Big Brother Is Not Watching You

Our society—modern Western civilization in general—is weirdly deferential towards Muslims and Islam, said deference driven in large part, I think, because people see Muslims in our society as put-upon and aggrieved minorities who deserve special consideration. Progressives in particular are extremely sensitive to the plight, real or imagined, of Muslims in American society. It leads to some strange rhetorical bedfellows within the Left: the people who might normally snicker and sneer at the denim full skirt dress codes of fundamentalist Christians are also hyper-quick to defend and even celebrate the hijab, an article of clothing that literally has no function other than reactionary moral self-deprecation.

Now this odd accession has apparently come to Minnesota, the legislature of which recently tried to pass an anti-female-genital-mutilation bill that ran up against some opposition in transit:

The Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, a nonprofit called Isuroon and other groups argue that the legislation carries overly harsh punishment and unintended consequences, including the possibility that newcomers from countries where genital cutting is widespread would not seek medical care and other services for their children. They call for a less punitive approach focused on educating parents.

Now, the author of the Senate version is voicing second thoughts about approving the legislation yet this session, though Senate GOP leadership have not committed to a course of action. “We all agree this practice is absolutely horrible, and something needs to be done,” said the author, Sen. Karin Housley. “How can we empower communities to address this practice from within rather than having Big Brother come down and say, ‘This is wrong?’”

Rep. Mary Franson, who introduced the House bill, said the Senate is bowing to pressure from groups “more concerned with perception than doing the right thing and protecting girls.”

It is worth pointing out that Franson herself initially worried that the legislation would be seen as “Islamophobic” before deciding to go ahead with it. In any event, it is really something to witness: the author of a bill that would have cracked down on the barbaric practice of butchering little girls’ genitals has been publicly chastened over her absolutely commendable aspirations. Instead of laughing off the demands for a “less punitive” approach to preventing human butchery, Sen. Housley has instead been reduced to talking about “empowering communities” to “address” “this practice.” It seems not to have occurred to her that the “communities” in question aren’t actually interested in “empowerment,” aside from the kind of “empowerment” that allows them to slice their five-year-old girls’ clitorises and cut off their labia. I hate to break it to Sen. Housley, but if someone doesn’t already know that it’s wrong to cut up a little girl’s sexual and reproductive organs, then “empowering” them to “address” the problem isn’t going to do much good.

Just how bad are the “punitive” aspects of this bill? Well, it “makes it a felony for parents to subject their daughters to the procedure and calls for loss of custody and prison terms from five to 20 years, depending on the extent of the injuries.” Five to twenty years might seem a little steep, except when you consider the fact that the little girls who are subject to this practice can suffer for it throughout their entire lives. Even with the maximum sentence under this proposed law, a perp would walk in a couple of decades. His victim might suffer chronic physical and emotional pain for four times as long. You might consider this to be “overly harsh punishment” only if you think that slicing up a little girl’s private parts and possibly ruining her life is, in the grand scheme of things, not that big of a deal, or at least something that a person shouldn’t have to pay for in any really consequential way.

An activist also takes issue with the law’s “separating girls from their families, which they argue victimizes them a second time.” It is hard to imagine how sending a girl back to a family that mutilated her is somehow beneficial for that girl; it is, in any case, difficult to believe that a similar argument would be proffered if, say, a mother and father had their daughter’s feet cut off above the ankles because of some primitive barbaric impulse. “Well, sure, they mutilated their little girl and made her life vastly more difficult for the most savage and indefensible of reasons. But imagine what will happen if they aren’t allowed to retain custody!”

You can see the double standard at work here. In fact, you can see it at work in the existing Minnesota code, in which anyone (parents included) who subjects minors to sexual abuse may be sent to prison for up to thirty years. You don’t seem to see anyone kicking up much of a fuss about such a stiff penalty; when it comes to female genital mutilation, suddenly people worried about “Big Brother.” Call me crazy, but if one one of “Big Brother’s” functions is to (a) stop people from slicing up prepubescent girls’ bodies, and (b) throw into prison the people who do it—well, I’m just fine with that. And if you take issue with such a law, you should quite honestly ask yourself why.


  1. David

    I always enjoy how people commenting on the “right” are so quick to associate the left with the most extreme associations that they can find. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard Rush Limbaugh cite an example of a county commissioner or school board member who happens to be an idiot AND a Democrat & make the suggestion that such behavior is typical. I imagine you are at least somewhat aware that some folks on the “left” are guilty of the same type of bigotry, associating Republicans with the KKK & the likes of Timothy McVeigh. The question I have is why would an intelligent person want to perpetuate such nonsense?

    That being said, defending someone’s right to wear a hijab (if they choose to do so) while “sniggering” at someone’s long denim dress is hardly hypocritical, so long as they are also defending the right to wear long denim dresses.

