t think we yet see a world where men can’t (or don’t) speak out on matters affecting women, and so on! I think we still have some way to go before that nightmare scenario unfolds. But what is desirable, as I see it, is not a ‘Balkanisation’ of society where there is no common interest, but rather what I might call a certain ethical humility: a willingness to accept the situatedness of one’s own moral position and beliefs. The fact that I am a man doesn’t mean I have no legitimate interest in the welfare of women or right to speak on matters affecting them, but I must acknowledge that I cannot know what being a woman is like. It doesn’t silence me, but it does (or perhaps should) give me pause. Confessing ignorance is never a bad thing, and (I’d suggest) probably not something we have altogether too much of in the world today.
Leonard says: “In addition there are many Moslems who are only nominal Moslems and who are quite ignorant of their relgion and are hardly aware of the phenomenon of FGM – are you REALLY suggesting that these have more authority to speak on FGM than a non-moslem who has quite intensely studied FGM, Islam and FGM’s place in Islam for several years? My own experience in discussing my ideas with Moslems, exMoslems and even Moslem scholars is that I know much more on this issue than they do – why should their ignorance take precedence over my knowledge?”
It depends – as I’ve suggested above, there are different kinds of “knowledge” (and, perhaps, different categories of “truth”). I’m not unsympathetic to your complaint here. I have spent much of my adult life studying Islam in various places and ways. I find it utterly fascinating – and as you can see, I have fairly strong opinions on the subject. And yet I do need to accept that in one sense, everything I know is mere straw: that even the least-educated Muslim knows their faith in a way I cannot. The core truths about Islam that they believe they know are closed off to me, and ultimately I cannot adjudicate between the Sufi mystic and the Salafi radical (though I can acknowledge that one has a much better historical pedigree than the other, and can even opine that I find one more attractive than the other). I cannot decide who is just a ‘nominal Muslim’ and who is a ‘real’ one (am I Allah to make such a judgment?). I cannot decide if my liberal Muslim friends are ultimately right, or the Saudi sheikhs they detest, because it is not my place to arrive at that sort of verdict. The knowledge that I have, though quite considerable in some respects, is of absolutely no help to me when I confront the basic questions of Muslim belief. They are just not my questions to answer.
Leonard says: “This is the reason why many westernised Moslems argue that ‘FGM has nothing to do with Islam’ – because they are rightly embarrassed and ashamed and troubled by Islam’s close association with FGM – and the way that this association make Islam/Mohammed look far from ‘perfect’.”
You claim that you are not essentialising Islam or treating it as a monolithic entity, and yet when you encounter the diversity of belief and custom that is part and parcel of Islam (as any outsider must experience it), you tend to attribute it to unworthy motives: to disingenuousness or ignorance or embarrassment. Is it not possible that the Muslims you speak to are quite sincere in believing that their faith does not require female genital modification? How they might arrive at this conclusion is an interesting question, but I do not think understanding is helped by trying to second-guess other people’s motives . The fact that a very significant number of Muslims throughout history (perhaps the majority) have not practiced FGC or thought that it was necessary suggests that there are at least some grounds for their belief that we might recognise as reasonable.
Leonard says: “there is no ‘secret knowledge’ to which I, as a kufr, have no access if I take the necessary trouble.”
Firstly, you’re a kaafir – kufr is what you are (perhaps) guilty of! . But yes, this is basically where I disagree with you. I do think that other people’s inner lives are ultimately unknowable to us; that trivial things can be communicated easily, and very weighty things only with great difficulty or perhaps not at all. And this is especially so when we are trying to communicate across cultural world-views. Do not underestimate just how enormous the “necessary trouble” might be.
This is not exactly a counsel of despair: I certainly don’t think people of different religions or different ideological world-views should stop talking to each other. But perhaps we need to stop thinking that there is some common truth we can all agree on if only we keep talking about the things on which we disagree. If ‘dialogue’ is to have any productive meaning, I think it will have to involve letting truth emerge from social relations rather than pursuing it through argument, from very, very careful listening rather than from inquisitorial attack.
??? ????.

leonard sisyphus mann

>“Actually, I’m going quite a lot further than this. Not only am I suggesting that there are certain truths that are only accessible to members of certain communities, I’m going to propose that actually there are truths that only *exist* for members of those communities.”
It seems to me that you are proposing something paradoxical. How can you know of truths unknowable to a non-Moslem? It can only be because they are in some way observable by, or communicable to, non-Moslems.
Or (to approach the question from the inside rather than the outside) are there any ‘very weighty truths’ that a paedophile might know and not be able to inform a receptive and open-minded non-paedophile of?
I guess it might be said that a non-paedophile could never experience what it’s like to fall in love with a child, but I think that a huge amount of that is very communicable, if not the actual feeling. To claim that this is something specific to Moslems, or Nazis, or paedohpiles, or blacks is wrong because the core incommunicablity of experience is not special to particular identities or beliefs, but is something that is common to all conscious entities. And we can make great efforts to bridge that in-communicability – I think that this is what culture and Art all attempt, and, to some extent, succeed at.
But maybe these are the ‘known unknowns’ of the Johari Window: ‘how many hairs were on your body at the moment when you first rode a bike unaided?’ – there exists a precise answer to that question, but there is no way of knowing what that answer is.
I may be misrepresenting your position but it seems to me that you are referring to ‘truths’ that are not observable – I suggest that truths occupying this quadrant of the ‘johari window’, far from being ‘very weighty’, are mostly useless – much like knowing the precise number of hairs on your body etc – useless because the fact that they are inaccessible means they have as good as no impact on the world. Things are observable because of the fact that they change existence – a fact or truth that is unobservable can not therefore be ‘weighty’.
>”This is actually very much the argument that Professor James Cantor (pbuh) made over at BoyChat a couple of years ago: that non-paedophiles like him know much more about paedophiles than we ourselves do, because their minds are not clouded by preconceptions and ideological biases! I can only say … that *nobody* is free from preconceptions and ideological biases, least of all those who claim most loudly that they are. “
Both you and Cantor are both right and wrong.
Yes, we are all ideologues – but what matters is how ready we are to change our ideas in the light of evidence and reason that challenge our ideas and ideology. Is not a ‘hypothesis’ an acknowledged preconception or prejudice? – awaiting testing? And where would science have gotten without the hypothesis?
Cantor’s problem is not that he is not a paedophile, or even that he came to his research with prejudices and biases. His problem is that that his prejudices have led him to make errors, be blind to those errors, and not revise his hypotheses. And that the taboo around paedophilia is such that other scientists have not had the inclination to properly test his theories and findings.
James Kinkcaid claims not to be a paedophile – but the Kind community values his work and contribution to the understanding of paedophilia. Does the fact that he’s not a paedo also invalidate his thinking around paedophila and child sexuality?
Likewise our friend BJ is not a paedophile – yet I’d choose him as a spokesman on paedophile matters over many paedophiles I have encountered online.
Moreover I would say that Kinckaid and BJ DO bring something special to the table. The open-mindeded non-paedophile can tell us many things that we can’t easily recognise in ourselves (and that unsympathetic non-paedophiles certainly can’t).
And who would you suggest could throw most light on ‘paedophobia’ – an entrenched paedophobe or a paedophile? Would you trust a reflexive paedophobe to come up with a strong hypothesis explaining his gut reactions?
Likewise does an entomologist studying insect physiology inevitably suffer from a bias that will vitiate his work? After all the entomologist is not an insect?
Of course not. An entomologist subject to pressures from pesticides lobby might be biased or even prejudiced – but that prejudice is not inherent in his not being an insect. Indeed that entomologist will know more about butterfly physiology, than a butterfly can ever know itself.
You might rightly counter that an entomologist will know less about the experience of being a butterfly than a butterfly does. But that as soon as that experience becomes OBSERVABLE (i.e. it impacts on Reality) it falls into the realm of the entomologist.
‘Faith’ is likely to introduce biases and prejudices minds of believers that distort their perception of Reality and Truth. I’m sure that the emotions and prejudices with which I approach religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam etc are much much less than those that a fervent Moslem brings to his own religion.
So why does not the same thing operate when it comes to Islam? Why can an indoctrinated Moslem evaluate the religion of Islam better than an impartial non-Moslem? The ‘secret’ knowledge of the Moslem on Islam is very much like the ‘secret’ knowledge of the Paedophobe concerning Paedophobia – one concerning illusions and the intensity of their emotions – much heat, but very little ‘light’.
No, the ‘outsider’s view’ is hugely valuable and powerful – the outsider is likely to be less biased and prejudiced than the insider. I will acknowledge I have emotions that might bias me concerning Islam and FGM – but do you really think my biases vis a vis Islam and FGM are more entrenched and intense than those of the typical Moslem? Looking at surveys of attitudes of Moslems (such as those conducted by Pew) would suggest that this is far from the case (https://www.thereligionofpeace.com/pages/articles/opinion-polls.aspx)
Another way of thinking about this is to compare a child’s conception of Santa Claus and its parents’.
A child may know a great deal about Santa Claus, much more than his parents – he may know the names of his elves and off all his reindeers, and each one’s likes and dislikes and personal characteristics.
But what is the knowledge that matters most? The thousands of details and elaborations of the Santa Claus myth the child believes as absolutely true? Or the parents’ knowledge that Santa Claus does not exist?
Delusions can be complex and interesting and worthy of study and have effects on the real world. But they remain delusions. The idea of the geocentric universe had repercussions on the societies that believed in it, and there were experts and great minds who based whole knowledge-systems on the assumption of the geocentric universe, and that belief sustained some, maybe even ‘much’, scientific progress.
But that did not change the fact that the belief was wrong.
Much the same can be said of Art and culture – but we are generally not deluded about the ‘reality’ of these things – we usually know a movie or a novel is a fiction, and when we don’t, when we are subjected to a deception (such as Welles’s ‘War of the Worlds’ stunt) – we recognise, on being enlightened, that we had been ‘fooled’.
>”The best we can do is to acknowledge our biases as far as we are aware of them, but also admit that they go much deeper than we know.”
I disagree –by far ‘the best we can do’ is use scientific method – evidence, investigation, learning, reason and peer review and testing. And use open-minded respectful but forthright argument, debate, discussion. Like what we are doing here. Isn’t it a form of condescension to think that Moslem and Islam need to be protected from the same vigorous scrutiny and criticism that you are applying to my ideas?
>”I think this is a bit of a caricature of an extreme relativism that I certainly do not hold to, and which I doubt anyone actually holds in reality. “
Why is – ‘a non-Nazi has less right/authority to comment on the Nazism during WWII than a Nazi’ – a caricature, but – ‘a non-Moslem has less right/authority to comment on Islam than a Moslem?’ – isn’t?
These questions address obvious corollaries of the position you are espousing. If they can’t be answered without your feeling unhappy with the answer then that might be because those questions expose flaws in your position.
I acknowledge that they might be ‘complex questions’ – but I suspect not. If they are then it is for you to point out the built-in presumptions they are concealing.
It seems to me that what the questions show is that once you introduce ‘identity’ as a criterion for epistemological validity you inevitably set up a hornets’ nest of intractable calculations and evaluations, none of which are just or helpful. That alone suggests that using ‘identity’ as an epistemological validator is not a good idea.
>”I don’t like jazz, but I’m also deeply ignorant of it – and those two things probably go together. “
The Jazz analogy does not address the epistemological issues raised by my questions.
Firstly, I would not accept that ‘prejudice’ is an essential aspect of epistemology – it does not affect what is ‘knowable’; it effects only the difficulty by which something can be ‘known’ – it is something that is accidental and that can be corrected – a faulty cylinder in my car does not invalidate the principals of the internal combustion engine.
Secondly, the Jazz analogy represents as the sole possibility what are in fact several possibilities. If one ‘rings the changes’ on the binary set up by your Jazz analogy one gets eight basic relationships between ‘prejudice’ and ‘knowledge’. Your example (dislikes x -> ignorant of x) is only one of these possibilities (the ? sign means ‘results in’ or ‘tends to result in’):
1/ likes x ? knowledgeable of x (e.g. I liked classical music as a child therefore I have studied it at school and university)
2/ likes x ? ignorance of x, (a love of eating meat predisposes many to turn a blind eye to what happens in abattoirs and in meat-production)
3/ dislikes x ? knowledgeable of x (a doctor’s wish to eradicate a disease is a motivation for him researching a cure for that disease)
4/ dislikes x -> ignorant of x (you and Jazz ;-))
5/ knowledgeable of x – > likes x (what is supposed to happen in Arts education)
6/ knowledgeable of x – > dislikes x (what happens with the revelation of hidden malpractices and evils – revelations of political corruption, Watergate etc)
7/ ignorant of x ? likes x (preferring perfect apples because unaware that their perfection is due to unethical and dangerous agricultural practices)
8/ ignorant of x ? dislikes x (a person who rejects food on the grounds of its unfamiliarity)
There are two ways in which someone who dislikes something, or aspects of that thing, CAN also be authoritative, well-informed and unbiased about it (3 and 6). We do not think someone researching a cure for cancer as being ‘biased’ against cancer, or a non-Jewish historian of WWII who condemns the Shoah as doing so out of ‘prejudice’. We tacitly acknowledge that these people can be informed of, and authoritative about, something which they are essentially ‘against’.
>” Confessing ignorance is never a bad thing, and (I’d suggest) probably not something we have altogether too much of in the world today.”
I agree that acknowledging one’s own ignorance is always good. I am certainly up for admitting fault and correcting errors after a good discussion.
But I’m not sure about ‘confessing’ – confession of ignorance if they take places at all, should take place AFTER, not BEFORE the debate, when ignorance has been revealed – nor should they replace the debate or silence it – that is far too reminiscent of Maoist Cultural Revolution, of McCarthyism, of Stalinist show trials, of the Spanish Inquisition, and the kind of totalitarian intersectionalism that would allocate the right to speak according to a person’s unchosen identity.
>”I cannot decide if my liberal Muslim friends are ultimately right, or the Saudi sheikhs they detest, because it is not my place to arrive at that sort of verdict. The knowledge that I have, though quite considerable in some respects, is of absolutely no help to me when I confront the basic questions of Muslim belief. They are just not my questions to answer.”
Most of these kinds of questions are easily answered – not by ME, but by the doctrinal mechanisms of Islam – by Mohammed’s Koran, by the Sunnah, by the Consensus of scholars. These are the authorities that define what Islam is – not me. I merely report what these authorities have ruled.
You and I can make a huge number of statements about islam – not because we have to repeat the work the scholars have done, but because we can report their work. Is eating bacon washed down with beer (under no pressure or compunction) ‘islamic’? Or denying Mohammed’s status as a prophet? Surely even you dare say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to that?
A person who can’t bring himself to acknowledge things 100% of Moslems are ready to acknowledge can no longer even think about Islam, let alone ‘find it utterly fascinating’– he is like person born without eyes trying to imagine what a cloud looks like – deprived of most basic tools necessary to even have a basic thought about Islam.
In the need to make Islam shapeless to the kuffar (and therefore not open to criticism) that person has dissolved Islam to something meaningless.

bjmuirhead

Likewise our friend BJ is not a paedophile – yet I’d choose him as a spokesman on paedophile matters over many paedophiles I have encountered online.

Seriously engaged in a bright red face at the moment. Thank you for the comment/compliment.

Moreover I would say that Kinckaid and BJ DO bring something special to the table. The open-mindeded non-paedophile can tell us many things that we can’t easily recognise in ourselves (and that unsympathetic non-paedophiles certainly can’t).

I have some thoughts on this, arising from the paper I have been trying to write for the past few years. (It is the one I sent you Leonard, in the long ago.) Whilst I had thought I was going to come up with a pretty good piece of work, it seems that it was just a prelude to the paper I am now planning, and it has given me insight into a variety of matters.
For those not in the know, my problem was understanding just how it is that lay members of the public (those who are concerned with paedophilic and non-paedophilic sexual contact with children—those who also do not realise that, on some accounts, up to 60% of adult-child sexual contact is engaged in by non-paedophiles) come to attribute paedophilia to total strangers. For me, this arose as a question needing an answer when a friend said “Keep your kids away from that bloke, he’s a pedo.” But the man in question had never been charged, never been questioned by the police, and there was no evidence available to suggest that he had even had a sexual interest in a child, nor did he fulfil the stereotype presented by the media. (Yes, I checked, it was all rumour, simply because he was a little odd, no more.) But his sexual interest was, apparently, a matter of “general knowledge”.
There are so many possible answers to this question, and I won’t go through them, but what I came to realise is relevant to the comment on myself and Kincaid who, when asked if he was a paedophile, answered with words to the effect that he supposed it could be said that he is a “theoretic paedophile”.
Now, it is interesting that both Kincaid and myself come from a literary and artistic background. We are both accustomed to representations of children as in some way desirable,if not sexual, in the literature and art we have read and looked at. As for myself, I was, as an older child, fascinated by the quattrocento and all those naked people in paintings. I had seen more than enough naked peers and adults, it was the way they were painted, the suggestion of more than mere nudity. This fascination continued into adulthood, to be challenged by these same works, and newer works, being called pornography, and then there are all these photographers being called paedophiles with no evidence than their photographs.
What this suggests to me is twofold. Firstly, both Kincaid and I are aware and have been for most of our lives, of the sensuality, the sexuality of children, but without desiring to partake in it. (I may be attributing something to Kincaid that is not accurate, but having read his work, I suspect I am correct, hence the “theoretic paedophile” notion.) Secondly, the vast majority of the hoi polloi are equally aware, on an unconscious level of schemata (at the very least) of the sexuality of children, but reject it on the basis that they are afraid of paedophilia, of adult-child sexual activity.
This second point is very important, because it is now my view that the nature of human sensuality/sexuality is such that every human being is capable of being sexually excited by any other human being, that is, an ordinary non-paedophile adult may become sexually excited by a child, and even engage in adult-child sexual activity, without being a paedophile. (Interestingly I had coffee and a discussion about just this with a psychologist I know, and he agreed with me. That in itself was interesting, as very few people with whom I have discussed this agree with me.) Moreover, to the extent that the public and academics and feminists look at photographs of children (and actual children), and make comment about early sexualisation, for example, these adults are adopting what has been called the paedophile gaze. This means that they look at the photographs and the children in a sexual manner, just to see if a paedophile could be excited by that child and/or photograph. To look in that way is at the very least tacitly sexual—would I get sexually excited or be sexually attracted if I was a paedophile?
Whilst the above is a part of my reasoning that has led me to the answer to my question (not my actual answer, in other words), it is relevant to your comment because I suspect Kincaid and I have an understanding of the sexiness and sexuality of children which we do not fear, but in which we have no desire to partake.
Having said that, I now wonder just how many psychologists working in this area do so with fear of child sexuality. (I guess I am thinking of people like Cantor, who work so hard to prove that paedophiles have abnormal brains, height, injuries, and more—if I don’t have these problems, I cannot be a paedophile even if I think children are sexy. I am not attributing this motivation to Cantor, or Blanchard, or anyone else, it really is a question: what do these investigators really think about children’s sexuality? Do they, deep down, find them sexy—even if they are not paedophiles and are not sexually attracted to children. This would be a fascinating bit of research, if any of the professionals would be a part of it, but I suspect they would find it offensive.)
I personally find it difficult to blame or take a morally disapproving stance toward paedophiles for your attraction, nor can I blame or cast moral aspersions toward anyone who acts on their desire without force, coercion, violence, and all those other things we do not like or approve of. Or, if I did, I would have to do the same for many other sexualities. (Having said that, it behoves me to also say that I am not entirely comfortable with adult-child sexual behaviour, but my lack of comfort should and does not determine my views, nor how I treat people. I also am not entirely comfortable with homosexuality, but that also is irrelevant to my views on the “rights” of people to be homosexual, it is irrelevant to a homosexual’s behaviour as long as it does not involve force, coercion, violence, and so on. Similarly it is irrelevant to any contact I may have with paedophiles, especially when I am completely confident that I have met paedophiles without knowing that they were paedophiles. Paedophiles, after all, are not monsters, and rarely act in a monstrous way—this much I have learnt here, and in discussion with Tom and Leonard, and I am very happy to have learnt it.)
But this also depends on my views that, firstly, paedophilia is a sexual orientation, secondly, that adult-child sexuality is a possibility for every human adult, thirdly, that paedophiles are no more monstrous (and often less so) than the average human being.
Ok, that was a long winded way of describing and explaining why I understand paedophilia and paedophiles in the way that I do. Whether I am correct in my understanding is another matter entirely, but I like to think that I am close to understanding, if not actually understanding. Whether I am correct that Kincaid understands child sexuality in this way is a supposition, but one I would love to talk to him about. Lastly, I hope I haven’t offended anyone with my lack of comfort, and ask for some understanding that my view has changed form an unthinking hatred, to a much more open and understanding acceptance. (Semi-sarcasm: I think they call that “personal growth”—but what a silly way to think about it.)
Lastly, having said all that, and on the basis of my views, I am quite happy to be called a “theoretic paedophile” (if I have understood what he means by that locution), along with Kincaid, I feel in good company, both here, and in that appellation. (Actual sarcasm: But those pedo hunters, oooh, they deserve the appellation also, otherwise, how could they claim someone is a paedophile without evidence? Dang, but they must find kids so sexy, and be so afraid!)
I hope I haven’t ruined what I said with that sarcasm (my humour does get the better of me frequently), but really!

