Guardian contributor claims ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ is practiced by Jews (Update)

According to the World Health Organization, a staggering 140 million girls worldwide are currently living with the consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM).  The procedure (carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15) is designed to alter the female genital organs, and is “motivated by the desire to reduce a woman’s sexual desires”.  The WHO notes that “the practice is most common in the western, eastern, and northeastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among migrants from these areas.”

Homa Khaleeli, a staff feature writer for the Guardian, penned a heartbreaking essay at ‘Comment is Free’ (Female Genital Mutilation: Mothers need to say no, Sept. 8) about the practice of FGM, focusing largely on the personal account of Faduma Ali, who, at age 86, still remembers the pain of being circumcised when she was a young girl in Somalia.  Khaleeli, in providing background on the horrific practice, notes that It has been documented in 28 countries in Africa and in a few countries in Asia and the Middle East, and that though it’s outlawed in the UK it is still performed there within some immigrant communities.

Though the procedure takes place within Christian and Animist cultures, the likelihood of experiencing FGM is greater within Muslim populations in Africa and the Middle East.

Khaleeli, after including some of the shocking details on the cruel manner in which the procedure is usually performed, throws in the following:

Although Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities carry out FGM, mainstream spiritual leaders from all three religions have denied that the practice stems from religion.  

The claim that Muslims, Christians, and Jews practicing FGM seems like nothing but a throw-away line, and indeed Jewish scholars have observed the near complete absence of the practice within ancient and modern Jewish communities.  Harvard Professor Shaye J.D. Cohen in “Why Aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised?: Gender and Covenant in Judaism”, wrote the following:

Aside from the Beta Israel of Ethiopia (the so-called Falashas) … no Jewish community, in either ancient, medieval or modern times, is known to have practiced female circumcision. … The practice of the Beta Israel is simply part of general Ethiopian culture, in which female circumcision is widely practiced, and is not a relic of some long-lost Jewish tradition.

And, while it may have been once practiced by an extremely small number of Ethiopians from this community, it died out when they moved to Israel. 

A 2012 study at the Beersheva Mental Health Center of Ben Gurion University, published in the Journal of Israeli Psychiatry, by Dr RH Belmaker, included the following:

Jews from Arab countries where FGM is practiced do not practice FGM. However, major immigration of Jews from Ethiopia to Israel permitted study of this practice. We confirmed the report that Ethiopian Jews did practice FGM in Ethiopia (17). Moreover, we reported the dramatic and total cessation of this custom among this community after immigration to Israel. This study of FGM is one of the few to combine anthropological interviewing techniques with physical gynecological examination

Given that there are no Jews remaining in Ethiopia (after the final airlifts in August of immigrants known as Falash Mura, Ethiopians who claim links to descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity generations ago but now seek to return to the faith) it is extremely unlikely that Jews anywhere in the world are currently practicing FGM.

The extremely broad claim by Khaleeli that “Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities carry out FGM” represents Guardian Left double-speak at its worst at worst – attempting, for ideological reasons, to obfuscate the clear cultural-religious disparities in the barbaric practice.  

The ‘CiF’ contributor’s claim is, at best, extraordinarily misleading.

h/t @Lsorang 

Update 1: Naturally, the ‘superblogger’ Elder of Ziyon also superbly fisked the Guardian commentary. See here.

Update 2: The Guardian has corrected the article and removed the offending passage. The following has been added:

This article was amended on 9 September 2013. The original included a phrase which could be read to mean that FGM was practised within the Jewish community. That is not the case although there is some evidence that FGM was practised within a minor Ethiopian Jewish sect.

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