As a new reports finds nowhere in England and Wales is free from female genital mutilation (FGM), a planeload of 50 Somali women and girls was reported leaving the UK, possibly to undergo FGM.
The news was reported by Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tonge, who contacted the Metropolitan Police after seeing the large group of solely women in Heathrow airport. She was alarmed, since this is the start of the ‘cutting season’ – the long summer vacation from school, during which children from FGM practicing communities are taken back to their countries.
The response of columnist Brendan O’Neill was to call Tonge a racist.
He wrote “I can’t be the only person who finds this episode deeply disturbing. On the basis of nothing more than one well-connected woman’s hunch, scores of British-Africans have become objects of media whispers and police nose-poking.”
Except that it was not on the basis of nothing more than a hunch. FGM is rampant within the Somali community. In Somali the percentage of women who are forced to suffer FGM is 95-98% and it has long been known that immigrant communities continue the practice in the UK.
But O’Neill’s knee-jerk response sheds light on a huge problem in the way the West has so far tackled FGM and honor violence. Out of a desire not to be seen as racist, otherwise right-thinking people place their sensibilities and image above the human rights of the victims.
Fortunately O’Neill is in a minority. Blogger Jamie Palmer asked rhetorically in Left Foot Forward “How many false positives is O’Neill prepared to tolerate to prevent the mutilation of a single child’s genitals?” A similar piece for the right-leaning blog Harry’s Place slammed him for providing “he offers no alternative strategy for dealing with what he terms a ‘backward, barbaric act.’”
O’Neill, like many others, has prioritized his awkwardness and desire not to seem racist over the human rights of women and girls not to be mutilated.
His stance is craven and self-serving.
The UK government is, thankfully currently stepping up its efforts to combat FGM. Prime Minister David Cameron specifically named FGM in a speech outlining the government’s new approach to tackling all forms of Islamist extremism, along with honor violence.
He said “We need more co-ordinated efforts to drive this out of our society. More prosecutions. No more turning a blind eye on the false basis of cultural sensitivities.”
It’s about time.