bjmuirhead

Apologies for taking so long to comment Leonard, but I needed to think that through carefully what I actually wanted to comment on, and what I was oging to say.
Also, that so much academic work stands against my beliefs reassures me that I am probably on the right path. Whenever there is a monster, and everyone agrees, there lies the path and wisdom through disagreement.
Take a hint Mr Jimmy Cantor: question the obviousness of your beliefs and the certainty with which you hold them! You are bound to do better work with this simple approach, as are we all. It certainly has benefited me.

bjmuirhead

To put it bluntly Tom, my aim always is to learn and understand, and thereby grow. After having found Radical case more research followed and fascinated me. It is, on that research, evident, obvious, and inescapably the case that adult-child sexual interactions are not immediately and necessarily harmful, that they can be conducted in a manner which harms no one.
My residual discomfort comes from what I used to believe (and, I suppose, from the fact that I do not wish to engage in them), and is not really an issue in the way I think and talk about paedophiles and paedophilic sexual contact. I mentioned this discomfort only for completeness: I believe that everyone here who reads my comments and other writings elsewhere, deserves to know where I am coming from and what informs my thinking. To me, it is an intellectual exercise devoted to discovering “the truth”, to you and many here, it is a matter of lived experience which I can never have (except in imagination, should I care to go there, but that would not be and never could be the same).
I could never be, now that I have researched the area and thought about it, a Cantor, or perpetrator of the notion that paedophiles are monsters and adult-child sex is inevitably harmful to the child (and I really try to avoid moral judgements as well). My change in view has resulted, I suspect, in my focus on the why and how of the general public’s attitude to paedophiles. (Also on my listening to and reading this blog, and the comments here made.)
To prove that I am not very good at my goal of avoiding moral judgements, let me say that no group of people deserve to be judged in the manner that paedophiles are by the media and public. Such judgements always leave out the detail and rarely, if ever, present anything like the reality.
So: don’t read my discomfort as a judgement, it would be more appropriate to say that it is a comment on my own, rather puritan, upbringing and the beliefs I grew up with, and probably my somewhat “vanilla” sexuality. (But that is another story altogether.)

leonard sisyphus mann

I’m wary to ask the following question, I’m enjoying our exchanges and don’t want to introduce any personal note that may create bad feeling – but I note that in your comments you yourself have made some statements and observations concerning islam:
>“ in reality Islamic jurisprudence is being made and unmade all the time”
>“ The very diversity and richness of the sources of Islamic fiqh – all those thousands of ahadith!- means that there is a much greater flexibility and adaptiveness to Islamic law than most outside observers recognise”
>“ a huge variety of views about genital cutting from Shafi’i scholars in Indonesia, for example”
>“ Sunni Islam lacks a single doctrinal authority which can pass down decrees on what is and is not permitted, at least without the overwhelming consensus of the whole community, and it is extremely wary of fomenting disunity”
According to your epistemology, as a kuffar, have you a right to make these observations?
I can’t help wondering if the difference between our respective observations and statements on Islam is that yours paint Islam in a favourable light and mine don’t.
Had I written something which had instead painted Islam in a favourable light – say, for example, an article insisting that there is no link between Islam and FGM, would you be raising these epistemological objections?
In other words – is it only statements that are critical or unflattering to Islam that you consider non-Moslems to be epistemologically debarred from making? (maybe ‘debarred’ is too strong a word – but even if the interdiction is of a more moderate kind – the question still stands)
Just to finish – have we established whether Timothy Winter is Shafi’i or not? And do you agree that his fatwa condemns only infibulation, but not labial excision and clitoridectomy?
?????!

Explorer

LSM, BJ – thanks for your replies to my text, and for the follwing discussion between you. It was quite interesting, and it inspires me to give a bit of clarification of my defense of Western values.
Here is my reply to LSM… yet, BJ, feel encouraged to reply to it as well! The same goes for Tom and everyone else here…
* * *
The most painful problem with values – as well as with meanings and phenomena, BTW – is to explain from whatever source you have obtained them in the first place. For example, let’s take the three core Western values (well, at least as I understood and described them) – personal freedom, objective truth and well-being.
LSM, you state that these values are “superior” to the fundamentalist Islamic ones – yet on what basis do you make such judgement? I very much suspect, on the basis of the very Western values described by me… yet here you inevitably trap yourself in a kind of “vicious circle” (or should I rather call it “virtuous circle”, given that the subject of the discussion is morality? 😉 ), since you justify the Western values by appealing to the Western values themselves. However, despite its circularity, this method that is common – and useful – in what I call the *intra-ethical disputes* – this is, the disputes between people who more-or-less share the relatively similar value-systems, and thus have a wide “common ground” from that they can start an ethical debate.
Yet such approach fails in the *inter-ethical disputes* – in the conflicts between value-systems that are radically different from each other. For example, for a devout follower of a transcendent religion (such as Islam) the earthly well-being may be not a positive, but a negative value – a burden that pins us down in this sinful reality, a chain that holds us in place and prevents us from achieving the true bliss in the heavenly realms. For such a person, it is “the mortification of flesh” – the deliberate active rejection of earthly well-being for the search of the heavenly bliss – that is positively evaluated. The same comes for the objective truth – in this person’s eyes, the Western methods of research and study may be seen as nothing but tricks, the self-deceptive games of fallen human minds and senses – ones that must be thrown away for the enlightening wisdom of the Divine Revelation. And personal freedom – what does it mean in comparison with the power of the Divine that weaves our fates, and the ecstatic submission to it? Sorry, LSM, but in the eyes of such a person your sincere and well-meaning attempts to persuade him or her will be probably perceived a cunning seduction, enticing him or her to leave the light of Divine for a dirty sinful pit of a fallen Western world…
So, winning the inter-ethical dispute becomes an almost impossible task, since all participants of such debate will be just talking past each other – even if all of them will believe that they are talking to each other. But, I think, there is still a way to bring some sense, and even a small chance of resolution, in such dispute.
To understand this way, I must clarify why I chose the Western values. The reason is as simple as it gets: such is my free, good and clear will, one that comes from within and not from without – from my true Self. Yes, the deepest, the most fundamental basis of our morality is purely and blatantly voluntaristic: there is no way to prove the prime fundamentals of one’s position, since every proof requires something external to itself to rely upon; and the first basics stand in the very beginning of any proof-chain. They effectively hang in the thin air, unable to stand on anything… until the power of the willful choice, which finds its basis in itself and by itself, which is its own cause and its own consequence, provides a ground for them.
Yet, unlike me, a devotee of a dogmatic, rigid religious path refuse to accept his or her own willfulness in the process of making his or her own value-system; he or she believes that the religious value-system is absolute and permanent, granted by an ultimate authority of a Deity. And here is the point there his or her position becomes vulnerable to the attack.
To perform such attack, an inter-ethical debate should be turned into the *meta-ethical* one: you should ask the devotee of dogma why, and how, he or she is so certain that the particular revelation of the Divine chosen by them is *the* true one; what about all the other ones, which differ so much? Then, by treating the revelations comparatively, it is quite easy to show that any revelation of the Divine is mediated by the human mind receiving it, and changed accordingly; none of them can be claimed to be a pure, infallible Divine truth to be followed blindly and uncritically. Each of them should be accepted creatively – and it is ultimately us, human beings, who are responsible for our choices, including the choices of which glimpses of the Divine to believe, to what degree, and in what form.
And it is here, when all participants of debate understand to what degree we humans are responsible for what we perceive, be this the perception of the earthly or of heavenly, when the Western values become especially appealing – exactly because of their unashamedly “anthropogenic” (let me call it so…) nature. These values are effectively the ones that are most clear in their glorification of our own human willfulness – or our free will / will-to-freedom (personal freedom), our clear will / will-to-clarity (objective truth), our good will / will-to-goodness (well-being). And, most importantly, these values are easily compatible to the wide range of worldviews, theistic ones included; what they allows is a critical and creative approach to each and every individual worldview.
And this combination of critique and creativity is exactly what provides the Western civilization and its values with their powerful appeal – one that inspires the freedom-loving people not only in the West itself, but across the world. Even the fact the Western societies, unfortunately, oftentimes themselves fall short of their own proclaimed values does not diminish their appeal…
Well, definitely not for me!

ethane72

Perhaps the diplomatic way to distill LSM’s message and insert it into modern debate is to say something like this:
“FGM is the product of various cultural traditions. Reducing it in each cultural tradition calls for its own approach and analysis specific to that tradition. Among them are some sects of Islam which view FGM as a good thing prescribed by their religion. Hopefully there is room to question this or to reinterpret the requirements to be in line with modern sensibilities, such questioning of course most effective if it comes from those who are part of each tradition.”
The generalization “FGM is an Islamic problem” has no practical benefit, whether it’s true or not. It just engenders accusations of being against Islam. Since the work has to be done in each tradition, it doesn’t matter if it turns out that 95% of the work is done within Islamic traditions or 50% is. It’s still got to be done one tradition at a time.
One book I read that I found enlightening on Islam was “Destiny Disrupted” (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6240926-destiny-disrupted). The Mongol invasions that had a small effect on Europe totally devastated the eastern half of the much closer Islamic world. And since a large part of the justification for Islam was that they won all their battles, deep soul-searching resulted from a time when they instead lost all their battles. Maybe others know of better books or why that one is flawed.

leonard sisyphus mann

>”“Perhaps the diplomatic way to distill LSM’s message and insert it into modern debate is to say something like this: “FGM is the product of various cultural traditions…”
Yes, I think that’s a good way of putting it – though there are downnsides of this approach: firstly, I don’t think it is particularly effective – but it may be the most effective approach of all, which is a depresssing thought.
Secondly, the ‘minimising Islam’s role in FGM’ approach encourages FGM’s spread to hitherto unaffected places, because atochthonous non-Moslem (or non-FGM-practising) populations become less likely to make the link between (certain schools of) Islam and FGM and are thus more likely to allow the practice to implant itself in their country.
An analogy is the different reactions of people in malarial areas to mosquitos before and after it was realised that mosquitos were the disease’s vector: before, mosquitos were just a nuisance; afterwards, people people treated them as a real threat and took greater prophylactic measures against them (mosquito nets, repellants, swamp drainage etc) – the link between Islam and FGM has been, and is being, obfuscated for ‘diplomatic’ reasons – and this has lowered the defenses of targetted ‘hosts’, as yet minimally affected by FGM – such as Western countries.
A telling example is the Dutch parliament’s rejection Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s proposals for a screening program to protect girls at risk of FGM – whilst the program was judged to be cost-efficient and likely to be highly effective by the Dutch parliament, it was ultimately rejected in favour of a less effective, more costly, but more ‘diplomatic’ approach. It seemed that the Dutch parliament had the choice between protecting little girls but risking offending FGM practicing communities, or allowing little girls to be exposed to more risk, but not offending the communities in question. They chose the latter – presumably for diplomatic reasons.
This was in 2003/04. A 2012 study found that almost 30,000 girls living in the Netherlands had undergone FGM. That’s a high price to pay for not offending the perpetrators and their community.
https://eige.europa.eu/lt/gender-based-violence/resources/netherlands/vrouwelijke-genitale-verminking-nederland-omvang-risico-en-determinanten
So, in short, whilst I agree with your statement vis a vis countries where the practice is deeply-rooted, there is a danger that in adopting that narrative we (Westerners) fatally lower our own defenses to the risk factors and vectors of FGM. Presenting a favourable image of harmful practices and ideologies can have serious costs (I think the run up to WWII teaches us the same lesson).

bjmuirhead

Morality and moral responsibility…
I have just started the Waller book, and I have to say that it is rather impressive from the beginning. Very pertinent to the discussion of FGM, however, are the ideas of H. Tristram Engelhardt, n his The Foundations of Bioethics.
Engelhardt maintains, I think correctly, that there cannot be a universal and content-full morality without its being “a view from somewhere”. In essence, he says that a mere humanistic morality is inherently self-contradictory in as much as there is nothing, such as a belief in a God, holding that morality together and providing a universal criterion against which we can assess and act on that morality. (Very swift and shallow presentation of part of his view.)
This was just Nietzsche’s problem: God is dead, what do we do now?
Nietzsche’s answer was the “revaluation of all values”, and this is a project taken on by Engelhardt, it seems. It also is a project taken on by feminist thinkers who, as far as I can see, take on (without necessarily knowing that they are doing so) Nietzsche’s theories about the use and disadvantage of history. Waller seems to be engaged in a similar project though, along with Engelhardt, he does not reject morality itself. However, if Engelhardt, along with Nietzsche, is correct, then LSM’s project necessarily fails in moral terms, because there is nothing, theoretically, morally, that can support it. In Nietzsche’s terms, LSM’s view is a prejudice, no more, and a prejudice that is not even based on a coherent content-full morality.
Now, what does this mean?
I think, to begin with, that the whole idea of a humanist morality needs to be reconsidered and be shown to be coherent and universally applicable, I can see no way in which this can be done, and Engelhardt certainly did not achieve it, if only as a result of his devout American brand of Christianity. This has not been achieved, and I do not even know if LSM is aware of the necessity. Without this, however, all of our views remain prejudices; moreover, if Waller is correct (as far as I have read him so far—I may be misrepresenting his view somewhat), we cannot hold someone who performs even the most extreme FGM practices, morally responsible (or culpable) in any way.
Now, in what I suspect is a Wallerian fashion, this does not entail that I agree with forced body modification (FGM), but I have to seriously consider whether or not I can reject the FGM practitioner’s view as morally wrong, let alone hold them morally responsible and condemn them for an action I disagree with. This is not relativism, it is to question my moral obligations (whatever they may be) in respect of what another regards as their moral obligations (FGM).
The question is: Do I have a moral obligation to object to another’s moral beliefs and behaviour? I would say, in a humanistic and secular moral environment, such as that of the West, which fails to be both universal and content-full, that I have no such moral obligation. And, if I am without such moral obligation, the question of another’s morality becomes, perchance, moral imperialism? But let me leave that one alone…
Lastly, and although I agree with LSM that FGM is a bad thing (moral judgement/prejudice, as you will), I have to note that the harder people argue against such a practice, the more those who practice it will hold to and tell you it is not your business.
Apologies for any formatting or loose argumentation.

stephen6000

>The question is: Do I have a moral obligation to object to another’s moral beliefs and behaviour? I would say, in a humanistic and secular moral environment, such as that of the West, which fails to be both universal and content-full, that I have no such moral obligation. And, if I am without such moral obligation, the question of another’s morality becomes, perchance, moral imperialism?
But if it is moral imperialism, doesn’t that imply that it is morally wrong? So then there seems to be at least one moral obligation after all – the moral obligation not to be a moral imperialist!

bjmuirhead

Ah, well, I would not accept that it is a moral obligation to be imperialistic about it. That would be more a matter of I got the power, bitch!
But of course, there are some who believe that it is their moral obligation to convince others that their morality is wrong. That is when it becomes moral imperialism, but as an amoral immoralist, if you will excuse that locution, I see no reason to believe that I have an obligation to force my morality on another. In any event, forcing it on another person or country achieves little, as there will be no agreement about the morality, it will merely be a matter of moral strangers where one has the power to force the other. This will not change the other’s morality, they will merely loathe you a little more and very privately.
So: it is moral imperialism if forced on another, but I can see no moral obligation to force a humanistic secular morality on others. A religious morality, sure, God gives all reason to the religious; hence various Muslim organisations trying to force Sharia law into Australian law—the only possible view they can take, as good Muslims, is that our laws and morality are wrong. Rather what LSM seems to be attempting, though I hasten to repeat that I agree with him that FGM is astoundingly awful. I am just not sure that it is the case that we have the moral right or obligation to force this opinion on another, especially when that attempt at moral imperialism will merely cement the importance to FGM for them.
Tediously difficult area to discuss and come to any sensible conclusions, especially when I have doubts about the existence of morality and/or ethics at all. This is to say that I tend to take the position that, even if there is such a thing as morality, we don’t really need it, and we shouldn’t treat it as some Golden Idol to which we must pay obeisance. In this regard I am a student of Ian Hinckfuss, whose first draft of his book on morality was titled To hell with morality.
Not only do I suspect that no such thing exists, and that we do not need it even if it does exist, is seems clear to me that if morality is a “real” thingie, then every astoundingly small thing we do or think necessarily is moral, and this just does not seem to make sense to me. Moreover, I am fairly confident that when we ponder whether or not we should do some action, the vast majority of us are not engaging in anything like what the professionals call morality. But that is off and away on a tangent. (Yeah, I am a dirty old Nietzschean immoralist Kropotkinian anti-religion anarchist! —What a joke! And it was a joke, I suspect.)

ethane72

I find the analysis in https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/confessions-of-an-ex-moralist/?hp very tempting. Forget talking about morality. Talk about what you like and what you don’t and try to convince others to agree with you:

leonard sisyphus mann

I’ll try to give the paper you link to a good read and study tomorrow – but my initial read-through gives me the impression that he’s got a conception of ethics and morality that is self-defeatingly simplistic. He wants it to be easier than it should be, and, like the man trying to fly by a strapping a feather to his arm and flapping, dismisses the whole enterprise as impossible.
But, one question that does occur to me -: when you write “Talk about what you like and what you don’t and try to convince others to agree with you” – do you really think those who practice FGM are likely to stop doing it because I or anyone expresses a personal dislike of it? or because she perceives that it is somehow ‘wrong’ (AKA immoral)?
I will risk making the generalisation that people who practice FGM are not people versed in the subtleties of moral philosophy. They are religious people – used to thinking in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, in ‘moral’ or ‘immoral’.
Which conceptual space is most congruent with theirs – the realm of morality or the realm of post-modern wooziness?
If I went to a Somalian peasant woman and tried to persuade he to stop FGMing her daughters because I didn’t like it she’d quite rightly tell me to go boil my head. If I tried explaining to her why its ‘wrong’ I suspect that she’d be slightly more inclined to give me the time of day, if at least to argue with me. I know if someone came to me and tried to convince me not to be a paedo because ‘they didn’t like it’ I’d think them a loathsome egomaniac, but someone who tried to respectfully make a cogent case as to why being a paedo was’ wrong’ would certainly be able to get me engaged in an a decent discussion.
At some point the talk, the convincing, has to go from ‘what I like/don’t lie’ to ‘what is right/wrong’ – because nobody is interested in ‘what I like’ – what changes people are changes in their perception of what is right and what is wrong.

ethane72

“do you really think those who practice FGM are likely to stop doing it because I or anyone expresses a personal dislike of it? or because she perceives that it is somehow ‘wrong’ (AKA immoral)?”
It’s not that you personally dislike it, it’s the reasons you dislike it… for instance, no sexual pleasure, pain and risk of infection, deciding for her before she’s an adult. If the person who practices FGM agrees with you those are downsides, it might the first step in considering change. If they don’t, arguing morality won’t get you anywhere.
“people who practice FGM are … religious people – used to thinking in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, in ‘moral’ or ‘immoral’.”
But religious beliefs are impervious to moral argument if scripture is divine revelation. You might have more success sidestepping “your religion is telling you to do something immoral” and just letting them ponder the yucky aspects and get them thinking or motivated to see if they might modify their practice of religion without FGM.