    I also agree that female genital mutilation is a horrible practice that should be banned. You do realize I hope that the motivation for the practice is the desire to control female sexuality by making the act of sexual intercourse so painful that a young woman would lose all inclination to have sex outside of wedlock? I appreciate that “conservatives” in our culture expect women to accomplish the same just by emphasizing will power along with economic & social punishments. The long term impact may not be much better from an economic standpoint but at least the physical pain will probably be less.

    The only concern I have with the emphasis on jail time is the probability that those people who are likely to commit this crime are probably recent immigrants who are largely ignorant of American values & morays. I’m not sure what the proper punishment should be but can’t we both agree that educating these new immigrants would be more useful than locking them up?

    • Daniel Payne

      The idea that female genital mutilation is philosophically comparable to sexual morality and chastity is one of your more creative arguments. It seems bizarre that I have to point this out, but: at their best, Western sexual propriety mores are imposed upon *both* sexes, male and female—while FGM is universally reserved for (you guessed it) females alone. As well, even stodgy old sexual prudes like myself believe that while sex should be reserved for marriage, in that context it can and very much *should* be pleasurable and rewarding; proponents of FGM don’t believe even that much. And in any case—good grief, I actually have to say this!—FGM is mutilation, while sexual propriety is an idea.. Which would you rather be subject to, David: body mutilation or an idea?

      So, to sum it up, your comparison makes literally no sense at all.

      • David

        It isn’t an idea, it is a fact that FGM is performed as a physical means to enforce conservative morals & chastity. We don’t approve of such acts in the USA but there are elements of our culture which desire to impose laws to serve the same function w/o physical mutilation. I should also take a moment to point out that FGM is not a practice that is widely accepted among those of the Muslim faith. It is more of a tribal practice that is common among certain cultures in Africa. This is also true of most of the other practices we commonly associate with Islam in a negative way, s.a. the enforced wearing of the hijab. They are tribal practices rather than religious practices. (I believe the practice originated from the desert/oasis morays of the Arab nomadic traders in order to reduce the theft of women when adversarial tribes shared an oasis)

        I appreciate that modern conservatism has accepted that sexual activity (within an appropriate context) should be enjoyable for both participants. You must also acknowledge that this is a fairly recent expression of conservatism in general as until the last few decades, the conservative consensus was that sex should be solely for the purposes of procreation & pleasure, certainly the woman’s pleasure, was irrelevant if not downright dangerous.

        Since we are concerned with the subject of genital mutilation, would you support criminal penalties for male circumcision? This is also genital mutilation which many believe reduces the male sexual pleasure. How is cutting off the foreskin of a male infant any more acceptable than FGM? I say this somewhat rhetorically as I believe the damage from FGM is more severe but aren’t we talking differences in degree rather than differences in kind?

        Given that, in spite of my ramblings, we really do agree that this is a practice that should be stopped, how about the following suggestion:

        Perhaps, as a nod to cultural sensitivity, we require that new immigrants from the areas where FGM has been practiced, receive some educational training whereby they are informed that, regardless of their traditional practices, FGM is against the law in the USA (perhaps we should outlaw MGM at the same time?) and that there are criminal penalties if someone were to perform acts of genital mutilation of children.

        • Daniel Payne

          Well, now we’ve moved the goalposts, and in a profoundly dumb way: your argument is apparently, “Well, sure, FGM is bad, but ‘conservative’ sexual mores used to be a lot more narrow-minded than they are now!” This is stupid and pointless, David.

          As well, that’s a great question about the criminalization of male circumcision. Reflexively I’m inclined to say that, no, it shouldn’t be criminalized. But that’s probably because I’m just used to it, as we all are. In any case, I don’t believe in circumcising boys and I would discourage prospective or new parents from doing so. (I think the culture is actually turning this way, thankfully.) Whether or not it should be criminalized is a separate question, though I think the case for criminalizing circumcision is far, far less airtight than that of FGM.

  2. David

    I’m not sure how you see my observation regarding the parallels between conservative sexual mores & FGM as a goalpost issue. I’m just pointing out parallels. Perhaps I should be more explicit:

    Societies evolve. Many behaviors that we considered normal 100 years ago would be considered barbaric today. Many of our behaviors that upset conservatives today will be the conservative norm in 50 years. The concept of rape in a marriage was unknown before the 1950’s. In his youth, Bing Crosby was considered a corrupter of our youth’s morals. Johan Strauss’ waltzes (along with that lurid dancing) were considered another corrupter of morals (see about 7th paragraph down).

    Many of the issues we decry in other societies as primitive & backwards are issues that we were guilty of in varying degrees not that many decades ago. I am not suggesting that we should accept these “barbaric” behaviors. We should just try to understand that some of these cultural practices come from societies that have not had as much experience with modern technological culture. I am probably more sympathetic with your values than you may realize. I find some of the modern cultural patterns disagreeable & I am hoping that they don’t perpetuate. However, I realize that people “mature” at different rates & wisdom is the acceptance that there is more that we don’t know than we can ever realize & the best way to deal with ignorance is through patience & education not through criminalization.

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