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Confronting Female Genital Mutilation in Iran
by Irfan Al-Alawi and Stephen Schwartz
The Weekly Standard
June 17, 2015
In Muslim lands outside Africa, FGM is considered a recent phenomenon. An émigré Iranian cleric, Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, has condemned the practice, arguing that it is unsupported by the Koran or any other Islamic sacred texts. He has declared, "For the past 1,400 years there was no reflection of this topic in books by Islamic scholars or clerics."
Kameel Ahmady, an Iranian social anthropologist, has shone a bright light on FGM in Iran, with a new, self-published study. Ahmady returned to Iran after he "worked in Africa for a number of humanitarian relief NGOs and was given the opportunity to observe UN projects to combat FGM in countries like Egypt, Somalia, Kenya and Sudan."
The substantive nature of Ahmady's work has led Stop FGM Middle East to call for a new international focus on the problem in Iran. The same organization has supported the Iranian investigator Rayeyeh Mozafarian, author of an academic thesis on the social and cultural background of FGM in the Hormozgan community of Qeshm Island.
Stop FGM Middle East reports further that local anti-FGM campaigns have emerged in Iran. In the western Iranian province of Kermanshah, which is a center of FGM, two activists, Elham Hosseini and Osman Mahmoudi, have introduced classes on FGM for women and parents. They are training 50 psychology students to educate women against accepting imposition of FGM, and offer psychotherapy to those who have suffered it. Therapy for FGM is provided for married couples as well as women. Husbands often demand acceptance of FGM from their wives and daughters.
In his work on FGM, Kameel Ahmady learned,
Being male and having a 'non-traditional' background in the sense that I lived abroad... my detailed questions about this extremely sensitive topic – the cutting of the most private part of a woman's body – created resistance and bewilderment. I found that my research was not taken that seriously by some locals, especially the men. Some people, including some of my own relatives, were of the opinion that this subject is not an honorable one for an educated man . . .and the project was deemed not a 'manly' job.
Meanwhile, according to Stop FGM Middle East, some Iranian authorities have denounced FGM but the clerical regime has failed to act against it. Finally, the campaigners against cruelty insist, the world must "put Iran on the map of FGM-affected countries."
Iran cannot be expected to act soon against FGM – especially as its rulers hew to the devious and obstinate course visible in its shadow-play "negotiations" over its nuclear ambitions, and given the repressive habits it applies against internal dissent.
Irfan Al-Alawi is executive director of the London-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation. Stephen Schwartz, a fellow at the Middle East Forum, is executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism in Washington, DC.
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