bjmuirhead

Yes, this analysis is close to my own view.
blockquote>I had thought I was a secularist because I conceived of right and wrong as standing on their own two feet, without prop or crutch from God.
But of course, this is not the case. Engelhardt argues, I think correctly,that secular morality relies on force and agreement. If you disagree and act accordingly, you are subject to force, e.g., imprisonment. Moreover, the secular morality enshrined in law and conformity, exists because people agree to it n some sense. When people cease agreeing, we have changes in law and psychiatry and everyday behaviour, as witnessed by the change in view on homosexuality, and in the change Tom and others (especially here) are trying to achieve in respect of paedophilic relationships. Indeed, secular morality can only exist on the basis of fear of force and agreement as to what is acceptable. Hence, we have a situation in which many people really don’t care if what they are doing is “right” or “wrong”, they only care that they avoid being caught. So, if secular morality stands on its own two feet, it does so in this way, and is often ignored for the very good reason that it does not apply to the individual’s desires, actions, and beliefs, which are more important and relevant to individuals who fear no hell or condemnation from a god.
I think that LSM is incorrect to say that we exist on a “moral mountain”,it is more that we exist on a flat plain where we hallucinate a mountain. Morality, as such, is bound ot cause more problems than it resolves if we believe it is a mountain backed by some universal “good” and “evil”.
Will a peasant argue with you, as LSM says below? Certainly, because God and society says this and you say that, but without the backing of God. Perhaps the best approach would be to argue that God does not wish such harm to come to women? I do not know what approach would be best, but I am confident that a Western secular approach is bound to fail, ensure that FGM continues, and possibly increase it’s incidence.

bjmuirhead

Dang, I got the formatting wrong again. Apologies for that!

stephen6000

Yes, I would agree with the stance defended in that article. I believe a well-known meta-ethics text – J.L. Mackie’s ‘Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong’ – adopts this position, though I confess it is one of the many books I should have read, but haven’t!

bjmuirhead

It is an astoundingly good piece of philosophy, the Mackie. I am just about to buy my third copy of it, having lost the first two.

stephen6000

To lose two copies of J.L. Mackie’s ‘Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong’ may be considered unfortunate……etc.

bjmuirhead

Yes! :::Grin:::

Explorer

For MAPs and MAP allies, pleasant news are a rare event: we are much more used to another sad (at best) or horrid (quite usual) stories of ever-increasing repression. The United Nations’ upcoming attack on Japanese erotic anime involving “underage” characters was just another ugly piece of news: much to be upset about yet nothing to be surprised.
Yet the reaction to the UN’s censorious proposals was a big – and pleasant – surprise. To be informed, read Hikari’s and One Angry Gamer’s blog, as well as the relevant section of the UN website:
https://hikarisblog.wordpress.com/2019/06/12/quick-update-on-the-u-n/
https://www.oneangrygamer.net/2019/06/usa-japan-austria-rebut-u-ns-proposal-to-ban-certain-anime-comics-manga/85554/
https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRC/Pages/DraftGuidelinesOPs.aspx
In short, the defenses of the erotic anime were just strong: they came not just from many (apparently) “mainstream” individuals, but from the authorities of the whole countries.
The first country to defend erotic anime was, predictably, Japan. Its defense of the freedom of expression in the face of the Western pressure to reform itself according to the puritanical moralistic codes is much to be admired.
Much less predictable was the position of Austria. A Western, European country that holds a non-hostile stance toward the erotic drawings and cartoons involving “underage” characters?! That was as unexpected as it was laudable.
But the non-negative view expressed by the USA, no less… That was a real shock for me – yet this shock was a quite pleasant one.
The USA is currently the strongest and the leading country in the world (whether one likes it or not), and to see that its position that is… well, not approving, but at least not condemnatory, gives me some hope: maybe the persistence of MAPs and allies will have its reward, one day? Maybe my own stubborn child liberationism, one that brought me, a non-MAP myself, here (and allowed me to find a company of intelligent and pleasant people, which I admire!), will be accepted in the future?
The USA bears a heavy legacy of being a birthplace of the “paedo-hysteria” in the late 1970s; the wave of repression that engulfed the Europe in the 1980s, and reached the Japanese shores by the 1990s, had started there. Now, the American treatment of the child and intergenerational sexuality is seemingly among the harshest ones, if not the harshest one, Yet maybe this sadistic repression will start to crumble exactly because of its brutality? It is impossible that the people will remain blind forever; in fact, the still-marginal, yet steadily growing criticism of the cruel and unusual (and lifelong) punishment known as “the Sex Offender Registry”, one that broke countless lives not only of adults, but also of adolescents and even children, is a sign that some positive change is possible…
And what do you think? Is this hope of mine is false, or a real one?

Explorer

Whatever is the reason for all this people to come here, I hope that they will read this gest blog by LSM as well… as well as the comment section below it. Maybe our discussion of ethics will help to weaken a false stereotype portraying MAPs and allies as amoral(istic) nihilists!

daniel

Tom
I am sorry to hear about this problem is there any chance you can make another twitter page?

daniel

>I could but I feel there are better ways to spend my time. Twitter is useless for unpopular minorities.
I know what you mean, but its about time these Nazis left people like us alone, stop wasting resources and went after some real criminals like Peter Tobin.

Explorer

I hope, I’m not too late to enter the discussion here? Unfortunately, recently my Web activity has greatly diminished due to the lack of free time, and I couldn’t write this comment earlier. Well, one way or another, here are my thoughts on the subject.
In the question of FGM, I would make a distinction between Western(ised) and non-Western(ised) societies. In the former, FGM can and should be forbidden and systemically eradicated. There is every reason to do, since by doing it, we would be acting in accordance with all three most fundamental values that the Western culture has historically created so far, the values we have every reason to uphold and propagate in our own societies: (personal) freedom, (objective) truth and well-being.
Let’s look closer at each of this three core Western values, the possible counter-arguments that the proponents of FGM can raise against them, and the decisive refutations against each of this counter-arguments. I will also include the comparison with another controversial practice involving children and sexuality – consensual intergenerational sexuality (CIS) – and will show that it a direct opposite to FGM in all respects.
1) WELL-BEING
I’ll start with this one, since the tangible, observable benefits, physical or mental, are utterly absent in FGM case. As LSM has already described in detail in his blog post, it causes a lot of suffering, both psychic and somatic, in the moment of the procedure and after it, and no identifiable benefit. And, what is especially horrible about FGM, the damage done by it is completely irreversible – once parts of some unfortunate girl’s genitals are cut off from her body, there is no way to put them back into their proper place; this wound will never heal. And the unseen wound that will torment this girl’s psyche – especially her sexuality – may be even worse.
And what is especially repulsive about FGM, all the damage, of body and of mind, is intentional; it is not some unhappy side-effect of the otherwise useful procedure, it is its main goal.
What FGM proponents can say in their defense, as long as the observable somatic and psychic well-being of the girls undergoing it is the subject of concern? Nothing. All “self-justifying narratives” (“hygiene”, “fertility” etc.), that LSM mentioned in his blog post, are easily refuted by all available evidence.
This is indeed a striking difference with CIS, that, as we know both from formal studies and informal memoirs, are usually harmless and pleasant – as long as they are voluntary.
But the proponents of FGM – as well as opponents of CIS – may use another argument, one that avoids the question of personal (physical and / or mental) well-being and concentrate on social, community-centered one. They will insist the refusal to undergo FGM (or agreement to participate in CIS) will be harshly disapproved by most adults with whom the child is directly socially connected, and thus will make such children pariahs in their own communities. Doesn’t the social acceptance worth the agreement to be hurt and harmed (in the case of the FGM) or the refusal to participate in pleasant and harmless activity?
No, it doesn’t. And to understand why it is so, we should turn to another two values we should defend – freedom and truth.
2) (PERSONAL) FREEDOM
Whether the activity is harmful or harmless, useful or useless, is of the secondary importance in comparison to the most important question – is it voluntary? it is consensual? Since, even if the activity is demonstrably hurtful and harmful, it still can be allowed if a person participating in it has done so in fulfillment of his or her free will.
In the case of the CIS, we can say that many children, girls and boys alike, do engage in it voluntarily, in accordance with their natural, inborn impulses – not only sexual and sensual, but also social and affective: again, both formal studies and informal memoirs show it quite clearly.
Yet, in the case of FGM, the operation is either an openly involuntary, nonconsensual one – or, even if some agreement is formally given, still being done in the situation of notable pressure of the communal authorities (from parents to elders and other informal leaders), making such “consent” quite illusory.
One can ask me here: don’t I lead myself in a trap, since the words of the “illusory consent” are quite similar to the ones that are used by the opponents of CIS to dismiss child’s evident willfulness and desire to participate? No, I don’t: any unprejudiced, careful consideration of the available studies and memoirs show that children were not pressured to participate, and could refuse without any negative consequences enacted by their adult sexual partner – who more often than not had no authority over them whatsoever. And, even in the cases when some form of authority could be identified (such as in the cases of, say, the teacher and his or her pupil), the proposal to engage in CIS was clearly outside of its bounds. Even more, it effectively changed the relationship from a hierarchical to a egalitarian one – now the child has sufficient power and influence over the adult as well, probably even more power than an adult, since now he or she effectively held his or her adult sexual partner’s life in hand, by the agreement to keep a secret that would devastate the adult sexual partner’s s life if being disclosed.
Very much unlike the situation when a girl is placed against her family and community, being under the threat of ostracism (or worse) if she refuses.
Yet again, the proponents of FGM and opponents of CIS may try to avoid the argument of personal freedom by postulating a “collective” one: the “freedom” of a community to act according to its traditions without the interference of a general society.
To such evasion we can reply that free will – and the right to choose one’s further life – is the individual quality; communities are not individuals, and cannot be treated as such. They have no right to abolish and suppress personal freedom and determination, and it is a proper function of the larger society to stop them from doing so. Such as the path willfully by the people who follow Western values, and thus maintained in the Western(ised) societies. People who reject the willful determination of the individual for the sake of enforcing the communal cohesion are not, and should not welcome in these societies. Such is our free will.
And, unlike CIS, which is the manifestation of the inborn child sexuality (and sociality), FGM is not a some common natural drive, one which is common and expected to be chosen willfully. It is an artificial – and enforced – addition.
3) (OBJECTIVE) TRUTH
Being defeated in the areas of identifiable well-being and individual freedom, proponents of FGM, as well as opponents of CIS, can only appeal to some supposed “higher truth”, usually of religious or spiritual nature. That will state that it is a “divine command” and / or “natural law” and / or “moral absolute” (etc.) that we can only obey, even if it is contrary both to our freedom and to our well-being.
But such appeal to “higher and absolute truths” are quite weak, since no one know what exactly this “higher and absolute truth” is – there are a lot of religious and spiritual systems with different, mutually contradictory obligations and prohibitions, which cannot be simultaneously absolutely true. There is no reason to think that the obligation to undergo FGM, or the prohibition to participate in CIS, is somehow universal and permanent.
What is important here is not to follow the failed and disproven path of militant, hardcore materialism – one that completely rejects all religiosity and spirituality as supposedly mistaken. There is a lot of very good and reliable (even if unacceptable for the “respectable” academic institutions and thus “fringe” by its social status) scientific evidence and argumentation that mind is genuinely immaterial, that it transcends embodiment and can even directly violate so-called “laws of physics” (these mistakenly absolutised regularities of embodied experience), and that some kind of nonphysical dimension(s) do(es) exist. Yet none of this evidence, or this argumentation, proves the veracity of some specific religious or spiritual system; there is no way to ascertain that one of them is true while all others are false. And there is no valid reason to insist that some particular obligation (such as FGM) or prohibition (such as CIS) reflects some universal and eternal truth.
***
So, the conclusion is clear: FGM is clearly incompatible with the physical and mental well-being of persons undergoing it, and suppresses their free will and individual determination, while unable to justify itself by appeal to some supposed divine and / or natural absolute; while CIS is a manifestation of a natural child sexuality which can be, and in most cases does, enacted voluntarily, and, if being voluntary on the child’s part, is pleasant and harmless to him or her.
The real and ugly problem, however, is that most people simply do not care much about well-being, freedom, or truth, if they contradict the prejudices they cherish, the power-structures they maintain or the habits to that they are attached – no matter how absurd are the prejudices, how cruel are the power-structures and how damaging are the habits…

leonard sisyphus mann

I appreciate what is a very cogent analysis of why FGM conflicts with Western values. I agree with the arguments and points you make and the fact that the implications of these values is that 1/ FGM is wrong, and that 2/ CIS is not necessarily wrong, seems to prove another point – that the values under consideration are empirically superior to alternative sets of values that make FGM acceptable ( (’empirically’ in that they lead to better conclusions – but I suspect that I am committing the error of Petitio Principi here…):
Each of the three Western values can be translated into the Islamic counterpart:
personal freedom => submission (to divine authority)
objective Truth => Truth by Revelation
prioritising the well-being of the individual => prioritising the well-being of a God
In the light of this value-inversion it is reasonably clear why islam has tolerated FGM for 1400 years – in the light of each one of these values FGM is normal, acceptable and virtuous.
This is why I have no problem with the idea that some cultures are superior to others, or are, at least, superior in certain aspects – taking as axiomatic that the desirability of the flourishing of humans or (to widen things out) ‘conscious/sentient entities’.
The perception starts off with a gut instinct – Jesus said ‘by their fruit shall ye know them’ – and if a set of values legitimizes evident wrongs, then that set of values becomes, at the very least, questionable.

bjmuirhead

personal freedom => submission (to divine authority)
objective Truth => Truth by Revelation
prioritising the well-being of the individual => prioritising the well-being of a God

I cannot let that one pass Magister Leonard.
Personal freedom==> submission to divine authority==> contra submission to scientific realism here in the good old West==> and the good old state police and laws, and… Not much different really.
Objective truth==>Truth by revelation==> contra truth by scientific materialism moderated by Christian theology as a part of the history? And what is science but revelation in which the priests are scientists? Yes, we should leave this one alone.
But most importantly: Prioritising the well-being of an individual(??)==> Prioritising the well-being of a God. This is the one that really bothers me, because you show little respect for the notion that if God is obeyed and worshipped, then the individual’s well-being is ensured by God. (Grace, in Christianity.) This is a deeply held belief by monotheists, and it behoves us all to pay at least a modicum of respect to their beliefs, because these beliefs, on which their morality is based, are the cause of our disagreements.
And speaking of George Pell, this was exactly the case for him, this fundamental belief was the foundation of his teachings/thought/behaviour. As it was for all the high powered church bods I had the pleasure to encounter, though the one I knew best was Peter Carnley, one time head of the Anglicans here in Australia. Each dealt with this fundamental belief in different ways, but it was fundamental, and they sincerely believed it. (I ran across Pell at a multi-faith event, and he struck me as an amazing man, strong in his beliefs and well worth the listening to; Peter on the other hand, lectured me in the now defunct Department of Studies in Religion for three years, prior to becoming the Archbishop of Perth and more.)
So, a little respect for this fundamental religious belief, is a damn fine idea, because this belief provides the genuine believer with all the well-being they need. (Abraham, anyone?)
And as for Pell, just to make a comment on his conviction: I have no idea if he is a paedophile or not, but he certainly did not do the acts for which he has been convicted. Not possible in the manner described by the one and only witness, not in that Cathedral, humming with people all day every day.
Anyway, enough raving, but a request for some basic respect for the beliefs of monotheists.(I am a theist, but not as a part of any religion; perhaps it is best to describe myself as a philosophic believer in a being that we may or may not call “god”.)

leonard sisyphus mann

I’d written a long response, but on rereading your comment I am so struck by its oddness that I suspect that there’s some bigger unspoken issue muddying the water. I will reserve my long answer possibly for later.
I got the impression on a blog such as HereticTOC that ALL beliefs are open to full stress-testing. I have seen very little respect on these pages for the beliefs of capitalists, fascists, VirPeds, Paedophobes, 4th wave feminists, Christians etc etc.
Yes, one should try to be respectful to people – but that is not the same thing as being respectful to their ideas and beliefs. One can respect Hans, who is kind to the children of the town his division has conquered, but that does not oblige us to respect his Nazi ideology.
So what is so special about monotheists and their beliefs that exempts them from scrutiny and rigour that are rightly applied to all other beliefs?
And what in my comment oversteps the limits you appear to think apply?
I see nothing that is not evidence-based (I can support my assertions about Islam’s fundamental values with strong sources) – and as to disrespect – that is only possible if I have gone beyond the evidence – provided what I have articulated is something approaching the truth, or is valid evidence, it can not be an act of ‘disrespect’.
Granted one should sometimes tell white lies, or soften one’s words in order not to hurt an individual’s feelings – but is it a good idea to extend that principal to whole ideologies?

bjmuirhead

Fair enough. No hidden issue (I wonder what you think it could be? Do let me know what you think it is, here or by email, just so I know.)
But the things you equate are not equivalent beliefs. If they are not equivalent, then my previous post follows logically… You see, (in issues such as this) if one are going to say that x in country A is in some way equivalent to y in country B, one should, and there is no polite way to say this, get it right. You did not take into account the very monotheistic belief I mentioned, and…
Do you understand why I had a good old dig?
(And of course I respect capitalists! How else would my pension be paid? hahaha)

leonard sisyphus mann

Granted, ‘equivalence’ is a concept that should be defined – if one talks about things that are equivalent to, say, an orange – one could look to the moon for its shape, Donald Trump WRT to colour, a lemon WRT to its taxonomy, and a bottle of worcester sauce WRT to its mass…
“personal freedom => submission (to divine authority)
objective Truth => Truth by Revelation
prioritising the well-being of the individual => prioritising the well-being of a God”
the first pair addresses the relationship of the individual with respect to ‘necessity’
the second addresses the ultimate locus of epistemological authority.
the third pair address the ‘cui bono’ of virtuous action.
>”You did not take into account the very monotheistic belief I mentioned, and…”
Are you referring to the following in your previous comment: “that if God is obeyed and worshipped, then the individual’s well-being is ensured by God.”?
That’s taking the game ‘off the pitch’, ‘after the final whistle has blown’, ‘in changing rooms with no windows, doors or any means of observing what goes on inside’ – and as such can not be factored-in to the calculation.
If we postpone the ‘well-being ensured by God’ to a place where its existence can not be verified it’s like a losing football team claiming that if they’d played on after the whistle for ten more minutes they’d have scored sufficient goals to beat their opponents – and that therefore they really won the match and should get the trophy.
The very fact of postponing well-being to a notional after-life facilitates the horrors of religion – suicide bombing, ‘we love Death more than you love Life’, the agonies Moslem children endure as their parents teach them of the Torments of the Tomb.
Postponing the ‘credit’ side of any pact with a god (or gods) to the post-mortem life means that any amount of suffering is legitimised in the pre-Mortem life – for what is a few decades of suffering weighed against an eternity of bliss in allah’s best-furbished paradise?
This is the calculation – quite rational if one accepts the premises – that parents make when they take their children suicide bombing with them (this is the calculation Fatima Ibrahim made when she detonated a bomb, killing herself, the child she was pregnant with, three other young children and three Sri Lankan police officers after the massacre of Christians – not ‘Easter-worshipers’ as the collaborationist Western media put it – in Sri Lanka).
You mention Abraham in your previous comment.
Let’s not forget that Abraham would have killed his little boy, Isaac, because he made the same kind of calculation as did Fatima Ibrahim – he either placed the well-being of his god before that of his son, or was prepared to sacrifice Isaac in order to ensure his (Abraham’s) own place in Paradise. Given the belief that pleasing one’s god can earn oneself an eternity of perfect happiness – such a calculation is absolutely rational.
But, one could argue, as Abraham brought the knife to Isaac’s throat, god’s hand intervened – a sign of god’s charity towards mankind.
That’s great (though I bet that the whole incident must have been quite traumatic for Isaac – I bet in future he wasn’t so keen to go for a stroll in the hills with his father…) – but where is this god’s intervening hand every time a little girl or a little boy is subjected to FGM and MGM? I have read no reports of such a ‘hand’ appearing and saving the child from the razor blade.
So, no, I don’t accept that ‘prioritising the well-being of a God’ is as good as ‘prioritising the well-being of the individual’.
It CAN be, and I would suggest that religions that grant their followers freedom of will and freedom of conscience, that don’t demand ‘submission’, are capable of adapting and changing as knowledge of ethics advances – Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism etc can make the two paradigms correspond to a large extent, and have, at times actually been ahead of the game, been the motivating forces of ethical advancement.
But where or when a religion is incapable of doing this we get FGM, we get the perpetuation of human sacrifice into the 21st Century (what else is ‘jihad’ other than the guaranteeing of one’s own place in heaven by means of the sacrifice of other humans’ lives?), we get ‘we love Death more than the Jews love Life’?
That is why making a god (or gods) the ultimate ‘cui bono’ of human action too often lead to horrors.

bjmuirhead

Yes, the difficulty is that believers do not accept the same premises as you and I, therefore the discussion with them will most likely go nowhere. This is why their fundamental beliefs need to be considered, and used as a way to approach the subject with them, even of you believe, as I do, that religion is hokum and morality is a nonsense. That was the main point I was making; I now make it clearer.

leonard sisyphus mann

>”This is why their fundamental beliefs need to be considered, and used as a way to approach the subject with them,”
Yes, I think we agree on that.
But I would add two provisos and caveats:
1/ this does not include non-Moslem countries – there is no wiggle room, or need to soft-pedal, when it comes to OUR laws and values. There should be no place for anyone who is not able or willing to conform to laws on FGM (provided that they have first been fully informed of their adoptive nation’s stance, values and laws on FGM). There are plenty of countries in the world that tolerate the practice, or who are not capable or willing to enforce their own laws – they should be invited to remigrate to one of those.
2/ We do not ourselves buy into the soft-soaping that you advocate.
This is a huge danger – the obfuscations that are necessary for FGM charities to perpetrate on the ground in FGM-practicing communities, has infected the dominant narrative.
This is what I call the ‘Charity’s Dilemma’ – an anti-FGM charity-worker faced with a roomful of FGM practicing moslem women can not say the truth (that the Koran – indirectly – commands FGM, and the Sunnah and the Ijmaa support FGM) because doing so would confirm the women in the practice, not discourage them.
So what ends up happening is that anti-FGM workers have to kick up a smoke-screen round the issue, and the discussion never gets much beyond ‘there’s no FGM in the koran – FGM is not islamic – some Christians FGM – FGM existed before Islam’ – all of which are either wrong, or true but meaningless (does the fact that Koreans also practice MGM mean that MGM can’t be Islamic!!? and does the fact that an interdiction on stealing existed before the invention of Islam mean that such interdications in the Koran aren’t ‘islamic’!?).
So we we end up believing the lies we are obliged to tell when speaking to groups we are trying to discourage from FGM.
This is dangerous – in that it lowers our defenses against FGM in multiple ways, and it means that any solution to the problem has shallow roots – you persuade a woman that FGM is un-Islamic – what happens when some Imam points her to Aisha’s Hadith (‘when circumcised parts meet then the a ritual bath becomes necessary’) or verse 30:30 of the koran (‘adhere to the fitrah..’) and takes her through the implications of that? A solution based on untruths is like a leaking pipe staunched with rice paper – it may hold, but subject it to any pressure and it will give.
So, yes, I think we can agree, but the ‘best’ situation is far from ideal, and we should be careful to opening ourselves up to infection by believing the ‘white lies’ we have to tell in order to get rather mediocre results (it may already be too late).
Which is to say I have no optimism for the places where FGM is embedded. But I believe that we can address it in our own nations, if the ‘Islamophobia’ industry will allow it (which it probably won’t).

bjmuirhead

My one comment in reply is that I would never advocate anything but the most direct speech (except in postmodern philosophy, of course—a joke), merely that the content take into account slightly different things in order to focus the direct speech on what is wanted, i.e., prevent FGM.

