In April 2017, The Times of India reported that Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, the spiritual global leader of a Shia Muslim sect called the Dawoodi Bohras, reaffirmed the mandate of female genital mutilation (katna) in a sermon carried over a livestream and repeated in a messaging app:
“It must be done. If it is a man, it can be done openly and if it is a woman it must be discreet. But the act must be done. Do you understand what I am saying? Let people say what they want …we are not scared of anyone.”
The curious timing of this female genital mutilation global spiritual mandate suggests a serendipitous coincidence with the announcement of a federal indictment of eight Dawoodi Bohra members in a conspiracy to commit female genital mutilation in Michigan. The leader of this conspiracy is Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who, according to the indictment, perpetrated female genital mutilation on a number of little girls. The U.S. government alleges that Nagarwala and others carried out this barbaric practice on unsuspecting little girls at night and after hours in a Livonia, Michigan, clinic.
Adhering to the dictates of their spiritual leader, their plot was both discreet and surreptitious.
The World Health Organization, the United Nations and the Centers for Disease Control all categorically state that there is no health benefit to female genital mutilation, calling it a violation of human rights. In fact, female genital mutilation causes victims a lifetime of physical and psychological damage. The global community recognizes the insidious harm of female genital mutilation, and 59 countries have criminalized the barbaric procedure. The CDC estimates that over 513,000 girls and women in the U.S. are at risk of female genital mutilation. Yet, this barbaric practice is growing exponentially in America as migrants import this practice when they arrive in the United States from their home countries which practice female genital mutilation.
The mandate from Syedna sounds more like a threatening directive from a mafia warlord, with commands to his followers to operate covertly and discreetly. Why? Female genital mutilation is a federal crime in the United States and in 26 states. Needless to say, “discretion” is advised when the Syedna instructs his followers to flaunt and violate established criminal laws.
When reading the facts alleged in the U.S. government’s Nagarwala indictment, it appears that the defendants took the Syedna’s cautionary advice of operating in secrecy and discretion to heart. The prosecution alleges that the child victims were “told not to talk about the procedure, that it was a secret.” The code of Syedna Silence operates as a pall over the child victims in this case.
The Syedna haughtily repudiates the world community’s charges that female genital mutilation is harmful to little girls and boldly proclaims that “we are not afraid of anyone,” despite universal condemnation by global health experts that describe female genital mutilation as torture and brutal child abuse.
With 22 Dawoodi Bohra mosques currently operating and established throughout the United States, the contemptuous criminal mandate from their leader, Syedna, who sanctions lawlessness and criminality, poses a highly problematic challenge for law enforcement and our government. When religious leaders direct followers to scoff at our criminal laws, and to brazenly flaunt our customs and values, then the rule of law of our civilized society is undermined and diminished. Law enforcement must presume that this criminal practice is being carried out in secret in the United States in the 22 Dawoodi Bohra Mosques who are faithful adherents of the Syedna.
By necessity, the question must be asked and vetted of Dawoodi Bohras: Will you follow the established laws and statutes of the United States, or will you follow the criminal dictates of your religious leader? Additionally, in countries like Somalia, where 98 percent of little girls undergo female genital mutilation are Somali migrants importing this practice into the United States? It seems likely according to the CDC’s data.
Torture is torture. The stated purpose of female genital mutilation is to remove sexual pleasure from females and to keep them clean and pure. The Nagarwala indictment asserts that the purpose of this “cutting is to suppress female sexuality in an attempt to reduce sexual pleasure and promiscuity.” Indeed, the heroic Somali human rights activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an outspoken anti- female genital mutilation activist and herself an female genital mutilation child victim, says in her best-selling book, “The Infidel,” that “suppressing female sexuality is a big theme with the Imams.”
Torture and child abuse cannot be condoned in the name of religious freedom. Will the United States allow a two-tier system of child protection and law enforcement? Will we turn a blind eye to little immigrant girls from female genital mutilation countries and ignore their torture as victims of criminal child abuse? Don’t they deserve the full faith and protection of the law from female genital mutilation?
Isn’t it time for Americans to stand up and insist that we, too, are not afraid of anyone? We will enforce our laws, our values and our civilization.
We protect little girls from torture.
Elizabeth Yore is an international child advocate attorney with expertise in human trafficking, child exploitation, missing children and female genital mutilation, and has worked for Oprah Winfrey as her child advocate. Yore was formerly the general counsel at the National Center for Missing and Abducted Children. She currently heads the national EndFGMToday initiative.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.