Doctor’s arrest brings attention to US female circumcisions

In this December 2015 photo provided by her, Zehra Patwa poses for a picture at her home in New Haven, Conn. (AP)
Updated 24 April 2017

Doctor’s arrest brings attention to US female circumcisions

DETROIT: Zehra Patwa learned only a few years ago that during a family trip to India at age 7, she was circumcized, which is common for girls in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Patwa, 46, doesn’t remember undergoing the procedure, which is also called female genital mutilation or cutting and which has been condemned by the United Nations and outlawed in the US But she doesn’t want to.
“I have no desire to get that memory back. ... Psychologically, it feels like a violation, even though I don’t remember it,” said Patwa, a technology project manager from New Haven, Connecticut, who now campaigns against the centuries-old practice.
The recent arrest of a Michigan doctor accused of performing the procedure on two 7-year-old girls from Patwa’s own Shiite Muslim sect, the Dawoodi Bohra, highlights how female genital mutilation is alive and well in parts of the Western world where its adherents have migrated and formed communities.
Depending on the culture, female circumcisions are performed on girls of various ages and by various methods, and they are seen as a way of controlling a girl’s sexuality, maintaining her purity or even making her more fertile as she grows into adulthood. Critics, though, say it can cause complications during childbirth, make intercourse painful and eliminate any pleasure a woman can derive from sex.
Dr. Jumana Nagarwala is accused of performing the procedure on two Minnesota girls that left them with scars and lacerations. Her attorney, Shannon Smith, insists that Nagarwala conducted a benign religious ritual that involved no mutilation.
Prosecutors on Friday charged two other Bohras, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida Attar, with conspiracy. Fakhruddin Attar owns the Detroit-area clinic where the alleged procedures were performed in February, and investigators say the couple knew Nagarwala was doing the procedures after business hours.
There are more than a million Bohras in the world, most of whom live in India. No one knows how many there are in the US, but it’s estimated there are about 25,000 and that they have about 20 mosques and gathering places.
Patwa, who is part of the activist group Speak Out on FGM, said that given its clandestine nature, it’s hard to estimate how many people perform female circumcisions in the US But there are a small number in the Bohra community who are known by elders and tend to be clustered around large cities with Bohra mosques, she said.
When many Bohra girls are age 6 to 8, their parents approach — or are approached by — a “secret network” of female elders about getting the girls cut. There is then an informal vetting process to make sure a request is legitimate and not an attempt to expose any activities, Patwa said.
“Everybody knows somebody who has gotten their daughter cut ... but nobody wants to rat out their family members or friends,” she said.
A spokesman for the Syedna, the Bohras’ religious head in Mumbai, India, could not be reached for comment. The two men vying to succeed the Syedna, his half brother and the son of a former Syedna, have different views on female circumcision. The half brother says it is time to end the practice of female circumcision. The former Syedna’s son, whom most Bohras accept as their new leader, says the tradition must continue and notes that Bohra men are also circumcized.
“Men have to do it, and even women have to do it,” Syedna Muffadal Saifuddin said in a speech last year.
The World Health Organization said the practice of removing or injuring female genital organs has no known health benefits but has been performed on roughly 200 million women and girls in 30 countries.
Multiple Islamic scholars and experts say the practice is cultural, not based in religious principles. Those who don’t have their daughters circumcized are subjected to pressure, and those who do believe they are protecting the girls.
Although Patwa and others describe it as a widespread practice, it’s not universally performed among the Bohra. Sahiyo, a Mumbai-based organization that campaigns against the procedure, estimates that about 80 percent of girls within the community have had it done.
She said she attends a Bohra mosque near Boston, which she describes as a welcoming and largely educated and tolerant congregation, but not one in which the procedure they call “khatna” is openly discussed.
“Part of my campaigning is always, ‘We have a problem within our community. We can only deal with it as a community,” she said. “We can expose it, but other people aren’t going to swoop in and help us.’“
Patwa said many Bohra mosques, including hers, have sent letters to members encouraging them not to engage in khatna because it could be considered illegal. But she said some critics don’t see this as a serious attempt by mosques to end the practice, but rather as legal cover.
Dr. Mohammed Arsiwala, president and CEO of Michigan Urgent Care and a board member of the Michigan State Medical Society, said he was a Bohra until about five years ago. He has shared his concerns about the procedure through a resolution presented to the state medical group, which adopted a policy several years ago labeling it unethical for doctors to perform.
Jiwajee Bhai Bootwala belongs to the Minneapolis-area Bohra community, which he said consists of about 25 to 30 families. He said he doesn’t know of anyone involved in the practice and didn’t know about the families who went to Michigan, or if they even belong to his group. Still, he said, the news will spoil his community’s image.
“The law for the country is part of your faith,” he said. “So we would never do something against the laws of the country.”