Likewise I don’t blame individual concentration camp guards – it would be vanity to pretend that in identical circumstances I would not have done the same.
I was very surprised to read this! I’m aware that Christ reserved his greatest ferocity for the Pharisees, who claimed ‘if we had lived in the times of our fathers…etc “, but this assertion seems well, wild to me, Leonard. Do you intend me to believe that you can honestly imagine yourself – I mean the self you now know and are incapable of knowing in circumstances many times removed from the present world – imagine yourself setting a seethingly savage dog upon a naked man near frozen to death in the hoarfrost and snow?? Injecting a helpless prone human being with some ghastly concoction destined to swell him up, turn him black, and slowly corrupt every system in his body? I could of course go on…
I cannot imagine myself doing such things. I just cannot. But you CAN?
|Thou art the last person I would have ever expected to, in the midst of much unfolding wisdom, come up with what seems to me to be a pure platitude?

leonard sisyphus mann

We each exist on the side of a moral mountain. History, upbringing, bad/good luck etc deposit us on ledges of varying widths.
The unlucky amongst us find ourselves on very narrow ledges – standing literally at the edge of the ‘slippery slope’ that leads to horrors such as the Shoah and FGM; some of us stand on wide ledges and have room to move around and keep away from the edge; some of us are deposited on ledges so wide that we are hardly aware of the existence of ledges and of slippery slopes – we are only aware of their existence by observing them from afar on other distant mountains and we can hardly imagine that our own mountain has a slippery slope. And History etc deposits some people where there is no ledge – right on the face of the slippery slope – and they have no choice but to fall.
Living in civilised modern society is somewhat like being on that broad plain-like ‘ledge’ – leading a moral life is easy, we rarely find ourselves near the slippery moral slope, and when we do we have plenty of space available to retreat from it.
The typical concentration camp guard hardly had a choice but to be there – the ideology and disinformation in Germany in the 1930s was all pervasive, and therefore subscribing to Nazi ideology was the norm; often they were conscripted, and refusal would have meant them being executed and their families possibly suffering. And once in that role we have only to remind ourselves of the experiments of Milgram and Zimbardo to know just how slippery THAT slope is. It seems unfair to credit the ordinary concentration camp guard with full moral responsibility for his part in what happened or what he did.
Yes, there are ideologies, groups, and individuals that I dislike so much that, yes, I am aware that at a pre-rational, gut level I experience no human feelings towards them, and would feel only pleasure at the idea of them suffering a long painful death.
This uncomfortable fact alerts me to the fact that I am far from a morally infallible person. And the idea that I am would be an illusion born of the fact that I live in circumstances where my morality is never really tested – Yes, I find it hard to imagine the person I am NOW doing the things you recount, but I grew up and am living reasonably well, in a reasonably peaceful, safe, stable and humane environment – I have never been faced with such ethical choices. I hope I never will. We live in societies where it is easier to climb than it is to fall. And we can all be angels if we are living in paradise. The question is how would each of us act were we living in Hell – living in Rwanda during the genocide, or Nazi Germany, or under Islamic State. It is too easy to delude ourselves that we would have a clear picture, clear choices and that we would act as moral heros. Some situations don’t offer moral options – only different immoral options.
Being alert to our own profound moral fallibility is, I suspect, the best way for us, as individuals, to guard against moral lapses – we are all, to some extent, living on moral ledges that give onto slippery slopes. If we act as if those slippery slopes don’t exist, as if we were immune from such lapses, as if we were surrounded only by rising ground, we actually increase the likelihood of, in our ignorance, blindly blundering over a ledge.
Moral humility seems the best option, because I believe that with moral humility comes moral vigilance. Just as those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, those who don’t recognise their own potential for evils are those most likely to enact them.
‘Homo sum; humani nil a me alienum puto’ – Terence

stephen6000

Very eloquently put.

stephen6000

Re my promise of some reading matter for Leonard and anyone else interested in the issues of free will, moral responsibility, blame, punishment etc….
The link below is to a review by Daniel Dennett of a book by Bruce Waller called ‘Against Moral Responsibility’. The review is followed by further discussion by Dennett,, Waller and Tom Clark. I’m in the process of reading this material myself and at this stage I’m not sure how closely the views of any of the participants would match my own. But I think it’s an interesting and hopefully informative read in any case.
http://www.naturalism.org/resources/book-reviews/dennett-review-of-against-moral-responsibility

leonard sisyphus mann

Thanks for that – it looks interesting, I’ll print it out and give it some proper attention, and also check out the subsequent exchanges.

bjmuirhead

From Waller’s Preface:

The basic claim of this book is that—all the extraordinary and creative efforts of contemporary philosophers notwithstanding—moral responsibility cannot survive in our naturalistic-scientific system. Moral responsibility was a comfortable fit among gods and miracles and mysteries, but the deeper scientific understanding of human behavior and the causes shaping
human character leaves no room for moral responsibility.

It seems to me that this is a very powerful point from which to begin, especially in light of the attempts of psychologists to explain morality “scientifically”.
I will have to read the rest of the book now! Thanks for the reference.

stephen6000

I’ve now finished reading the discussion. My position is close to those of Waller and Clark. (I think Clark’s contribution was particularly strong.) I wasn’t very impressed with Dennett, though I already knew of his fondness for moral responsibility.

bjmuirhead

I have always found Dennett rather —tedious. I was enormously amused by his outrage when And Clark had the temerity to disagree with him, which sums up my reaction to Dennett, whose philosophy I never have found particularly interesting or well enough argued that I could agree with him. (But I also am a little arrogant!) I am looking forward to reading the Waller next week, when I take a break from study (a postgraduate psychology degree, which is teaching me all the things I need to know to fully understand the research and results of psychologists researching paedophlia). Thanks again for the reference.

stephen6000

You’re very welcome.
I think Dennett is a brilliant writer of popular science, though not so strong as a philosopher. This will sound very scathing but really good writers of popular science are not ten a’ penny. (For example, I think Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’ is overrated, whatever his achievements as a physicist and not forgetting of course his remarkable triumph over his disability.)

Explorer

Calling Dennett “not so strong as a philosopher” – as you did below in the comments, Stephen – is a great understatement; in my opinion, he may be called one of the worst philosophers of all time, if not *the* worst one, because of his dubious achievement of proposing the only idea which falseness is absolute, the only mistake ever that is completely undeniable and perfectly hopeless: the notion that consciousness is an illusion.
The problem is, consciousness is the only phenomenon which real existence is 100% certain. With everything else, at least a miniscule drop of doubt is possible: however certain we are, for example, that the Earth is not flat but globular, there is always a tiny, microscopic, vanishingly small possibility that we all are mistaken after all, and those funny people who still insist that the Earth is flat are correct. Yet with consciousness, no doubt at all can exist – to doubt anything, one should be conscious in the first place!
I think, philosopher and theologian David Bentley Hart explained this point quite clearly in his short but crushing critique of Dennett’s philosophical exercises:
https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-illusionist

stephen6000

Yes, I agree with you, Explorer.

bjmuirhead

A lovely critique of Dennett, thank you for the link.
Having read it, it occurs to me that the problem with contemporary “scientific” psychology may be just that it is overly enamoured of statistics as a means of proving the mind does not exist, in as much as statistical analysis is the only manner in which it is thought to be able to prove anything about humanity as a machine. This is merely a stray thought on my part, but Hart’s (I think accurate) characterisation of Dennett’s position seems to be very close to what I am being taught in this postgrad psychology diploma I am doing, especially when consciousness and mind are discussed.This is to say that mind, consciousness, and behaviour, are being presented mechanistic reduction… Something I may think about more at a later point.
As a side point, I have to say that the level of knowledge and thought by so many people commenting on this blog puts me to shame, and almost always enlightens me about myriad issues.

leonard sisyphus mann

Response to Kit Marlowe.
Comment: https://tomocarroll.wordpress.com/2019/05/30/fgm-wedded-forever-to-religion/?replytocom=24231#comment-24231
You raise some interesting points – and virtually nothing I would cavil at.
I certainly would not deny that FGM is affected by local and political factors, but then again so is ‘Islam’. I admit that my essay is somewhat coarse-grained. I have no illusions that it is otherwise – I have never before had to communicate so much in so few words – and Tom proved exceptionally generous with word-count. But you are right to point out that one should not lose sight of the fact that the ‘big picture’ is, when one takes a magnifying glass to it, inevitably played-out in a welter of local and temporal details involving politics, tradition, geography, history, interest groups etc.
Any historical of sociological narrative has this quality – one can outline a broad historical economic theory of, say, feudalism, whilst trying to maintain an awareness that how that theory actually happens is some poverty-stricken father working out how he’s going feed his children that evening, or some land-owner making a decision as to what he’s going to do with the top field next year. But if one is summarising a big picture it is not always possible to present and integrate both levels of analysis.
But I certainly don’t think one level of analysis or focus invalidates the other – and I think that a study of Mackie’s papers (which I summarise) can restore some of that granularity.
This is an ongoing project, and I am very interested in doing country-by-country case studies. I’m currently focusing on Ethiopia and Eritrea – probably the countries that test most interestingly my ideas. I certainly want to study Indonesia in some depth, as well as Coastal West Africa (in particular Liberia), the Emberà and Yemen.
On Indonesia the following papers have been useful and interesting:
https://femalecircumcision.org/speaks-indonesian-female-circumcision-vesna-bocko/
– “Female Circumcision in Indonesia – Extent, Implications and Possible Interventions toUphold Women’s Health Right”
– “Female Circumcision in Southeast Asia since the Coming of Islam” by William G. Clarence-Smith – (chapter 5 of “Self-Determination and Women’s Rights in Muslim Societies” Edited by Chitra Raghavan and James P. Levine
– “The 2009 Malaysian Female Circumcision Fatwa: State ownership of Islam and the current impasse” Mary Ainslie (not about Indonesia – but nevertheless quite illuminating)
– “FEMALE GENITAL CUTTING IN INDONESIA – A FIELD STUDY” by 28toomany
The following maps compare Indonesian FGM rates with the distribution of Religions in Indonesia:comment image
>”My concern is that introducing ‘Islam’ – as a monolithic ideological entity – to the debate about genital cutting elides such subtle distinctions. Rather than helping us to understand the problem better, I fear it tempts us to understand less.”
I honestly don’t think I present Islam in a monolithic way – I certainly acknowledge that certain schools merely ‘allow’ FGM whilst others make it ‘obligatory’. I also acknowledge in my piece that many Moslems dislike the practice and are against it and wish that it were not ‘Islamic’. I could have used my 3000 words to fully communicate the full variety and range that is Islam, but if I had done so I suspect that my piece would have ended up being all about Islam and nothing about FGM.
I’m not quite sure how to respond to the fact that my essay has left you understanding less about FGM than you did before you read it.
I can only apologise.
But I must defend my piece somewhat – others who have read it here on HereticTOC, and others who have read versions of it elsewhere (both Moslems, non-Moslems and exMoslems) have responded to it positively, and to the effect that it has alerted them to the problem in a way nothing else has done, and that the arguments and evidence I present seems solid and convincing.
But I nevertheless do appreciate you responding to and testing my ideas.

leonard sisyphus mann

>> “But we need to distinguish two meanings of ‘responsible’: a general ‘causal’ one (as in ‘the landslide was responsible for 12 deaths’); and a ‘moral’ one (as in ‘Nazism was responsible for the Shoah’).”
>I accept your distinction, but I think that, strictly speaking, only individual Nazis are responsible in the moral sense. I’m not sure that it is correct to say that Nazism itself is responsible even in the causal sense. Can an abstraction be a cause? Still, this is a very minor point. We could just say ‘The fact that Nazis gained power caused the Shoah’.
Yes, but my primary interest in FGM is in the Causal sense.
I am happy to explore whether supra-individual entities can be moral agents – but my interest in FGM is working out its causes. I am happy to say ‘Islam is CAUSALLY responsible for FGM’ and leave it at that, and not extend my claim to ‘MORALLY responsible for FGM’.
Yet I do believe it is morally responsible – but that is my private (or at least ‘semi-private’) opinion. That Islam is CAUSALLY responsible for FGM’s perpetuation, spread and persistence is NOT my personal opinion but what the evidence objectively point towards.
>Can an abstraction be a cause?
I’d change that question to ‘can an idea be a cause?’
I think they can – why do we try to persuade others (i.e. convince them to change their ideas to ours) if not so that they can ultimately change their actions? When we try to persuade people that paedophilia is not the same thing as ‘child abuse’ we do so in order to bring about change, either in that individual or in Society.
>”What it implies is that the followers of Islam can do this.”
So what is ‘Islam’?
Just a random collection of individuals? No, Of course not. Moslems are defined by a shared set of ideas and beliefs. Ideas and beliefs they act upon and which act upon them.
>”It’s just that when matters get really tricky”
In what way are matters ‘really tricky’ vis a vis FGM?
>”There is, however, another, more specific, reason why we would do well not to ascribe responsibilities to anything other than individual people.”
I think you are being very harsh on ‘individual people’ – I would not blame an uneducated Somalian peasant woman, who’s was infibulated in childhood, knows nothing else and knows no better than to perpetuate the practice on her daughter.
It seems that blaming the ideology that has led to her doing this is fairer – ‘blaming the sin not the sinner’.
Likewise I don’t blame individual concentration camp guards – it would be vanity to pretend that in identical circumstances I would not have done the same. I blame Nazism and the complex of interests and individuals who brought Nazism about and made it powerful – the blame is a kind of pyramid – and diffuses from the top, where it is at its most intense, to the bottom.
>” The reason why this is a bad idea is that it complicates consideration of moral issues of blame or punishment, since, in addition to thinking about these things in relation to individuals (which is hard enough) we would have to figure out how to manage them in relation to collectives.”
But isn’t that like trying to counter an epidemic disease by addressing only each sick individual, not comparing or compiling data that represents them as a collectivity? thus blinding oneself to factors that are causing it epidemic character – it’s communication, its spread, its provenance?
If a new disease broke out in Europe and every one who had the disease came from a specific region, or shared a specific and peculiar dietary practice – wouldn’t your approach oblige us to ignore that fact? Thus assuring that the disease continued thriving?

stephen6000

> “Can an abstraction be a cause?
I’d change that question to ‘can an idea be a cause?’
I think they can – why do we try to persuade others (i.e. convince them to change their ideas to ours) if not so that they can ultimately change their actions? When we try to persuade people that paedophilia is not the same thing as ‘child abuse’ we do so in order to bring about change, either in that individual or in Society.”
I have no substantive disagreement with you here. You could read me, not as denying either that abstractions or ideas can be causes, but just as providing a gloss on what that means. For example, when we try to change people’s ideas in the hope that their ideas will then change their actions, what we hope is that their having those ideas will change their actions. It is a very narrow semantic point I am making here.
> “So what is ‘Islam’?
Just a random collection of individuals? No, Of course not. Moslems are defined by a shared set of ideas and beliefs. Ideas and beliefs they act upon and which act upon them.”
True, but nothing I have said implies otherwise. (My comment below on your final point may help to make this clearer.)
>”It’s just that when matters get really tricky
In what way are matters ‘really tricky’ vis a vis FGM?”
I think one way that matters can ‘get really tricky’ (in the area of FGM and in other areas) is when we approach them at too high a level of generality. Returning to your earlier statement:
‘The existence of FGM today (and for much of the past 1400 years) is essentially the responsibility of Islam’.
If someone accepts this statement, it MIGHT lead them to say ‘Well, let’s just get rid of Islam then’. But as you and I both know, it is not as quite simple as that! Focusing on the individuals involved helps us to recognise the point that I keep coming back to that different remedies are needed in different situations.
Another point is that the statement will strike many as intensely Islamophobic. If by expressing yourself more cautiously, you could avoid that accusation, why not do so? Of course, you might be unembarrassed by the accusation. But in that case, you disqualify yourself from being able to influence a lot of people whom you would need to influence in order to help get rid of FGM.
> “There is, however, another, more specific, reason why we would do well not to ascribe responsibilities to anything other than individual people.
I think you are being very harsh on ‘individual people’ – I would not blame an uneducated Somalian peasant woman, who’s was infibulated in childhood, knows nothing else and knows no better than to perpetuate the practice on her daughter.
It seems that blaming the ideology that has led to her doing this is fairer – ‘blaming the sin not the sinner’.”
No, I wouldn’t blame the Somalian peasant woman either. My point was that I am going to ascribe moral responsibilities only to individuals, not that I am going to ascribe them to ALL individuals whom some very judgemental person might want me to. (In fact, being a free-will sceptic, I might not ascribe them to anyone.)
> “The reason why this is a bad idea is that it complicates consideration of moral issues of blame or punishment, since, in addition to thinking about these things in relation to individuals (which is hard enough) we would have to figure out how to manage them in relation to collectives.
But isn’t that like trying to counter an epidemic disease by addressing only each sick individual, not comparing or compiling data that represents them as a collectivity? thus blinding oneself to factors that are causing it epidemic character – it’s communication, its spread, its provenance?
If a new disease broke out in Europe and every one who had the disease came from a specific region, or shared a specific and peculiar dietary practice – wouldn’t your approach oblige us to ignore that fact? Thus assuring that the disease continued thriving?”
No, it doesn’t mean that. I’m saying that you should (at most) blame and punish individuals. You don’t have to punish the collectives as well. The parallel statement about diseases is that you cure individuals. You don’t have to additionally cure collections of individuals. (Curing a mass of individuals just is curing the individuals involved.) This has nothing to do with the methods you use for curing diseases, which should not proceed as if individuals were isolated from one another, because, as you point out, they obviously aren’t.

