MESA TRIBUNE, Mesa, Arizona, Sunday 12 May 2003.

This article appeared in five Phoenix, AZ metro area daily
papers on Sunday, May, 12, 1996.  They are the Mesa Tribune,
Tempe Daily News Tribune, Chandler Arizonan Tribune,
Scottsdale Progress Tribune, and Gilbert Tribune.


TRIBUNE, Sunday, May 12, 1996


by Lawn Griffiths
Tribune writer

On May 2, the U.S. Senate voted to make female genital
mutilation a crime.  It was added, without opposition, to an
immigration bill.

       The action followed in part, the publicity
surrounding a young West African woman, Fauziya Kasinga, who
has been trying to win asylum in the United States, saying
her family in Togo insisted she submit to the age-old
cultural ritual of female genital mutilation and become the
fourth wife of a man twice her age.  Her sister and brother,
who opposed the practice, helped her to escape.

       The procedure ranges from cutting the hood of the
clitoris to the removal of the clitoris and the labia tissue
at the entrance to the vagina, leaving the woman with dull
or no sensation.  A girl is subjected to it as some kind of
proof of her virginity, all in the name of family honor, and
to reduce female sexual pleasure and keep girls docile and chaste.

       In short, a circumcised woman will not feel like
straying from her husband.

       The immigration and Naturalization Service detained
Kasinga in December 1994 and has held her since in New
Jersey amid a legal battle as to whether genital mutilation
is a form of persecution entitling a woman to seek foreign asylum.

       Beyond the sheer loss of feeling in those nerve rich
tissues that are integral to sensations surrounding
sexuality, the routine female circumcision, clitoridectomy,
often is performed without anesthesia or sterilized tools
and can cause painful intercourse, difficult pregnancies and
death.  The World Health Organization, which vows to end
female genital mutilation, says it has led to thousands of
deaths and has condemned millions of women to lives of agony
and lifeless sex.

       It's estimated 80 to 110 million women have undergone
his procedure. so interrelated to culture and the assignment
of women.  Each woman carries the scars on her body and her
psyche.  The issue has been on the agenda of world women's
conferences in Egypt and China in recent years.

       But the rite is no longer confined to foreign
countries.  It poses new medical, legal and ethical problems
in the United States as foreign families who practice
genital mutilation find permanent homes here and
subsequently seek to continue the practice.

       Our society asks the question:  While we can ignore
cultural practices that violate human rights in Gambia, can
we dismiss them when they are brought to the United States?

       Most of us are repulsed by that girls 7 to 12 years
old are held down and subjected to such violations of their
bodies, forever taking away such feeling and sensation in a
part of their anatomy that so defines their gender.  Among
other things we would call it child abuse.

       As I followed 19-year-old Fauziya Kasinga's case,  I
was painfully reminded that most parents in our own culture
are no less insensitive to the issue - only the names of the
society and he gender have changed.

       Each day, many thousands of newborn boys in this
country are strapped down against their will.  Healthy,
functional, nerve-rich tissue is irretrievably removed from
their genitals.

       Just as Egyptian or Sudanese fathers can confidently
explain away the value of their actions on daughters with
broad smiles and sincere arguments, so American parents
smugly rationalize why they circumcise their sons.  They
justify it in so many ways: the majority of American boys
have it done to them, the penis can be kept cleaner, male
male organ is already so erogenous so what's the big deal
about losing a few more nerve endings, that daddy is
circumcised so Johnny should be too, that there might be a
small chance that the wife an uncircumcised male contracting
cancer and that circumcision is, well, "so much more
civilized."  Wasn't it Elvis Presley who joked how his had
been left intact and was the "hillbilly" kind?

       Those parents never ask why nature put foreskin on
the penis in the first place. (among other things as a
protection of the glans), nor do they wonder why
circumcision is rarely practiced in the rest of the world
outside of Jewish and Islamic religious practices.

       For most of my 50 years, I have resented that my
registered nurse mother and farmer father subjected me and
my twin brother to the procedure shortly after our births.
Parents were well-meaning, and Dr. Benjamin Spock advised it.

       Beyond the nagging feeling of incompleteness, there
has been two other major, and important issues: 1) I imagine
 what it would be like to be fully functional, to have all
those nerve endings and fully moveable tissue? 2) And
there's the issue of having had my body violated, altered
forever against my will.

       Early in my marriage I informed my wife that under no
circumstances would I allow a son born in our family to
suffer the same fate.  So I was almost merciless in my
remarks to our doctor when our son was born in 1975, and Doc
was ready to perform what's been called "the  unkindest
cut."  I felt triumphant having told him  - and the rest of
the relatives with vigor that no such child abuse, no such
genital mutilation would ever come to our son.

       Circumcision is commonly dismissed as "just a little
snip of skin that is hardly noticeable."

       But depending on how much is removed that little snip
of skin can grow into 12 to 15 square inches of functioning
skin for the adult typically 30 to 50 percent of the area.

       The National Center for Health Statistics reports
59.5 percent of newborn boys are circumcised today or 1.25
million boys a year.  At an average of $200 per procedure it
means some $250 million to the medical industry.  In the
1970s, routine circumcision peaked at about 90 percent of newborns.

       And doctors don't report any measurable percentage of
uncircumcised adult male electing to go to their doctors to
volunteer to have the procedure done - to have carried out
what their parents failed to have done.

       Not only has Spock, the baby guidebook guru, reversed
himself by saying there is no medical or hygienic reason to
have it done, the Academy of Pediatricians and the American
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said the
same.  Some insurance companies have dropped circumcision
from procedures they will pay for.  The Canadian Medical
Association Journal, in March published results of a five-
year study revisiting the issue and concluded, "Circumcision
of male newborns should not be routinely performed."

       Ultimately it comes down to the same human rights
issue related to the case of the young woman for Togo.
Whose body is it anyway?

       John Erickson, author of Deeper into Circumcision: An
Invitation to awareness, puts it this way, "Regardless of
anyone's reason for circumcising a baby, the fact remains
that infant circumcision is foreskin amputated by force -
the deliberate, irretrievable destruction of healthy,
normal, irreplaceable erogenous tissue - living flesh, part
of someone else's sexual organ that is rightfully his and
that he instinctively wants to keep at a time in his life
when he cannot understand what is being done to him - or why
- and can't speak for or to protect himself."


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(File revised 6 December 2003)