Why is Quilliam pamphleteering about FGM?

An extract from the front page of Quilliam's pamphlet "FGM legislation in Britain: a national scandal". The crop has the title at the top in white on a black background; below is a picture of a Black woman wearing a black headscarf wrapped around her face, with a red and black cap on underneath. The background is a blur of grey and green.Last week Quilliam, the self-styled counter-extremism think-tank set up by former member of Hizb-ut-Tahreer Maajid Nawaz, released a pamphlet on FGM written by one Muna Adil, complete with a foreword by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali emigree who teamed up with the extreme racist Theo Van Gogh to vilify Islam in the Netherlands ten years ago before a deception in her asylum application was discovered and she moved to the US and married Niall Ferguson. The pamphlet was given some advance publicity by the Sunday Times last weekend and was tweeted out by a bunch of the usual liberal suspects (often overseas, where the paper’s history of bias and bigotry towards Muslims is less well-known than it is here) but a quick look at it reveals a lack of any original research; rather it relies on well-known existing statistics which do not prove that FGM is taking place on any significant scale in the UK, spices it up with some familiar accusations about political correctness and offers some ‘solutions’. The publication is available here, though you will have to give them an address.

Before I even look into the pamphlet’s content, I have to ask what Quilliam is doing publishing pamphlets on this issue. They are supposed to be an anti-extremist think tank; FGM is an old cultural practice which pre-dates any of the modern Islamist movements by many centuries, which is practised by people, mostly in Africa, who are Muslim, Christian and followers of local religions, and which (at least in its severe forms) modern fundamentalist Islamic movements actually oppose. Its correlation with extremist or political-fundamentalist Islam is very weak, if there is indeed any. The choice of Ayaan Hirsi Ali to write the foreword, rather than one of the many anti-FGM activists that are in the UK (some of whom have foundations of their own who at least better understand the culture here in the UK better than would someone who lives in the USA) is a revealing choice; it reveals that they have no interest in maintaining the trust (or pretending to, as they never really had it) of the Muslim community here. And the front cover shows a Black woman wearing a niqaab, something women in most countries with endemic FGM do not wear. Clearly the image is an attempt to stereotype FGM as a Muslim issue and to link it primarily with Somalis, when it is prevalent among people originating from across Africa, including Nigeria and Sierra Leone

On page 5, they repeat the statistic that 5,391 “new cases” of FGM were recorded in the 2016-7 period. As discussed elsewhere, this does not equate to evidence of that many cases having been carried out here; it means that many women who had experienced it at some point presenting to healthcare workers. The number is exaggerated because mandatory reporting on FGM was introduced only recently, so all the women who experienced it at any point who gave birth, had a smear test or needed any other gynaecological treatment would have come to the authorities during that year or the year or two before it, not at any time previously despite their having lived in the UK and accessed British healthcare services during that time.

On page 8, they suggest seven reasons for the zero rate of FGM convictions in the UK. They include: “disempowered survivors”, lack of witnesses (because of cultural acceptance of FGM), cultural sensitivity, lack of education about the dangers of FGM among the communities involved, lack of resources for FGM victims, difficulty in prosecuting due to the secrecy in which it is carried out and the fact that the perpetrators are usually otherwise law-abiding citizens, and legal loopholes, such as that the legislation only applies to girls who are British citizens or residents. The most obvious explanation, low incidence of FGM, is not among them. The author prefers to entertain the outlandish theory that several large communities, which are not closed, could have kept something like this secret for decades without at least one adult victim coming forward with a complaint or one infection or other serious complication becoming known to the authorities at the time, which is what would happen if someone was piercing ears, let alone taking knives to girls’ genitals, in basements without proper hygiene. Infibulation and other severe forms of FGM kill. (Significantly, the one prosecution they can name from the USA, which like the UK has a large Somali community, was of a doctor from the Dawoodi Bohra sect, a closed religious community based in Bombay.)

On page 10, there is a panel devoted to the matter of “political correctness” in which they claim:

This notion that certain cultures are out-of-bounds when it comes to criticism is not just misguided and misinformed, but often allows the most vulnerable individuals from society to continue to be victimised and abused.

In our misguided attempts to protect the ‘sentiments’ of minority communities, we have failed the vulnerable young girls and women who have suffered years of irreversible damage, and who are perhaps the most well-positioned individuals to bring about real change. By refusing to address the specifics of the issue, we delegitimise the concerns of some of the most well-informed members of the concerned community and effectively dismiss what is probably our best shot to commit to significant, long- term solutions.

But why would anyone assume, in 2018, that such sensitivities are the reason why the authorities would not act to protect children? FGM has never been out of the news for more than a few months at a time for years and every statistic about it makes headlines. Hostile headlines about Muslims in particular have freely been printed in major newspapers, often without regard for their veracity (e.g. the foster care story from last summer) let alone sensitivity. As the story of Ann John (in the panel above on the same page) demonstrates, the view that FGM should be respected as ‘culture’ had some currency 20 to 30 years ago, but doesn’t now, and other qualms about cultural sensitivity have been overcome to the point of being considered risible. The claim is so ridiculous in this day and age that the best explanation for it is malice.

The ‘solutions’ (on page 11) consist of proposals for more surveillance on the minority communities suspected of clinging to FGM: making investigators rather than victims responsible for proving FGM, for example. But proving a crime is never left to the victim in a public prosecution; it is up to the police and the CPS to put together a case and prove it in court, and a victim coming forward to report having been injured is only one way a case can start to be built. The reason given is still heavily based on cultural stereotypes, as they claim “victims of FGM are often left demoralised, ashamed and depressed”, something that may be true of other forms of abuse as well, but victims of other forms of abuse come forward; again, it relies on stereotypes of African and Asian homes being dominated by abusive men and a culture of silence, which some may be, but after years of having gone to schools where they are able to meet, play with and work with children of their own and similar cultures and others, it is implausible to claim that so many are like this to silence every story of abuse.

They also propose that the authorities “identify high-risk communities and vulnerable girls”. But it’s already known which communities come from places where FGM is endemic, but it is necessary to engage with these communities to ascertain which ones cling to the practice and which ones have let it go. However, this cannot happen if FGM activists are unwilling to hear facts that contradict their preconceived ideas. Media feminists often boast that they know some of the well-known anti-FGM activists (e.g. Nimco Ali, Hibo Wardere etc), but if you have only spoken to two Somali women and neither of them wear hijab, you have not listened to Somali women (let alone African women in general).

This is, therefore, a slim pamphlet based on even slimmer research; it simply throws together a few well-reported facts, some uncontested assumptions and stereotypes and some opinions based on them and packages it with an irrelevant stereotype of Islam — because Quilliam is a Muslim-targeted “counter-extremism” think-tank — so as to generate more excuses to maintain a culture of suspicion and surveillance. The fact remains that hearsay, rumour and suspicion do not prove that FGM is a common problem in the UK and that scare statistics about “new cases” are being bandied around but very little evidence of this going on in the UK is ever published. If there was evidence of girls presenting with complications of FGM in British hospitals, we would surely hear of it, but we do not. Without such evidence, it is impossible not to conclude that this is a non-issue in the UK which is being exaggerated and exploited for racist reasons, as well as to maintain the careers and egos of activists.

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