leonard sisyphus mann

>”If someone accepts this statement, it MIGHT lead them to say ‘Well, let’s just get rid of Islam then’. But as you and I both know, it is not as quite simple as that! Focusing on the individuals involved helps us to recognise the point that I keep coming back to that different remedies are needed in different situations.”
No one has yet, as far as FGM is concerned, proposed getting rid of Islam as the global solution to FGM. I’m not sure how this would be achievable.
However I think it is an option worth considering on a local level: I would suggest that if Moslems, especially recent immigrants, find that their religion prevents them respecting the laws of the non-Moslem country that is their host, if they place Sharia above their country’s laws, then repatriation should certainly be an option.
I suspect that the most effective remedy for FGM in non-Moslem countries is the interventionist, zero-tolerance of the kind Ayaan Hirsi Ali outlined. Tolerance à la Brid Hehir is little different to ‘encouragement’ (she wants FGM to be available for free on the NHS) but has the advantage that the communities who wish to perpetrate the crimes don’t get offended. But if not offending the community in question is the primary concern, then that suggests that the real problem we are facing is a much bigger one than just FGM…
A zero-tolerance approach can only be done if at-risk groups (e.g. Somali immigrants) are identified. But if we focus on individuals and turn a blind eye to the doctrinal and kinship factors that cause FGM we will not be able to identify and address at-risk populations and at-risk girls. If a Somali mother has no intention of having her child cut, this is probably because she disapproves of FGM and will therefore tend to agree with such measures being taken to prevent others in her community practicing FGM. If a mother DOES intend to have her daughter cut then I honestly don’t care that her feelings are offended – I’d rather her daughters were spared infibulation.
Social policy addresses individual social problems by focusing on causes and the collectivity – reducing VAT, better housing policies, job creation, community policing, sure-start schemes for pre-schoolers, improved transport and infrastructure etc etc all address on a collective level problems that manifest themselves on the individual and interpersonal level (crime, unemployment, delinquency, teen pregnancy, low social mobility, homelessness…) and this approach generally works.
Addressing FGM ‘individually’ means a reactive policy which kicks-in only after the girl has been cut, in the (unlikely) event of it being detected. It’s too late then. A proactive approach must calculate risk factors and act on them. If that means stigmatising a community so be it – if that community wishes not to be stigamatised then they must work to eliminate the FGM problem amongst them.
>”Islamophobic”
I think that several comment threads have been spiraling around this word without quite actually following it down the u-bend.
It’s funny, I often read on blogs such as Tom’s and in the comment sections quite strong unobfuscated criticism of groups and ideologies such as VirPeds, Capitalism, feminists, paedophobes and Christians. But never see accusations of VirPedophobia, Capitalismophobia, feministophobia, Paedophobeophobia (!?!) or Christianophobia aimed at those making the (oft-justified) criticisms.
Why is it only Moslems and Islam that have criticism of them, or the statement of unflattering facts, labelled a ‘phobia’? Last time I checked VirPeds weren’t crowding RadPeds into churches and burning them down as Moslems are now routinely doing to Christians in Nigeria, nor was it a Christian who entered Manchester Arena, full of children, and slaughtering 30 of them as a sacremental act, whilst righteously intoning ‘In the name of the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit’; nor was common or garden paedophobes routinely taking blades to their daughters’ genitals.
What is special about Moslems and Islam that evident truths and facts have to be sensitively presented, like a man preparing a display of meat in a room full of hungry hyenas? And this from a group of people – paedophiles – who habitually, fearlessly, joyfully and defiantly stand and speak against some of Society’s deepest taboos?
I don’t think a hatred of political Islam is any more ‘phobia’ than are the hatred of Communism or Fascism. No political ideology should be protected by having its critics branded as suffering from a ‘phobia’.
>”If by expressing yourself more cautiously, you could avoid that accusation, why not do so? Of course, you might be unembarrassed by the accusation. But in that case, you disqualify yourself from being able to influence a lot of people whom you would need to influence in order to help get rid of FGM.”
You are right: I am as unembarrassed at the accusation of being an Islamophobe’ as I am at being a ‘paedophile apologist’.
I have few illusions about making a difference in getting rid of FGM. Twice in my life I have found myself unable to turn my back on truths that the World doesn’t want to hear – first with paedophilia, then with FGM – it is enough to have done my bit in teasing out some Truths. I’m not a doer, I’m (on a good day) a thinker: what the World does with those Truths is the World’s business, not mine.

stephen6000

There are two main strands to your position, as I now understand it: (1) a view about the best way to tackle FGM; and (2) an insistence that your general approach should not be considered to make you vulnerable to any genuinely embarrassing charge of ‘islamophobia’.
I will say very little about the first, as it is an empirical matter in which my knowledge of the relevant facts is limited (though somewhat improved by your own revelations). But I cannot fail to notice you still think I have said something which pushes me to favour certain kinds of solutions rather than others. As I have provided no empirical evidence myself, that would be a damaging charge if it were true. But it is not true. Mainly what I was doing was to suggest a little more accuracy of formulation, something which, at the very least, does no harm to the debate.
Now for the second strand. Your claim that special treatment is being demanded for Moslems is wrong, as least as it applies to anything I have said. It is fine to criticise Islamic doctrines (just as it is fine to criticise Christian doctrines, VirPed views or anything else), though it would be more politic to describe them as fundamentalist Islamic doctrines, so as to allow for the possibility of a form of Islam not defined by a slavish adherence to the texts (something that is important if you want Islam to reform, which I think you have said you do). That is not Islamophobia. Islamophobia, in the sense in which I was using the word, is disrespecting or hating Moslem people merely because of their religious beliefs. I don’t think you are Islamophobic in this sense. My point is that your refusal to soften your language in ways which, I maintain, do not diminish the truth-value of what you say makes it likely you will be accused of Islamophobia, which could lose you potential allies in the fight against FGM. But this brings us to your final paragraph, the first sentence of which seems to imply that you have given up on that fight as far as your own personal role is concerned: “I have few illusions about making a difference in getting rid of FGM.” But if there is even the slightest chance that a somewhat different tone would increase the likelihood of getting rid of, or at least reducing, this practice, which we both agree to be abhorrent, shouldn’t you take it? Yes, we have to respect the truth and your piece scores well in that regard. In particular, you certainly succeed in demolishing the idea that ‘FGM has nothing to do with Islam’. But in refusing to adjust your tone in the ways suggested, is it possible you may be paying too much deference, not to truth, but to dramatic impact? Now the latter is admittedly important in getting people’s attention in the first place. But once you have got their attention, it is not necessarily helpful, for the reasons I have tried to indicate.

leonard sisyphus mann

“But if there is even the slightest chance that a somewhat different tone would increase the likelihood of getting rid of, or at least reducing, this practice, which we both agree to be abhorrent, shouldn’t you take it?”
I take your point, Stephen6000.
My piece is a radical condensation of a work-in-progress that currently stands at just under 100,000 words. And I have left out much that I think is most interesting (the demographics of polygyny are fascinating, especially to someone with an interest in maths and statistics). My criteria for my writing (and research) have been accuracy, evidence and clarity. I’m too deeply entrenched in those qualities to add another criterion – making what I say less objectionable to the easily-offended – especially since adding that criterion would risk compromising the virtues of the other criteria.
But the answer is that it doesn’t have to be ME who adopts a different tone in order to promulgate these idea to ‘FGM/Islam-deniers’. I just don’t have the ‘ear’ or the sympathy necessary. But others who are apprised of the facts, and who are less set in their ways than myself will, I’m sure, be better able and willing than I to interpret and present these facts and ideas to the ‘reluctant-of-hearing’.
This is where I hope that some who’ve read my article, and who see some worth in it, can come in: I’m not asking or expecting that people devote their lives to the issue, but to simply defend the truth and facts when the occasion arises, and in doing so bring these facts and evidence to ears and minds of those who may not have been predisposed to hear them from myself.
Next time someone says ‘FGM has nothing to do with Islam’ maybe to say “I think that you may not be entirely correct..isn’t there a verse in the Koran that says ‘adhere to the fitrah..?” and take the story from there. Even if they don’t come away persuaded, they will come away with their assumptions shaken.

leonard sisyphus mann

This morning, thinking about the ideas that you have been developing, it struck me that they are quite reminiscent of Jordan Peterson’s position on ‘responsibility’.
In what follows I’m going to presume that you are either aware of his ideas and that you have some sympathy with them. And my apologies if I presume wrongly.
I agree with much of Peterson’s position – especially his rejection of intersectionality, identity politics and ‘collectivism’.
However I think that Peterson’s point is that responsibility PRIMARILY lies with the individual (his ‘bedroom-cleaning’ schtick is that you must FIRST get your house in order BEFORE trying to get the World in order – which implies that eventually we can and should assume some responsibility for the collective as well as oneself).
However, we must not fall into the trap of conflating ‘identity’ with ‘ideology’.
Whilst Peterson rejects attributing blame or virtue to identities, I think he’d limit that indemnity to unchosen identities – he seems perfectly ready to acknowledge that ‘responsibility’ can lie with chosen identities (he does not spare ‘collectivists’ and ‘identitarians’ for the consequences of choosing those identities). If one chooses to adhere to a noxious ideology and one commits bad acts as a result, one is no less responsible than a drunk driver – we are allowed to drink, but when under the influence of drink we commit bad acts the fact that we were drunk does not morally absolve us.
Nor does he spare ‘ideologies’ of moral responsibility – he clearly blames Communist ideology for the ills of communis. In his extended discussion with Slavo Zizek (https://youtu.be/lsWndfzuOc4 ) he traces the evils of Communism back to the ideology, not to ‘communists’. This seems a valid thing to do – and this is what I have done with FGM and Islam.
I’ve reread my piece – and feel confident in asserting that ‘Moslems’ are not ultimately morally responsible for FGM. Mohammed is – he is the individual who, in the 7th Century ensured that the ‘FGM switch’ would for ever more be set to ‘on’, where he could have just as easily set it to ‘off’ with a single verse in his Koran.
Anyway, it would be interesting to hear how Peterson answers the question – ‘can an Ideology be held ‘responsible’ in more than a causal sense for its consequences? – and can it qualify for ‘moral responsibility’? ‘ – he seems very open to questions on his youtube channel. I might post him the question and see.

stephen6000

No, I haven’t been influenced by Peterson. I’ve only ever hear him say one interesting thing and it wasn’t about this topic!
I hold pretty closely to total rejection of the idea of moral responsibility. If I was ever going to attribute MR to anything it would have to be to an individual person. But in fact I want to get rid of the idea altogether. Admittedly, I did wobble a bit in an earlier comment, suggesting that some kind of ‘thin’ version of MR might be workable, but I’m now inclined to go back on that. Of course, I’m human and sometimes feel resentment or even occasionally anger at people for the things they do. But that is not a factor that should determine the right course of action in a given situation.

leonard sisyphus mann

I suspect that I am probably profoundly misunderstanding your position (and I’m sure that the fault lies with myself, not you) but I really can’t see how any society – be it human or even non-human – can function without the idea of moral responsibility.
Can you envisage how one can bring up a child without teaching him/her notions of moral responsibility?
Now I understand that if one believes that free will is an illusion one can conclude that ‘responsibility’ is an illusion too (though I don’t necessarily accept that one follows from the other), but some illusions are necessary because doing otherwise destroys us – it’s an illusion to think that solid objects are ‘solid’ – atoms and sub-atomic particles being mostly ‘nothing’. But telling yourself THAT is not much use when you’re about to be hit by a runaway train. Language is an illusion – we see things, people and events, when all we are doing is listening to grunts or looking at marks on paper , but where would humanity be without language?
Anyway, I sense that we’re starting to generate more heat than light – I’m happy for us to agree to differ if that is what you prefer.

stephen6000

I think what I’ll do is see if I can find some good, accessible anti-moral responsibility writing that you might be interested in reading.
I should really have explained a bit more my reference to resentment and anger. I made that statement about the need to set aside these things for serious moral deliberation because SOME authors understand MR in terms of these so-called reactive attitudes, but it needs to be acknowledged that not all do.

daniel

I’ve come across this study recently don’t know if you have read about it Tom but when it comes to this kind of thing I’ve never seen anyone bring up this kind of topic and I feel that more studies/people within these kind of circles should also be sharing this kind of awareness.
https://3gjb993i3yk5b587o4gvsboz-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/csa.pdf

daniel

>Crucially, it starts from the assumption that all child-adult sexual contacts are harmful (and therefore abusive) when this need not be the case. In more favourable cultural circumstances these relationships can be beneficial.
What I will say here is that you are right it need not be the case but sadly because of the law some people who have been burned by negative sexual encounters don’t fully grasp the concept of the law until its to late.
>The underlying idea, is that child sex “abusers” are like vampires. Once a vampire has sucked blood from its victim, it turns the victim into a vampire, who will then suck other people’s blood and create yet more victims and vampires.
I can see what they are getting at, when a minor has had a bad sexual experience I think the harm caused can turn you into a sort of vampire ie it can confuse the victim to some extent by hindering one’s judgement on what society deems appropriate but that doesn’t mean that the person will act out in a sexual way or at least not all the time, however I do feel in order to save children from the potential fate that society has placed in the wake of victims these people who could end up victims in the future need to learn from the former victims who where lead down the wrong path.

daniel

of course it does but the problem is that they are too stubborn, however children still need to be protected in the meantime.
>When society is leading us all down the wrong path, isn’t it society that needs to take a new direction?

Christian

Indeed, the “vampirism” hypothesis fails because, as you point out, girls experience more sexual proposals and sexual assaults than boys, but there are fewer female paedophiles than male ones. I would add that the sexual abuse on boys that one usually has in mind is generally not of a boy having a sexual experience with a woman, it is a boy with a man. So we are left with an avatar of the old “homosexual recruitment” or “homosexual seduction” doctrine. It states that heterosexuality perpetuates itself through sexual reproduction, while homosexuality perpetuates itself through recruitment; in other words, little children are born innocent but nevertheless heterosexual, and if they become homosexual in adulthood, it means that they have been “seduced” by a homosexual in their youth.
Bruce Rind did a good short article on this topic, see Homosexual Orientation – From Nature, Not Abuse: A Critique of Roberts, Glymour, and Koenen, in Arch Sex Behav (2013), DOI 10.1007/s10508-013-0080-6

Off topic:
Mailing list “mnop”.
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stephen6000

Incidentally, Leonard, I liked your piece, but for some reason WordPress is not letting me ‘like’ it!

stephen6000

OK, fixed now. It seems it was because of TOR.

stephen6000

‘FGM is an islamic problem’. The trouble with this statement is not so much that it is entirely untrue, but that it is unhelpful. FGM is more of an islamic problem in some places but less in others. A related point is that different remedies may be suitable in different contexts. In largely secular societies in which fundamentalist islam is becoming eroded anyway as many young moslems adopt more western lifestyles, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s highly pro-active approach, as advocated by Leonard, may be the right one, whereas in situations where fundamentalist islam is still very powerful. Kit Malowe’s ‘damage limitation’ approach may be better.

leonard sisyphus mann

Thank you for your comment Stephen6000
I must point out that it was Tom, not I, who wrote ‘FGM is an islamic problem’.
I don’t repudiate Tom’s summary of my piece but if I had to summarise it in a single phrase it would be something like:
“the existence of FGM today (and for much of the past 1400 years) is essentially the responsibility of Islam”
I choose the word ‘responsibility’ advisedly – we are responsible for much more than those of our actions that reflect our best intentions, or are in accordance with our best conception of ourselves. And much of Islam’s responsibility for FGM happens outside of that domain – inadvertently, negligently.
(this is the conception of ‘responsibility’ we appeal to when we consider FGM in terms of whether it is ‘islamic’ or not. The Iron Maiden was not Christian, but Christianity engendered it, albeit inadvertently, despite the best possible conception of ‘Christianity’. As such Christianity IS responsible – granted, in a rather complicated manner – for the horrors of the Inquisition).
The other tricky word is ‘Islam’ – that could be defined in many ways, but ultimately the roots of FGM do ultimately lie in the Koran (verse 30:30), the Sunnah (or Hadith) and the structure of authority by which Islamic doctrine is generated and justified. And those are also the ultimate locus of ‘Islam’.
>” related point is that different remedies may be suitable in different contexts. In largely secular societies in which fundamentalist islam is becoming eroded anyway as many young moslems adopt more western lifestyles, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s highly pro-active approach, as advocated by Leonard, may be the right one, whereas in situations where fundamentalist islam is still very powerful. Kit Malowe’s ‘damage limitation’ approach may be better.”
Yes, I think this may be the best policy.

stephen6000

>“the existence of FGM today (and for much of the past 1400 years) is essentially the responsibility of Islam”
I don’t think that religions as such have responsibilities . It’s people (some of whom may be religious believers) who have responsibilities. This may appear pedantic, but it actually helps us to focus on the more concrete aspects of the problem. However, the fact that you agree with my comment about different kinds of remedies being needed in different situations suggests that you already accept to a great extent the need to think about these things in concrete terms.

leonard sisyphus mann

>”I don’t think that religions as such have responsibilities . It’s people (some of whom may be religious believers) who have responsibilities.”
What do you think of what I wrote in my conclusion:
“Religions are keen to take credit for any good they can lay claim to, but should they not be held equally responsible for any ills they (knowingly or inadvertently) engender, aggravate or perpetuate?”
Would you agree that ‘taking credit’ and ‘taking responsibility’ are essentially the same thing – just that one applies to positive things and the other (tends to) be applied to negative things?
If Religions can take credit for moral gains (and I think that in many instances they can), that implies they are entities that are ‘responsible’. Can a moral entity be responsible for goods it engenders, without also being responsible for any ills it engenders too?

stephen6000

>Can a moral entity be responsible for goods it engenders, without also being responsible for any ills it engenders too?
No, I don’t think it can. But I don’t see a RELIGION as a moral entity, so I don’t see it as being responsible for either good or ill. It is the individuals who are responsible for these things, although, of course, they may be influenced by religious doctrines in either case. (Even then, it would, it my view, be quite a ‘thin’ notion of responsibility, as I don’t believe in free will. Roughly speaking, a being is responsible in this sense when it would make sense to try and influence that being by moral persuasion.)
On the other hand, it would make sense as an ‘ad hominem’ point to draw attention to the inconsistency in someone’s giving credit to a religion for the good it causes but not blaming it for the ill and to that extent I think you are right.

leonard sisyphus mann

>”it would make sense as an ‘ad hominem’ point to draw attention to the inconsistency in someone’s giving credit to a religion for the good it causes but not blaming it for the ill and to that extent I think you are right.”
But must not this particular inconsistency be resolved one way or another? I see no fence upon which we can sit with regards to this question.
>”But I don’t see a RELIGION as a moral entity, so I don’t see it as being responsible for either good or ill”
But surely you agree that ‘ideas’ and ‘beliefs’ have the potential to generate goods or ills, as soon as people act on those beliefs or ideas?
But we need to distinguish two meanings of ‘responsible’: a general ‘causal’ one (as in ‘the landslide was responsible for 12 deaths’); and a ‘moral’ one (as in ‘Nazism was responsible for the Shoah’).
I think there can be no doubt that an ideology can be CAUSALLY responsible for bad outcomes, for isn’t (for example) the concept of a ‘Just War’ an ideology that can cause, or certainly facilitate, war – which inevitably entails ills?
>”But I don’t see a RELIGION as a moral entity, so I don’t see it as being responsible for either good or ill. It is the individuals who are responsible for these things”
But ultimately RELIGIONS are composed of individuals – granted, large numbers of them, and spread across wide ranges of Time.
But this means that Religion (like Culture) takes on certain characteristics of the individual human. I suggest that Moral Agency is one of them.
I think there are two criteria necessary for something to be a Moral Agent:
1/ the capacity to make moral or ethical calculations
2/ the capacity to act or not act based on those calculations
Clearly Religions fulfill the first condition – indeed, other than constructing supernatural cosmologies, they do little else than make moral and ethical calculations and claims.
As to the second, I would argue that Religions have demonstrated a huge capacity for agency – indeed they have largely shaped the History of Mankind. The fact that each religion defines distinct zones of moral activity testifies to this (take for example the difference in the treatment of animals between Jains and Moslems – that difference can’t be explained without recourse to Religion).
Moreover, much of the discussion on FGM on this very page has tacitly treated ‘Islam’ as a moral agent – for example, what else does the the hope and belief that Islam can change its doctrine and practice on FGM imply, other than some form of capacity to make ethical calculations and act (or not) on them?
If we asked or hope the same thing of Somalian mother would we not be doing so because we recognised her as a ‘moral agent’?

stephen6000

> “But must not this particular inconsistency [in someone’s giving credit to a religion for the good it causes but not blaming it for the ill] be resolved one way or another? I see no fence upon which we can sit with regards to this question.”
You’re right. But in my view, the strictly correct way to resolve it is to give neither credit nor blame to the religion, as, in their strictest sense, these things cannot logically be attributed to a religion as such. (It is a ‘category mistake’ to do so.) But of course, in a looser sense, we could both credit and blame a religion for things. When we do so, we are crediting and blaming the adherents of that religion.
> “But we need to distinguish two meanings of ‘responsible’: a general ‘causal’ one (as in ‘the landslide was responsible for 12 deaths’); and a ‘moral’ one (as in ‘Nazism was responsible for the Shoah’).”
I accept your distinction, but I think that, strictly speaking, only individual Nazis are responsible in the moral sense. I’m not sure that it is correct to say that Nazism itself is responsible even in the causal sense. Can an abstraction be a cause? Still, this is a very minor point. We could just say ‘The fact that Nazis gained power caused the Shoah’.
> “I think there can be no doubt that an ideology can be CAUSALLY responsible for bad outcomes, for isn’t (for example) the concept of a ‘Just War’ an ideology that can cause, or certainly facilitate, war – which inevitably entails ills?”
Yes, that’s implied by my last answer, provided we read ‘The ideology caused the war’ as ‘The fact that some people followed the ideology caused the war’.
>”I think there are two criteria necessary for something to be a Moral Agent:
1/ the capacity to make moral or ethical calculations
2/ the capacity to act or not act based on those calculations
Clearly Religions fulfil the first condition – indeed, other than constructing supernatural cosmologies, they do little else than make moral and ethical calculations and claims.
As to the second, I would argue that Religions have demonstrated a huge capacity for agency – indeed they have largely shaped the History of Mankind. The fact that each religion defines distinct zones of moral activity testifies to this (take for example the difference in the treatment of animals between Jains and Moslems – that difference can’t be explained without recourse to Religion).”
I think religions fail both of your conditions for being moral agents.
Regarding condition (1), suppose at time t the Pope is calculating that divorce is wrong while the Archbishop of Canterbury is calculating that it is OK. Which calculation is THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION making at t? None. Only certain individuals are making calculations.
Regarding condition (2), again I would say that it is the individuals concerned – a great number of them, no doubt – who are deciding and acting on various moral norms, such as how to treat animals, though again, I accept that they are often guided by religious doctrines.
> “Moreover, much of the discussion on FGM on this very page has tacitly treated ‘Islam’ as a moral agent – for example, what else does the hope and belief that Islam can change its doctrine and practice on FGM imply, other than some form of capacity to make ethical calculations and act (or not) on them?”
What it implies is that the followers of Islam can do this.
I should emphasise that I am not trying to issue some kind of diktat, applicable in all circumstances, against talking of religions as having responsibilities. Most of the time, we will understand each other OK. It’s just that when matters get really tricky, we would do well to remember that it is the responsibilities of individual people we are talking about. This helps to keep our deliberations concrete and practical, encouraging us to favour approaches such as the one we both agreed was appropriate for FGM in which we tailor our actions to the specific circumstances of the situation.
There is, however, another, more specific, reason why we would do well not to ascribe responsibilities to anything other than individual people. If we do, we may start to think that collectives, such as corporations, states – and maybe religions if we conceive of them as collectives – are moral entities and that they can be appropriate objects of blame or punishment. The reason why this is a bad idea is that it complicates consideration of moral issues of blame or punishment, since, in addition to thinking about these things in relation to individuals (which is hard enough) we would have to figure out how to manage them in relation to collectives. (There is even a danger that people will get punished twice – once as individuals and secondly as members of collectives.) I know some philosophers would disagree with me about this, but perhaps I should not pursue it any further now, as I hope that I have already given you enough to think about.

leonard sisyphus mann
Kit Marlowe

And a further question: put simply, why do we assume that FGC is always bad? Leonard does seem to make this assumption – he compares genital cutting to murder – but it’s not at all clear to me on what basis he makes this moral (?) judgment. Certainly there doesn’t seem a clear reason for condemning FGC that everyone could agree upon. (The same, of course, might well be true of murder – we cannot always even agree on a common definition in that case).
And I think this community – of all people! – should be wary of knee-jerk moral reactions that conform to the preconceptions of our culture. It seems to me that many people might think that genital cutting is not analogous with murder, but rather with paedophilia: the physical victimisation of a helpless child with potentially life-changing consequences. (And as we know, anything that involves both children and sex is going to rouse very strong emotional responses among the irremediably well-meaning).
But what if the story is more complicated than this? What if the social realities of non-Western societies don’t always fit our preconceived narratives? What if some girls actually *want* to be cut for reasons that make a lot of sense in their cultural (and not just religious!) context? How do we – Western, non-Muslim secularists – justify telling them that they’re wrong? And if we do, how can we then argue against the imposition of Western sexual norms on non-Western societies in other ways as well?

leonard sisyphus mann

>”And a further question: put simply, why do we assume that FGC is always bad? Leonard does seem to make this assumption ”
Yes, I guess I do.
>” he compares genital cutting to murder”
The passage in which I make that comparison has a purport that is more ‘meta’ than the one you picked up from it – more about making evident linguistic obfuscation than about saying ‘FGM is akin to murder’ (though an argument could be made that it often is something close to ‘manslaughter’)
>”Certainly there doesn’t seem a clear reason for condemning FGC that everyone could agree upon.”
I don’t think what is ‘ethically right’ is necessary what ‘everyone could agree upon’. I’m sure you would consider certain improvements to the way the West treats children and paedophiles as ethically or morally desirable. Are they rendered less ethically or morally desirable because not everyone in our society would agree with them?
I’d also argue that the FGM’s adverse consequences I list early on in my piece offer clear reasons which everyone could agree upon. I suspect that even the parents who practice FGM don’t want their children to suffer these ills, but see them as necessary evils and risks.
>”And I think this community – of all people! – should be wary of knee-jerk moral reactions that conform to the preconceptions of our culture”
If cultural relativism (which is what it seems the position you are advocating boils down to) excuses/justifies FGM, then why does not our existence within Western culture not also justify the repression of paedophiles and of child sexuality? Are only the harmful acts of other cultures protected by Cultural Relativism? If it is OK for a Somalian to infibulate her daughters why is it not OK for Western parents to deprive their children of sexual experiences the children might desire?
I think we should resist our experience as paedophiles turning us into moral cynics. If we perceive the situation of ourselves and children in the West as somehow unjust, is that not essentially because we judge it immoral, unfair?
Granted, our ethical intuitions and deductions may be wrong or misguided or misinformed – but that does not mean we should give up on ethics – no more than the fact that science and scientists often get it wrong discredits the scientific project and the goods that it has engendered. The point of ethics, as with Science, and Culture is not to get to an end point where we have the ‘right answers’, but to try to travel in the right direction, hopefully shifting humanity in that way a little as we do.
>”It seems to me that many people might think that genital cutting is not analogous with murder, but rather with paedophilia”
True, but the crucial thing is that we KNOW that paedophilia is not ‘the physical victimisation of a helpless child with potentially life-changing consequences’. We also know that FGM IS ‘a the physical victimisation of a helpless child with potentially life-changing consequences’. Knowledge is what allows us to break out of moral relativism.
>”How do we – Western, non-Muslim secularists – justify telling them that they’re wrong?”
We justify telling them they’re wrong because
1/ doing so falls under the category of ‘free speech’, and
2/ it is wrong to remain silent when one perceives injustice, even if it is someone from another culture committing it.
Likewise Moslems have a right to point out what they consider as injustices of the West, or other non-Moslem ideologies. From such ‘pointing out’, conducted with respect and without violence, it is possible for different cultures to see themselves as other cultures do, and to use what they learn to progress. I would argue that the Japanese did this supremely well after WWII.
We may be wrong in our condemnations, it may not be an injustice – but the only way of testing and knowing that is via the free exchange of ideas and free speech. We learn little from isolation and silence. Criticism is a useful part of any quest for knowledge and progress, and that applies as much between cultures as much as within them.

Kit Marlowe

I’m not quite sure whether I should object to being accused of ‘cultural relativism’ or not – certainly I reject the suggestion that an element of relativism equates to moral cynicism. But I am certainly resistant to the opposite of moral cynicism – call it ‘moral naivete’ if you like!
In fact, I – like almost everyone – am ultimately a moral absolutist. My own moral principles derive from a religious tradition. Of course, I think the moral teachings of my faith tradition are universal and apply to everyone regardless of who and where they are – but it hasn’t escaped my notice that those outside my faith tend to found their moral judgments on very different principles. And so in this respect I am a relativist: not in the sense that I don’t think universal moral principles exist, but in the sense that there’s no neutral or values-free position from which to approach them.
Which means that in any moral dialogue across such divides we need to start by acknowledging which tradition we are coming from and on what basis we propose to establish moral claims. I don’t say that a Westerner can’t object to female genital cutting on moral grounds: merely that it’s necessary to acknowledge the assumptions you make – the basis on which you object to it (Kantian? utilitarian? feminist? Christian?) – and not to pretend that there are moral truths out there that should be blindingly obvious to anyone regardless of where they are coming from. Criticism across cultures may indeed be possible, but it is unlikely to be very insightful if it is not embarked upon with critical self-awareness.
There is another reason too why I think the question I asked in the post above – “why is FGC wrong?” – is important. People who think that female genital cutting is wrong may do so for entirely different reasons, and this may influence not only their approach to the problem but also the solution they would think desirable. If you think female genital cutting is wrong because it often results in death and disability for the girl concerned (I guess we could call this the ‘consequentialist’ argument), then you might be satisfied with more hygienic surgical practices – infibulation in sterile hospitals performed by trained medics, for instance. And if you adopt this angle then you are unlikely to object strongly to the Indonesian practice, which is both largely safe and medically far less invasive than the East African procedure. If, on the other hand, your starting point is liberal individualism (the point-of-view of many Western feminists), then you are likely to see even the relatively minor surgery inflicted on girls in Indonesia as a violation of a woman’s bodily autonomy. Then again, a radical feminist might see female genital cutting as a manifestation of the universal problem of male sexual violence against women’s bodies, which can only be addressed by the destruction of patriarchal power relations everywhere. I have an element of sympathy with each of these positions, but they are coming from quite different places, and each speaking a different moral and political language from the others.
So I think it is worth thinking hard about our moral judgements: not just so that we can state them more persuasively to people who may by no means share our foundational beliefs and assumptions, but also so that we can clarify for ourselves just exactly what it is that we think is right.

bjmuirhead

How do we – Western, non-Muslim secularists – justify telling them that they’re wrong? And if we do, how can we then argue against the imposition of Western sexual norms on non-Western societies in other ways as well?

The answer to this, and in particular the first question, is that we do not need to justify our moral opinions in this way. The issue is one of perceived harm, with those who advocate FGM claiming (social/religious/etc) harm if the procedure is not performed, and those who are against FGM claiming harm if it is performed. The issue of religion is secondary to this perceived harm, especially if there is no direct religious injunction to perform FGM. (I rely on LSM’s assertions that there are no direct “commandments” in this respect.) The easily substantiated claim is that FGM causes harm to at least some of the people on whom the procedure is performed, depending on the nature and extent of the operation, which differs from place to place (apparently), The question is one of just what that harm is. On one account the harm is that, if not performed, the girls in question suffers morally, religiously, socially. On the other, the claim is that the harm is physical, at the very least, and more, especially when it comes to matters of pregnancy, birth, and sexual satisfaction, though the latter is something which is not likely to be a consideration to those who approve of FGM.
As for the second question, do we need to justify the imposition of sexual norms on another society/culture? In every culture there are people who have morality and sexual norms forced upon them. Perhaps what you are questioning is merely a special case of this?
Anyway, comment long enough.

Kit Marlowe

Female genital cutting (a more neutral term than ‘mutilation’) seems to be a topic that it is almost impossible to discuss temperately, but I’m not sure that introducing Islam into the mix clarifies matters at all. Describing female genital cutting as a Muslim problem ignores the fact that, for instance, very large numbers of Christian girls undergo cutting in countries such as Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. According to Wikipedia, in Niger “55 percent of Christian women and girls had experienced it, against two percent of Muslim women and girls.” It also ignores the fact that there are many predominantly-Muslim countries where the practice is virtually unknown. Claiming that FGC is a Muslim problem is like saying gun-crime is a Christian one: sort-of true, but ultimately misleading (you’re much more likely to learn about gun-crime by studying the history of the US constitution or the illegal arms trade).
Less commonly-acknowledged in the West is the fact that FGC has a lot of support in many places where it is practiced – including from women and girls. And this is not simply an indicator of patriarchal oppression and subjugation: in Indonesia, where women generally enjoy a lot of political and social freedom, more than 90% of people are supportive of FGC for religious and ‘hygienic’ reasons. And this is another thing – just as male circumcision is prevalent even among groups who do not require it for religious reasons, so FGC has a cultural prestige attached to it among many of the not-very-religious: it is seen as healthy and clean and sexually desirable. It’s hard to see how talking about Muslim theology (especially non-Muslims talking about Muslim theology!) are going to change that. Instead, it’s more useful to look carefully at local factors that give rise to such practices in very different ways and in different contexts. This is what opponents of FGC tend to do in the countries where it is practiced: I am yet to hear a single anti-FGC campaigner in Africa or Asia argue that we should be talking more about Islam.
As Leonard rightly says, FGC is deeply embedded in many cultures (even if I profoundly disagree with him about just *why* it is so deeply embedded), and it is unlikely to go away. Given that this is so, I wonder whether the ‘abolitionists’ are taking the wrong approach. Should we perhaps not take the same attitude to FGC that we take to abortion: it might be wicked, but if if it is going to happen, it should take place in a hospital in safe and sanitary conditions, and the woman/girl involved should receive pain relief and sufficient follow-up care. If we’re really interested in harm-reduction and not in cultural imperialism (or making ourselves feel righteous), let’s make FGC safe and legal – and perhaps, ultimately, rare.

leonard sisyphus mann

Thank you Kit for your responses to my article.
It may take me a couple of days to respond to all the points you make, but I’ll here address one point you make and use it as an opportunity to outline the ‘FGM-Charity’s Dilemma’ – which gives a partial explanation of why so much obfuscation and slogan-think surrounds this issue.
>”I am yet to hear a single anti-FGC campaigner in Africa or Asia argue that we should be talking more about Islam.”
I’ve encountered a lot of talk about Islam amongst anti-FGM campaigners in Africa and Asia. But it is not very profound: amounting to the assertion that ‘FGM is not an Islamic practice’.
That’s because, as you suggest, talking about Islam – unless it’s to say ‘FGM is not an Islamic practice’ – is not a good strategy for anti-FGM campaigers.
Anti-FGM charities face a dilemma – and this dilemma has, quite rapidly, come to vitiate any honest engagement with the place of FGM in Islam, or the place of Islam in FGM.
Imagine you are an anti-FGM campaigner – you are aware of how Koran 30:30 indirectly advocates FGM, of the ‘fitrah’ Hadith advocating ‘Khitaan’ and other Hadith proving that ‘Khitaan’ means BOTH male and female circumcision, that two of Mohammed’s wives are recorded as being circumcised, and his closest companion had newly-converted women routinely circumcised in order to ‘purify them’. You are also aware that up until about 30 years ago there was an absolute consensus of Islamic scholars that FGM was Sunnah (allowed).
You are faced with a roomful of Moslem women whom you wish to persuade not to cut their daughters.
One asks you ‘is FGM islamic or not?’
What do you tell them?
Do you tell them what you know about the Koran 30:30? about the Hadith? about Mohammed’s wives and friends practising FGM? about the 1400 year-long consensus of scholars?
Or do you not mention these facts? Fudge the question? Obfuscate? Lie even?
I think the question answers itself.
Telling them these facts would certainly not discourage devout Moslem from from engaging in FGM,but would reinforce them in their practice and may even push non-FGMing Moslems to take up the practice.
In that position a charity worker, whose goal is to discourage FGM, can’t but obfuscate the facts, must promote an ‘untruth’, must promote a contrary narrative.
Over tens of thousands of such interactions – the ‘FGM is not Islamic’ untruth has become embedded, because it is the only answer that can be given in such circumstances. And that ‘untruth’ has passed into the popular narrative.
This is not to say that all who say ‘FGM is unislamic’ are lying – the lie has become embedded so that those who tell it no longer know they are perpetuating an untruth – much as those who say ‘children can’t consent’ are not lying, just speaking a ‘necessary’ falsehood that has become an unquestioned and unquestionable.
The charity worker may indeed be right to obfuscate the connection between FGM and Islam – it might be the best strategy for getting people to abandon the practice.
But it’s not the ‘Truth’, and it’s not even a proper reporting of and engagments with the facts.
So, yes, you’ll rarely come across a deep engagement with Islamic doctrine amongst anti-FGM campaigners.
However, there exist documents by anti-FGM campaigners which DO engage with Islamic doctrine – but aimed at moslem scholars and Imams.
Here is a typical (translated) example – https://www.dropbox.com/s/52kp6lutssr5ji9/De-linking%20FGM%20from%20Islam%20final%20report.pdf?dl=0
However the scholarship of this document is shocking and few of its claims does not survive minimal probing.

Kit Marlowe

My apologies for taking so long to reply – I have been distracted by other things!
I want to suggest that the question you ask – “is FGM Islamic or not?” – is not one that non-Muslims are capable of answering. Of course, there are observations that non-Muslims can legitimately make: that genital cutting has been prevalent in (some) Islamic societies, or that Islam has (probably) helped to promulgate the spread of the practice – at least in South East Asia. We can even observe the (possible) references to such things in the Qur’an and (certain of) the traditions.
But insofar as such assertions assume a core truth about the essential nature of this thing called ‘Islam’, the statements “female genital cutting is consistent with Islam” or “Islam demands female genital cutting,” or “female genital cutting is un-Islamic” are the kinds of claims that only a Muslim can make with any authority. We non-Muslims (who, I guess, don’t think there is any such spiritual core to ‘Islam’ – or that if there is we cannot really know it) can only observe that there are intelligent and educated Muslims who make all three of those claims. And I see no reason to suppose that any one of them is more intrinsically ‘Islamic’ than another.
Therefore I don’t think – as you appear to – that those who make the claim “female genital cutting is un-Islamic” are lying or deluded or misinformed. Rather, I think they are staking a well-established position in a polemic that has been going on within Islamic societies for a long time.

leonard sisyphus mann

No apologies required, Kit, I appreciate any time or attention you give the issue.
>”Therefore I don’t think – as you appear to – that those who make the claim “female genital cutting is un-Islamic” are lying or deluded or misinformed. Rather, I think they are staking a well-established position in a polemic that has been going on within Islamic societies for a long time.”
Not unless by ‘a long time’ you mean the past three or four decades. As far as I can tell there has been no Islamic polemic on FGM prior to the 1980s. And that was provoked by the publication of reports by the WHO, and the rest of the World waking up to the practice’s existence and extent. I have spent much time researching fatwas on FGM and have yet to find a fatwa (in Arabic or in translation) condemnatory of FGM that predates the mid 1980s.
>”I want to suggest that the question you ask – “is FGM Islamic or not?” – is not one that non-Muslims are capable of answering.”
First of all I have stated no fact about Islam in this piece without giving supporting evidence, taken from Islamic sources.
But I think that you are treading on dangerous epistemological ground in suggesting that certain truths are only accessible to certain identities. Hasn’t the historical development of Knowledge been a journey towards the idea that Truth is universal, universally accessible, and independent of individual identity? What you are suggesting is that ‘identity’ can set up insurmountable epistemological barriers to that communication.
Granted that certain Truths may be HELD by certain identities – but they do so ‘in trust’ for the rest of humanity. For example – a paedophile will experience and know things about being a paedophile that a non-paedophile can’t know first-hand. But the paedophile can communicate that knowledge, and a non-paedophile can integrate that knowledge by listening, observing, studying and questioning. And the non-paedophile can use, work with and develop that knowledge (after all, we are grateful when non-paedophiles listen to us and take what we have to say seriously).
I would argue that one does not have to believe in the claims made by an ideology in order to study and understand those claims of that that ideology. In fact, it positively helps NOT to adhere to the ideology because belief is likely to introduce all kinds of biases and confusions.
I would suggest that the best person to pronounce on the Nazism’s role in the Shoah is not a Nazi; and does one have to believe in Zeus in order to study and pronounce with authority on ancient Greek Religion? Can Moslems’s criticise or comment on the practices, beliefs and acts of non-Moslems? And if in the next minute I pronounced the shahada and thus converted Islam, would that earn me the right to make assertions about FGM’s relationship with Islam?
And what about exMoslems? Do they lose the right to pronounce on FGM and Islam on repudiating their religion?
We see the harmful effects of the position you are defending played out in the world today – in the mess that is intersectionalism – where men can’t speak on questions that affect women, whites aren’t allowed to speak on matters that affect blacks, heterosexuals aren’t allowed to speak on gay matters etc etc. – knowledge and thought and dialogue become Balkanised and each person ‘has his/her own Truth’.
In addition there are many Moslems who are only nominal Moslems and who are quite ignorant of their relgion and are hardly aware of the phenomenon of FGM – are you REALLY suggesting that these have more authority to speak on FGM than a non-moslem who has quite intensely studied FGM, Islam and FGM’s place in Islam for several years? My own experience in discussing my ideas with Moslems, exMoslems and even Moslem scholars is that I know much more on this issue than they do – why should their ignorance take precedence over my knowledge?
One thing I have noticed in my reading and discussions around FGM is that there exists in the devout Moslem a criterion for Truth superior to ‘Reason’ and ‘Evidence’ – it is what I call ‘Proof by Perfection’ (a form of the ‘presuppusitional fallacy’): the way this works is that because Islam and Mohammed were/are perfect then whatever narrative paints Islam/Mohammed in the best light is the narrative that is truest.
This is the reason why many westernised Moslems argue that ‘FGM has nothing to do with Islam’ – because they are rightly embarrassed and ashamed and troubled by Islam’s close association with FGM – and the way that this association make Islam/Mohammed look far from ‘perfect’. Therefore they will privilege any narrative that distances FGM and Islam. It also explains why every exMoslem I have discussed FGM with agrees with my conclusions – they no longer feel strongly obliged to defend the perfection of their religion/prophet.
I don’t mean this personally, Kit – I know you are a sincere seeker after Truth – but denying the right of a speaker to pronounce on a matter based on his identity, divesting a priori what he says of any authority normally accruing to ‘evidence’ ‘facts’ and ‘Reason’ is a bit of an invalid move – I don’t see anything epistemologically special about Islam that separates it from other nexus of ideas – science, capitalism, Christianity, paedophilia, Roman paganism, – (unlike the Scientologists) there is no ‘secret knowledge’ to which I, as a kufr, have no access if I take the necessary trouble.

leonard sisyphus mann

TO’C >”This strikes me as a very high quality comment.”
Thanks!
TO’C ->” My only fear is that heretics with doubts or contrary views will feel intimidated into silence by LSM’s erudition. ”
I hope not.
TO’C > “Sure hope not. Just let rip, folks – politely, of course!”
I really would welcome having the ideas in this piece tested and criticised.
As you know, Tom, I haven’t touched on Policy in this piece – but I think that, if my piece focuses on ‘how we got here’, it is a natural corollary to speculate on ‘where do we go from here’. I touch on that a bit in my reply to ethan72 – but it’s a question I’m somewhat undecided about.
I’d be interested to read what you think the way forward is, Tom (though I have a pretty good idea) and what other Heretics think.

“…there is evidence to support this claim but Heretic TOC does not endorse any anti-Islamic polemics that might be inferred from LSM’s essay. My belief is that Islam is capable of evolving in response to the needs and values of modern life, just as Christianity has adapted enormously: far fewer believers now hold fast to simplistic, literal, interpretations of the Bible, for example, than prevailed before Darwin and modern scriptural exegesis.”
I felt more than a tad embarrassed by this disclaimer issued by Tom, and might be well described as rosy red even as I write. What imperatives, I can only ask, is TOC obeying or at least responding to when he disclaims so? Who exactly, in the currently discernible political picture is he hoping to appease here? Auf welche Richtung kommt der Wind? Is it not fair to ask? (Yes, of course I acknowledge that he took care not to resort to “IslamoPh*bia”). But just what is it, I wonder, that gives him such faith in Islam’s ‘evolutionary’ potential?
Just received my copy of Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture! My paedophilia has never run deeper or teemed with more living waters.. Without wishing to sound any more contentious than I need to, I continue to reckon that it is Kincaid’s grasp of the the whole social picture and HOW it creates mindsets that will always educate us further than attempts to appease (there’s that word again) the… well, the lab rats. After all, what part would we say ’empirical proof’ ever played in the final, wholesale acceptance of homosexuality into our social midst? All we really ever got there was a slew of irresolvable conundrums and goosey chases concerning the ‘gay gene’ and so on, am I right?
My heartfelt commendations to LSM for this his marvellously cogent analysis. Also for his recent deliberations on the ‘hot Desmond’ affair . I can only concur with all my heart that kids adopting and flaunting the accoutrements of adultism in hopes of ‘acceptance’ to the rigid & bolted fold is a tendency perhaps more dismal and dismaying than any other..

leonard sisyphus mann

>”My heartfelt commendations to LSM for this his marvellously cogent analysis.”
Your commendations are fuel to my motor, Warb J T!
I look forward to reading Tom’s response to the points you make and the questions you raise.
As to ‘Child-Loving’ – I’ve had a copy on my shelves for years but have yet to read it – I think I was put off by the first chapter which read to me like Post Modernist bollock-speak à la Lacan, Derrida et al… But Tom has reassured me that it gets very good after that.

LSM… i have to say I was astounded to read of your allergic reaction to first chapter of VC&EC. Nonetheless, with all the energy any allergy always provides, I’ll try to say why – or at least let Kincaid himself show you why, not lingering for a mo more than I need to on the importance of (reading certain artifacts of) French Theory in enabling us to actually understand the great linguistic turn that *made* our culture the febrile mass of sign-turners and sign-growers it is today – for (almost) every one of those figures in one way or another fertilized the field that made a ‘quantum anthropological leap’ (QAL) possible.
Strangely enough (and boy is it strange), the very concrete anthro of which I speak continues to fly one hundred percent SOUS LE RADAR. But let me, LSM, with my reactive-energy, try to bypass if I can the force of your PM allergy… I want to show that, from the first word Kincaid is all balls and no bollock. These are the work’s first words:
“We all know there is a difference between a healthy and normal love of children and a love which is sick and freakish. Given that what is most involved in thinking of a child and loving it is mysterious, it’s surprising that we know so much. I want here to explore how we come by that knowledge, how it is constituted, why it is so important to us, and what it costs us to maintain.. You’ve guessed the exploration is funded entirely by skepticism, by an idea that waht passes for knowledge is more likely a prescribed cultural agreement., cemented by fear, desire and denial. I suspect that this knowledge is really “knowingness”., a pact that authorizes us to treat our ignorance as wisdom and to make that ignorance the basis for action. What if we looked at the ^^^^^^^^ on paedophilia and its history ironically, as if we were somehow outside of it? What would happen?That we are not and cannot be outside does not entirely disable our expedition; it simply means that we will have to distrust our own maps, try to unsettle our most confident sense of where we are, include ourselves in our satirric accounts. And we have no certain destination, no permanent truth to find; we have only various plains on which to travel”.
(in terms of what tOc had the tEmErITy to )refer to as “plain english” recently, that opening bite of Kin-caid looks even plainer

leonard sisyphus mann

My first reaction to your comment, Mr Turpitude, was that my ‘Kink’ requires no ‘aiding’ – it manages perfectly fine by itself.
However, the extract you cite does appear to consist of ‘all balls and no bollock’ despite the inclusion of my least-favourite word in the English language – namely “^^^^^^^^”.
Be reassured that you have persuaded me to add VC&EC to my ‘To Be Read’ pile, provided I can cobble together a plain cover so Mrs Sisyphus Mann and any casual callers from the Women’s Institute don’t have their flabbers inadvertently ghasted by its lewd presence amongst the Agatha Christies and Barbara Cartlands.

Dissident

Considering the frequent nature of your responses to me and others, Mr. Warbling, I personally have no problem going at your throat about things whilst retaining a modicum of respect and cordiality that are understandably expected here. Tom chose not to respond himself, but I will do so on his behalf until when or if he chooses to do so:
I felt more than a tad embarrassed by this disclaimer issued by Tom, and might be well described as rosy red even as I write.
I am proud of Tom making that statement, as I think it needed to be said in the interest of all those who are not overwrought by emotion when it comes to such subjects, which can easily lead into self-righteous and destructive moral crusades. I am not rosy red, but fiery red, at seeing you admonish Tom for this. He was generous enough to let Lensman speak his mind here despite not being fully in agreement. I would have done the same, but I likewise would not have wanted to come off as endorsing a blanket anti-Islamic message or the idea that FGM and related practices are going on to any large degree in the modern world simply because it’s written into ancient documents like the Koran.
What imperatives, I can only ask, is TOC obeying or at least responding to when he disclaims so?
I would opine: In the interest of reminding us that all religious doctrines change and evolve over time, and that many liberal Muslims do not adhere “to the book” in the modern age. This mindless hatred of Islam in general, over and above Christianity, rather than seeking to focus upon its most right-wing, conservative sects, leads to a lot of bigotry and lies that can, in turn, lead to a lot of precedent to attack
all religion and justify any number of draconian laws.
Who exactly, in the currently discernible political picture is he hoping to appease here?
My guess? To appease no one, but to acknowledge the principle that making sweeping emotionally-based assumptions without proof (which you seem to consider unnecessary) due to a lot of experience in seeing what moral crusades and blind hatred/condemnation can result in. And that we, of all people, should be resistant to this temptation (then again, MAPs are human too).
Auf welche Richtung kommt der Wind? Is it not fair to ask? (Yes, of course I acknowledge that he took care not to resort to “IslamoPh*bia”). But just what is it, I wonder, that gives him such faith in Islam’s ‘evolutionary’ potential?
I would say the fact that all religions, and all groups of people in general, have displayed the ability to change and evolve based on the world around them. Much like, for instance, my fellow Pagans no longer sacrifice live animals or use human blood in prayer rituals (instead, we substitute apple cider).
Without wishing to sound any more contentious than I need to, I continue to reckon that it is Kincaid’s grasp of the the whole social picture and HOW it creates mindsets that will always educate us further than attempts to appease (there’s that word again) the… well, the lab rats. After all, what part would we say ’empirical proof’ ever played in the final, wholesale acceptance of homosexuality into our social midst? All we really ever got there was a slew of irresolvable conundrums and goosey chases concerning the ‘gay gene’ and so on, am I right?
In other words, let’s give the finger to proof and substantive evidence, because it’s asking for too much and doesn’t do any good anyway, so… let the emotions do the talking! To the contrary, I would argue that greater empirical understanding of homosexuality led to the eschewing of incorrect beliefs used by previous generations to rationalize condemning it, e.g., that gay men hated women, were prone to forceful manipulation for future “recruitment”, that it necessarily leads to all sorts of bad outcomes not connected to societal attitudes & laws, etc. When we do not demand proof or good evidence of frankly outrageous claims, we put a knife in the heart of democracy and allow draconian laws based on bigoted, unreasonable assumptions determine both mass opinion and official legal & social policies. Especially when you consider all the emotionally-based hysterias that have been proven untrue over just the past four decades… but nevertheless caused a plethora of oppressive laws and policies (e.g., the Satanic ritual nonsense, the U.K. VIP politician torture nonsense, the snuff film nonsense, etc., et al.).
Tom, and many of us, want to learn from history. But not all of us do.
The same that can be said for homosexuality above is applicable to pedophilia and hebephilia, and the same can be applicable to Islam.
My heartfelt commendations to LSM for this his marvellously cogent analysis. Also for his recent deliberations on the ‘hot Desmond’ affair . I can only concur with all my heart that kids adopting and flaunting the accoutrements of adultism in hopes of ‘acceptance’ to the rigid & bolted fold is a tendency perhaps more dismal and dismaying than any other..
So, are you saying that we should disallow kids to make their own decisions and decide as individuals how to express themselves? That they should be kept forcefully “innocent” and asexual “for their own good”? Because expressing a sexual identity is “adult” and therefore morally tainted? I think this is what you’re getting at, and why these diatribes of Lensman since his change in ideological direction appeal to you so much, but I am requesting full clarity.
And just to make things clear to you, Lensman, and Tom: I fully oppose FGM, as well as foot-binding and other such torturous practices. They are fully against the principle of youth liberation and freedom of choice. I simply do not believe these things remain an “epidemic” in the modern world, let alone anywhere in the West. And yes, I do indeed demand proof or good evidence to claims of the contrary before we start sending the emotional gestapo “to the rescue” and let another moral crusade take over.

leonard sisyphus mann

>”I simply do not believe these things remain an “epidemic” in the modern world, let alone anywhere in the West. ”
I guess that much depends on how one defines the word “epidemic”. I’ll go with Collins Dictionary:
“2 a widespread occurrence of a disease 3 a rapid development, spread, or growth of something, esp something unpleasant”
The figures I cite for the incidence of FGM at the start of my piece are from UNICEF’s 2016 Report. They estimate that 200,000,000 women and little girls were alive in 2016 who’d undergone some form of FGM.
Given that there are about 7.7 billion people alive today this gives us about 1 in 20 little girls and women alive in 2016 had undergone some form of FGM.
Someone might counter that they don’t trust UNICEF’s statistics, but it seems to me that there are only two grounds on which one could can validly dispute any set of statistics:
1/ methodological flaws in their compilation or in their interpretation (UNICEF’s stats DO contain several flaws – however, these all tend towards under-reporting FGM).
2/ the existence of reliable alternative statistics that paint a significantly different picture.
Let’s compare the UNICEF-derived ‘1 in 20’ figure with with a couple of other things that are commonly conceived of as ‘epidemic’.
MALARIA
There is about 212 million people affected by malaria in the world today (https://www.who.int/features/factfiles/malaria/en/).
Because the disease targets both males and females this means that 1 in 36 humans were affected by malaria in 2015 (and presumably 1 in 36 women).
AIDS/HIV
The WHO calculate that the number of people living with AIDS/HIV in 2017 was 36.9 million (https://www.who.int/gho/hiv/epidemic_status/cases_all/en/) meaning that about 1 in 200 people alive in 2017 were living with AIDS/HIV.
So a greater proportion of women and little girls are affected by FGM than by Malaria, and a ten times greater proportion are affected with FGM than by AIDS/HIV.
As to the ‘spreading’ aspect of the definition of ‘epidemic’ we can first of all compare a map of the distribution of Malaria and the distribution of FGM:comment image
It’s a subjective call but I would say that both Malaria and FGM qualify as being ‘widespread’.
Finally, significant rates of FGM are now recorded in countries such as the UK, France, Germany, Canada and the USA. Prior to the 1960s the UK (to take one example) recorded zero case of FGM – in 2015 there were some estimated 137,000 women and girls underwent the procedure in England (i.e. not including Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland) (https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-47076043)
I would suggest that an increase in incidence of zero to 137,000 in fifty years constitutes a ‘rapid spread’, especially considering that the base line is zero.

warbling j turpitude

Dissident: “So, are you saying that we should disallow kids to make their own decisions and decide as individuals how to express themselves? That they should be kept forcefully “innocent” and asexual “for their own good”? Because expressing a sexual identity is “adult” and therefore morally tainted? I think this is what you’re getting at, and why these diatribes of Lensman since his change in ideological direction appeal to you so much, but I am requesting full clarity.”
This just seems to me one thoroughly woeful, even wretched non-sequitur, Dissy. For the simple (I hope) truth of it is that the incalculably potent aesthetic that draws the whole of my erotically-mediated being & personhood towards the life that can only be found in our smallest beings has everything to do with the absence of anything that might be called a “sexual identity”. The explicit “expression” of which would seem to counter, even nullify at every point that which is beautiful beyond compare in those who have yet to countenance or even conceive of any such thing. Exactly why you should confuse this quality with “being kept forcefully innocent” is quite beyond me. Why do you believe that this is what I “must be getting at”? Why can you not see that the very essence of paedophilia lies in love for the absence of all posturings and trappings of adulthood, and that “ideology” as such can have nothing whatsoever to do with it? Why must the uninhibited expression of sexuality in a small being identify with anything?
I surely appreciate that you are after “full clarity”. Let us then ‘have at it’ for all we’re worth…

leonard sisyphus mann

Reblogged this on Consenting Adults Humans and commented:

Tom has (once again) done me the honour of publishing one of my essays on HereticTOC, thus offering my research and thinking on FGM an audience which my own blog could never reach.
This essay investigates the origins, and spread of FGM, and the reasons why it is so persistent and resistant to eradication. I avoid addressing questions of what policies are best for combating FGM – but hope that by elucidating the facts of the matter any subsequent discussions on policy will be better informed and address the problems head on.
I don’t doubt that I will eventually post more blogs on FGM and related topics, not least Male Genital Mutilation.
If I don’t address MGM in this essay it is not because of a lack of interest or concern, but simply because to have addressed MGM in the same depth as I address FGM would have doubled the length of an already over-long essay.

bjmuirhead

At least one of the difficulties faced is the assumption—that’s really all it is—that everyone deserves and has the right to believe whatever they want. The Western approach is to just say that Callithumpian’s believe that it is ok to cut women (subtext: bitches) as long as we do not have to think about it.
Now, I am not a rampaging feminist, but there is a definite tendency to discount women in general; how much easier is it to just ignore what we don’t want to know, and say simply that that is their culture—especially when it is their culture, and we do not necessarily want to face the inhumanity of our own tendencies to put women down, to discount their experiences. (I was a rampaging feminist in the 1990s, and they did have a lot correctly marked.)
The West has made many errors in the past with cultural imperialism and general fuck you nastiness, but this seems to be one that no one wants to push, apart from people such as yourself Mr L.
Now, some points: I think you are correct to say it should not happen, and correct to say it should be stopped. BUT… Is it not true to say that amerika (far right wing feminist spelling) want what the Islamic countries want? And the rest of the West?
Enough said surely, because money trumps all in this West of ours. Cynicism is our final defence against all.)

bjmuirhead

My apologies, I intended to say Is it not true to say that amerika (far right wing feminist spelling) want what the Islamic countries have?
Despite Little Donny’s carry on about Iran at the moment, no one is going to push Islam too far unless what is wanted is guaranteed to be theirs. That this is so tends to doom any action on something as unprofitable as mere FGM.

leonard sisyphus mann

Thanks for your comment BJ
>”At least one of the difficulties faced is the assumption—that’s really all it is—that everyone deserves and has the right to believe whatever they want.”
Yes, I guess everyone does have the right to believe what they want, but at the same time no should have the right to have that belief respected, left untested, uncriticised or unmocked. Unfortunately we find ourselves in a position where certain beliefs of certain people are ‘protected’, both culturally and by law, and that any criticism or analysis which paints those beliefs unfavourably is considered as a sign of prejudice or as hate speech.
I am happy (keen even) to debate with advocates of FGM and also those who assert that ‘FGM is nothing to do with Islam’. But I have been banned from two anti-FGM Facebook groups for making the same points and bringing forward the same evidence that I have presented in my post.
>”The West has made many errors in the past with cultural imperialism and general fuck you nastiness, but this seems to be one that no one wants to push, apart from people such as yourself Mr L.”
I hope you will join me in being vocal on this issue, BJ – and I hope and believe that the Kind community should, more than any other community, take a strong position on FGM.
If being a paedophile means anything it is that we recognise the existence and value of child sexuality, and that we respect it as something that belongs to the child – not to its parents, its community, its culture or its religion. As such, nobody should interfere with that sexuality, co-opt it for their own purposes or for their religion without the child’s meaningful consent.
This is an ethical perception that should be more evident to paedophiles than to anyone else and as such we should reject both FGM and MGM as a violation of everything our sexuality should lead us to stand for.
>’west… cultural imperialism’ –
It’s more than a hypothesis, if not yet quite a ‘theory’, that Renaissance Western exploration and subsequent colonialism provoked a great world-wide wave of abandonment of FGM (and other similar practices) – leaving the map of FGM pretty much as we see it nowadays. FGM was found amongst the Australian Aborigines and American autochthons before the arrival of Western Culture – and I suspect that it (and other chastity control measures) arose world wide, sporadically wherever the preconditions Mackie identifies pertained.
It was certainly Western Missionaries who provided the impetus, and an ideological and comparative framework that kicked off the elimination of Footbinding in China. Likewise it was the British who eradicated Sati from India.
It seems that when cultures are (or become) monogamous FGM tends to disappear from them – this fits in with Mackie’s theory. I think that the (relatively) advanced conceptions of humanity that Renaissance explorers brought with them also combated FGM. Today, the Embera tribe in Colombia is making great progress in eliminating FGM, largely because of efforts of essentially ‘western’ agencies and influences. The corollary of Islam’s advocacy of polygyny, slavery and extreme chastity, and its resistance to Renaissance and Western values means that it resists the abandonment of FGM.
Some will see this as a good thing – as ‘sticking it to the West’; others will think that, fundamentally, the values which the West started elucidating in the Renaissance represent real ‘progress’ for Mankind.
This is not intended to be an argument for or against ‘western Imperialism’ but it seems something that we have to take into account when thinking about FGM (and other such practices).
>”Is it not true to say that amerika (far right wing feminist spelling) want what the Islamic countries have?”
Hmm…I don’t think America (however one spells it) wants FGM.
Unfortunately, it seems that they may not have much choice – http://www.deadlinedetroit.com/articles/21262/feds_likely_to_appeal_genital-mutiliation_ruling )

bjmuirhead

Yes, it is a quality comment, one which I could nitpick, but feel it is better ot leave it without a reply because I agree with LSM, much more than I disagree.

bjmuirhead

Overall I don’t disagree with you, so I will not nitpick my way through your reply.
But, I should have made it clearer that what the West wants is the oil, and for that reason is unlikely to do too much to upset any Islamic country which has oil, or any other commodity wanted by the West.
One point, however, is that any person should be against physical harm to children. Yes, perhaps paedophiles should take this more seriously than others, but as a non- I am against such harm, as is nearly everyone I know, be they male, female, straight, camp as that row of tents I heard about in the 60s, or whatever.
I was going to go on, but enough said.

Kit Marlowe

“It was certainly Western Missionaries who provided the impetus, and an ideological and comparative framework that kicked off the elimination of Footbinding in China. Likewise it was the British who eradicated Sati from India.”
I think both these claims are questionable. Foot-binding was banned under the Chinese Republic of 1912, and vigorously stamped out by the Communist PRC after 1949. Opposition to foot-binding in China was led not just by Christians (Chinese as well as Western), but by non-Han ethnic populations that did not observe the practice. As for sati – as I think I’ve posted here before, there is a strong argument in Indian historiography that British imperialism led to caste hierarchies becoming more rigid throughout the subcontinent and practices such as sati consequently becoming more widespread.
Obviously, I don’t want to maintain that the history of China or of India was one of unbroken peace and tranquility until Westren imperial powers turned up. Such was not the case. But the White Saviour complex dies really hard, and we shouldn’t give too much credence to the myth of Westerners bringing Reason and Enlightenment to benighted savages everywhere. History suggests that when white men turn up armed with with Reason and Enlightenment, imputing ulterior motives to them is probably the very first thing you’d want to do.

leonard sisyphus mann

My knowledge of footbinding comes primarily from Gerry Mackie’s first paper and some web-sites. I’ll quote Mackie at length and a couple of web-sites:
“The Manchu conquerors opposed foot- binding, but their efforts to abolish it in 1665 failed entirely, despite intimidating penalties. An 1847 Manchu edict against footbinding also failed. Throughout the nineteenth cen- tury the practice was condemned by influen- tial liberal literati, but with no apparent ef- fect (Levy 1966:68-74). Some of the Protestant missionaries, particularly the women, denounced the custom. The first antifoot- binding society was founded in 1874 by local missionaries for their converts. Inspired by the American prohibitionist pledge to abstain from alcohol, the society introduced the effective technique of pledging members not to bind daughters nor let sons marry bound women. Western women organized the national Natural Foot Society, aimed at the non-Christian elite, in Shanghai in 1895. An indigenous Anti-Footbinding Society established headquarters in Shanghai in 1897 and eventually acquired 300,000 members. The societies propagandized the disadvantages of footbinding in Chinese cultural terms, promoted pledge associations, and subtly conveyed international disapproval of the custom. By 1908, leading Chinese public opinion was opposed to footbinding, and the leadership of the Natural Foot Society was transferred to a committee of Chinese women. The Nationalist Revolution banned footbinding in 1912, and the decree succeeded in many locales (Drucker 1981). Footbinding started to end in China between the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 and the Revolution of 1911, certainly among the upper strata of the larger cities. Although there was local variability in onset of cessation, available evidence is that whenever binding did end, it ended rapidly. As measured by a sociologist’s data, for example, the population of Tinghsien, a conservative rural area 125 miles south of Peking, went from 99 percent bound in 1889 to 94 percent bound in 1899 to zero bound in 1919 (Gamble 1943).”
http://webarchiv.ethz.ch/soms/teaching/OppFall09/MackieFootbinding.pdf
“In the 19th century, toward the end of the Qing Dynasty, Western countries had effectively colonized China, with many Westerners moving to the country. This colonization coincided with the height of foot binding. With so many Western women entering the country, there was a strong push against the practice, especially from the wives of Christian missionaries. They became strong advocates against the practice, producing pamphlets and even opening shelters in support of afflicted women. Around the same time, Chinese intellectuals who had studied abroad in Europe and in North America returned to China and indicated their support for abolishment. After the Qing Dynasty fell, foot binding became unfashionable.” (http://www.visiontimes.com/2017/12/29/the-history-of-foot-binding-in-china.html)
“Strident opposition on the part of 19th-century Christian missionaries gradually effected social change and the practice was eventually outlawed.” (https://www.businessinsider.com/the-disturbing-reason-for-the-ancient-chinese-practice-of-foot-binding-2015-9?IR=T)
“The movement that eventually turned the Chinese around began with Christian missionaries in the 1860s… Christian missionaries set up newspapers and magazines like Review of the Times, founded in 1868, which gave the elite access — in classical Chinese — to ideas and events from the world outside China…” (https://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/24/magazine/24FOB-Footbinding-t.html)
>”we shouldn’t give too much credence to the myth of Westerners bringing Reason and Enlightenment to benighted savages everywhere.”
I think that is a bit of a caricature of my position.
Do we have to automatically try to disprove and discredit any good the West has done abroad? Let’s spare one or two items from the bonfire. Who brought antibiotics, vaccines, anaesthetics, electricity, antisepsis, the internal combustion engine, aeroplanes, democracy, the abolition of slavery etc etc to the ‘benighted savages’?
>”As for sati – as I think I’ve posted here before, there is a strong argument in Indian historiography that British imperialism led to caste hierarchies becoming more rigid throughout the subcontinent and practices such as sati consequently becoming more widespread.”
You may (or may not) be correct. But in the end the British were effective in banning it and severely curtailing the practice ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sati_(practice)#British_and_other_European_colonial_powers ) .

Kit Marlowe

“Who brought antibiotics, vaccines, anaesthetics, electricity, antisepsis, the internal combustion engine, aeroplanes, democracy, the abolition of slavery etc etc to the ‘benighted savages’?”
I certainly don’t want to argue that the effects of Western colonialism were uniformly and universally negative (in fact, I’m quite a fan of one of the British Empire’s major exports to the world – Anglican Christianity). But I am definitely suspicious of the grand narrative of human progress that seeks to link together penicillin, railways and the abolition of foot-binding.
There are a number of reasons why I dislike the liberal histories of imperial progress, but their biggest weakness seems to me to be the way that they always make white Europeans the central actors in other people’s histories. Of course Western colonisation did have far-reaching effects in many places, but colonists interacted with societies that were already complex, dynamic and divided. Such nuances tend to get lost in the familiar story where heroic Western pioneers of modernity bring transformative change to static, traditional, hide-bound feudal societies.
This is not irrelevant to the genital cutting debate. If we imagine ‘Islam’ as a monolithic and essentially static unity that can only be changed by intervention from the outside, then we are unable to perceive the specific reasons that particular ‘traditions’ (including new ‘traditions’) persevere or die out or spring up or are invested with new meaning in some places and not others.
For instance, I have a very strong suspicion that ‘female circumcision’ (partial removal of the clitoral hood) is much more common on Java today than it was, say, 50 or 60 years ago. I have not been able to find any studies that would support my hunch – and perhaps there is simply no data going that far back – but it would be consistent with what I know about the revival of a visibly Muslim public identity in Indonesia since the Suharto years. Is this revival an ancient religious tradition, or is it a form of modernity? Is it an expression of Muslim faith or a response to globalisation and capitalism? I think these are difficult questions (and they would need to be answered by someone who knows much more about Indonesian society than I do).
My concern is that introducing ‘Islam’ – as a monolithic ideological entity – to the debate about genital cutting elides such subtle distinctions. Rather than helping us to understand the problem better, I fear it tempts us to understand less.

Kit Marlowe

Thank you for your hospitality, Tom. I enjoy reading your blog often, even if I post here only sporadically.

leonard sisyphus mann

Kit – to avoid spaghettification I’ve posted my reply to this comment as a new thread –
https://tomocarroll.wordpress.com/2019/05/30/fgm-wedded-forever-to-religion/comment-page-1/?replytocom=24246#comment-24246

ethane72

Assuming it’s all true (I don’t have the expertise to dispute it), it’s a disturbing and discouraging read.
I just read though of a Quran verse suggesting men beat their wives, and modern Islamic scholars will say it’s supposed to be very light or just symbolic. The Quran prohibits charging interest, yet it seems wealthy Muslims manage to participate in the world financial system and get around interest charging on technicalities but not obeying the spirit of the Quran.
Given the vague nature of the commandments that Mann cites, it would seem to be entirely within the bounds of their religion to stop cutting entirely. Or give at most a symbolic cutting (maybe a pinprick or something). If they don’t, I say the moral responsibility for the continuation of the practice is on the modern scholars and the society they represent. If they decided they valued women they could change the practice. They could get around the Quran if they wanted to.
Another possibility that occurs to me is a sort of intermediate procedure. Assuming they insist on controlling women’s sexuality, do clean surgery under anesthesia to mostly close up the vagina, and then surgery to reverse it when the girl/woman gets married. Of course I’d far rather just get rid of the whole thing, but that might serve the same purpose, avoid the pain and horror, and even allow married women to experience sexual pleasure.

leonard sisyphus mann

Thank you for your comment ethane 72
I have deliberately not touched on the best policy to address FGM, partly because I had more than enough to say on the origins, spread and persistence of FGM, and partly because, as far as ‘solutions’ go, I have nothing to say on the matter that is particularly thought-out or original.
But I think any solution to the problem of FGM has to address two very different contexts: 1/ FGM in countries where it is deeply entrenched (i.e. countries in dark green on the FGM map)and 2/ FGM in countries where it has been recently introduced (e.g. Europe, USA, Australia etc).
‘Development’ seems to alleviate the former problem, but only slightly, largely to the extent that it tends to weakens people’s adherence to traditional marriage practices, attitudes and religion, and to the extent that it preferentially influences FGM-practicing non-Moslem communities in those countries (Mackie’s 2009 paper indicates this – though he does not seem to pick up on it). But as Mackie (in my opinion the best and the most optimistic theoretician of FGM,) and other charity-workers have noted “FGM is stubbornly resistant to change”. Whilst the percentage rates of FGM have dropped slightly in some Moslem-majority countries I suspect that a lot of that drop may be attributable to non-Moslem minorities dropping the practice. Moreover the rocketing birth-rates of some of the worst-offending countries (Egypt and Indonesia especially) means that despite slight drops in % rates the actual incidence is increasing.
As to the FGM that has recently started to become endemic to the West – some advocate a softly-softly, live-and-let-live, tolerant attitude (Brid Hehir – https://www.shiftingsands.org.uk/ -is probably the most active of these).
I tend to go with the proposals Ayaan Hirsi Ali made in 2003 to the Dutch House of Representatives which recommended a program of compulsory medical examinations for girls from (or whose parents who come from) high-risk communities or countries, with the enforcement of penalties against parents/families who have – or attempt to have – their children mutilated. This would need to be combined with an education program aimed informing those communities of the harmfulness of the practice, its illegality, and the legal risks the parents are taking if they decide to persist in the practice.
>”Given the vague nature of the commandments that Mann cites, it would seem to be entirely within the bounds of their religion to stop cutting entirely.”
There are two things that are vague in all this is: 1/ the NATURE of the cutting that the Koran (indirectly) advocates, and 2/ the level of desirability of the practice.
It is tempting to try to conceive of ‘Islam’ (or any other ideology) as having a single stance on issues. But it is more useful is to think of a Religion derived from often contradictory sacred texts as supporting a RANGE of stances. Islam has probably the simplest mechanism by which to generate doctrine: it’s hierarchy of authority is very clear, and each step of that hierarchy is discreet, delivering a ‘verdict’ that obviates the need to consider of the step beneath. That hierarchy consists of Koran -> Sunnah (essentially the sahih Hadith) – > ijmas (scholarly consensus) -> Qiyas (analogical deduction).
If one follows that hierarchy one stops at the ‘Sunnah’ level and it really is very hard to see how FGM is not at the very least ‘recommended’.
None of the Hadith give a clear idea of what procedure Mohammed approved and advocated. But we have clues – it involved ‘cutting’ or ‘trimming’, there were more extreme versions of this cutting and less extreme ones (Mohammed recommended against the more extreme versions), and the cutting seemed to involve the clitoris (this is derived from a Hadith I don’t mention in my piece, but here it is https://sunnah.com/bukhari/64/117 ).
Shaafi school of Sunni interprets the Koran and the Sunnah as making FGM obligatory, other schools have it as ‘recommended’ or ‘optional’. The Hanbali seem to have it very much as ‘optional’ and take the option of ‘not cutting’ – Pakistan is mostly Hanbali, as is Turkey and Caucuses – which is why in the UK at least if you ask almost any Moslem they will say (and believe) that ‘FGM has nothing to do with Islam’ – which is fine, but that’s a bit like asking a fundamentalist Protestant if the Pope is ‘Christian’.
So, yes, there is a theoretical route which Islam could take where all Moslems decide that FGM is ‘optional’, and then refuse that option. But the question is how do they get there? They are not even close to the point where the ‘journey’ begins – since they would have to abandon their identity as Shias, Sunnis, Ibadis etc their stance on FGM being very much a product of their allegiance to these age-old schools of Islam.
This is why I can pretend to little optimism for FGM in the Islamic world – it is very very deeply embedded. The only thing that reliably guarantees that a Moslem from a FGM-practicing culture repudiates the practice is if they abandon their religion – I know of no exMoslem from an FGM-practicing cultures who does not vehemently repudiate the practice.
>”Or give at most a symbolic cutting (maybe a pinprick or something).”
Yes, that’s practiced in some parts of Indonesia – I can’t remember the details, but I think it is quite rare, practiced by syncretist Moslems. There is also ‘sunnah circumcision’ in which only the prepuce of the clitoris is removed. That would be preferable to clitoridectomy, excision or infibulation, but still not preferable to no FGM at all.
>”Assuming it’s all true”
I have done my best to link each claim I make in this blog to authoritative sources. Given the nature of a blog post, and that even as it stands my essay strains the limitations of word-count, I have often had to choose a single source – linked to by a hyperlink – where many sources were available. But if there are any points about which you would like further evidence or details I would be very happy to supply those, if I can.
I hope you agree that this is a issue that transcends partisan differences between Virpeds and Radicals – would you do what is necessary to bring my essay, and/or the ideas it contains, to the attention of Virpeds?

Kit Marlowe

“They are not even close to the point where the ‘journey’ begins – since they would have to abandon their identity as Shias, Sunnis, Ibadis etc their stance on FGM being very much a product of their allegiance to these age-old schools of Islam.”
I disagree with this. I think you are treating the madhhabs as though they are unchanging and constant – whereas in reality Islamic jurisprudence is being made and unmade all the time. The very diversity and richness of the sources of Islamic fiqh – all those thousands of ahadith!- means that there is a much greater flexibility and adaptiveness to Islamic law than most outside observers recognise, This is why you have a huge variety of views about genital cutting from Shafi’i scholars in Indonesia, for example.
In one respect, however, you are whistling in the wind. You seem to want a single school of Islam as a whole to declare en masse that genital cutting is prohibited. This is an extremely unlikely occurrence – even if most scholars are not in favour of it. Sunni Islam lacks a single doctrinal authority which can pass down decrees on what is and is not permitted, at least without the overwhelming consensus of the whole community, and it is extremely wary of fomenting disunity. And for this reason, where there are issues of disagreement, Sunni islam tends to tolerate a diversity of opinions rather than laying down the law or stifling dissent.
What you are likely to see is a greater number of Shafi’i scholars issuing legal judgments that genital cutting is not obligatory, or restricting the kinds of cutting that should be performed. And indeed this is happening already (and has been happening for some time). Islamic jurisprudence is very far from static. But I cannot imagine any situation in which a blanket condemnation of genital cutting will be issued by any Sunni religious authority.

leonard sisyphus mann

>”all those thousands of ahadith!”
Yes, but there are only eight ahadith that touch on FGM – three of which are Adab and so can not be directly used for doctrine, which leaves little room for manoeuvre.
>”In one respect, however, you are whistling in the wind. You seem to want a single school of Islam as a whole to declare en masse that genital cutting is prohibited.”
I don’t ‘want’ anything, Kit.
Yes, it would be nice if the whole of Islam declared en masse that Genital cutting is prohibited. But the original point I was making was that that this will never happen. I was expressing resignation, despair, not hope.
>”This is why you have a huge variety of views about genital cutting from Shafi’i scholars in Indonesia”
>”What you are likely to see is a greater number of Shafi’i scholars issuing legal judgments that genital cutting is not obligatory, or restricting the kinds of cutting that should be performed. And indeed this is happening already”
But I am cheered that you find cause for hope. I’d be grateful if you could link me to some references you mention concerning the diversity of views on FGM, especially of Shafi’i scholars. Do you know of any that declare FGM to be forbidden?

Kit Marlowe

One of my favourite Muslim scholars, Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad, is (I believe) a follower of the Shafi’i madhhab. He declares: ” all mutilation is haram, forbidden. The customs of East Africa and Egypt are, precisely, “pharaonic”, an offense against the prophetic Shari’a.” I don’t think I can post a link here, but I’m sure you can find the source without too much difficulty.

leonard sisyphus mann

Yes, I’ve come across Timothy Winter/Abdul Hakim Murad’s pronouncement on FGM.
>”all mutilation is haram, forbidden. The customs of East Africa and Egypt are, precisely, “pharaonic”, an offense against the prophetic Shari’a.”
‘Pharaonic circumcision’ is infibulation, and indeed practiced in ‘East Africa’ (Egypt, Somalia and Sudan).
But it is easy to miss the fact that he condemns infibulation and ONLY infibulation – not excision, clitoridectomy or ‘sunnah’ circumcision.
Assuming that he means what he says and says what he means, this can either be because he is unaware of the existence of excision etc; or because he approves of excision etc (or at least approves to the extent that he can’t condemn them – some schools of fiqh have FGM as ‘optional’); if he is NOT aware of the existence of excision etc that means that he is too ignorant of the issues for any pronouncement he makes upon FGM to have authority.
>”is (I believe) a follower of the Shafi’i madhhab”
I surprised to read that he was shafi’i and checked Winter’s wikipedia page but found no indication there that he is.
I admit that I am probably a bit obtuse in these matters – identifying these schools is bit like identifying warblers for ornithologists or russulas for mycologists. The fact that he studied at Al-Azhar University doesn’t quite do it, since strictly it is a Sunni university rather than a Shafi’i one – Hanbalis, Malikis and Hanafis all study and teach there.
I’ll also point out that he was born in 1960. I know I did not put a time stipulation on my ‘challenge’ – but it’s significant that you found no fatwa critical of FGM predates the 1980s (my date for Winter’s fatwa is 2015).
>”all mutilation is haram, forbidden”
This is to ‘beg the question’ since, strictly speaking all mutilations are haram, EXCEPT THOSE THAT ARE JUSTIFIED. And whether FGM is justified or not is the very question being explored. He can’t assume a conclusion in one of his premises. Aristotle would have rapped his knuckles.
FGM is justified by Koran 30:30 (‘adhere to the fitrah’); fitrah is explained by several sahih Hadith which list hygiene practices – one of which is khitaan (circumcision). The usage of khitaan in other aHadith show it to refer to both MGM and FGM. Scholars have recognised this throughout Islam’s history – there being an Ijma’a (a scholarly consensus) right up to the past three or four decades.
Let’s also note under Islam many mutilations other than FGM are allowed: MGM, of course, plus the amputation of limbs of criminals, an eye-for-an-eye justice, flogging (which mutilates), stoning (which mutilates the victim prior to their death). Moreover Mohammed is recorded as using torture on several occasions, searing victim’s eyes with a hot wire after having chopped off their arms and legs and leaving them to die of thirst in the desert, having a woman (Umm Qirfa) torn in half by two camels, and lighting a fire on the chest of a town elder (Kinana) trying to preserve his people’s wealth from Mohammed stealing it – so if one accepts these accounts as sahih – torture could also be technically Sunnah.

Simon Pope

“You seem to want a single school of Islam as a whole to declare en masse that genital cutting is prohibited”, something of a pipe dream considering how ingrained MGM is in Islam!
You’re both missing the point. Before FGM can really be tackled effectively you have to start again from the seventies by thoroughly rejecting the narrative that it is a form of gender violence and therefore essentially different from MGM. Then you have to fight to get all genital mutilation of children irrespective of sex, creed or culture (incl. religion) banned – at present it isn’t banned anywhere. Then once the developed world has sorted itself out you can start on the rest of the world. Anything else and you are just cultural imperialists pushing your own cutting culture over others.

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