Middle East leaders join world in condemnation of deadly France attack

Updated 30 October 2020

Middle East leaders join world in condemnation of deadly France attack

  • Saudi Arabia had earlier condemned the attacks saying they were inconsistent with all religions
  • Pope Francis prays for the victims as Vatican says terrorism and violence should be rejected

PARIS: World leaders condemned fatal stabbings in the French city of Nice Thursday that France called an Islamist terrorist attack.
Condemnation came from US President Donald Trump, UN chief Antonio Guterres, as well as European, Arab and Israeli leaders.
“Our hearts are with the people of France. America stands with our oldest Ally in this fight,” Trump tweeted. “These Radical Islamic terrorist attacks must stop immediately. No country, France or otherwise can long put up with it!“
One of the first to condemn was Turkey, embroiled in a row with France over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have triggered a wave of attacks against French people.
“We strongly condemn the attack committed today inside the Notre-Dame church in Nice,” a Turkish foreign ministry statement said.
It expressed solidarity with France, and offered condolences to relatives of the three people killed in the attack.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also condemned the attack, while adding that “peace cannot be achieved with ugly provocation.”
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Arab and Islamic leaders drew a clear distinction between their religion and violent acts that claimed to defend it.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said it “stands as a government and people with... France in combating this hateful incident.”
Qatar voiced strong condemnation and reiterated its rejection of violence and terrorism, especially against places of worship and regardless of the motives.
Lebanese prime minister designate Saad Hariri urged Muslims “to reject this criminal act that has nothing to do with Islam or the Prophet.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison slammed the killing as “an attack on liberty. When we think of France, we think of liberty. And we stand with the people of France.”

Also read: Saudi Arabia condemns Nice church attack

European Union leaders quickly expressed solidarity with France, and pledged to confront “those that seek to incite and spread hatred.”
“I condemn the odious and brutal attack that has just taken place in Nice and I am with France with all my heart,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tweeted.
“We will remain united and determined in the face of barbarity and fanaticism.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was “deeply shaken by the brutal murders” and said “my thoughts are with the relatives of those murdered and injured. Germany stands with France at this difficult time.”
In a statement issued later by EU Council chief Charles Michel, the 27 leaders expressed solidarity with France but made no reference to the controversy over cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

A relative of one of the victims looks on at the scene of the killings which took place inside the church. (AFP)

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte condemned a “cowardly attack” and said: “Our convictions are stronger than fanaticism, hatred and terror. We embrace the families of the victims and our French brothers. We are united!“
Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez added: “We continue to defend freedom, our democratic values, peace and the security of our citizens.”

A harder tone came from Hungary, where populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban wrote that the attack showed clearly “that our culture, our way of life and our European values are in the crosshairs of extremist terrorism.
“We are ready to join forces in order to protect traditional European values and the traditional European way of life,” Orban added.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who previously governed with far-right ministers, called the murders in Nice “a despicable Islamist terror attack.”
“We will defend our values and European ‘way of life’ with all our might against Islamists and political Islam,” Kurz said.

Indian premier Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, strongly condemned the “heinous attack in Nice” and added that his country also “stands with France in the fight against terrorism.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “appalled” at the “barbaric attack at the Notre-Dame Basilica,” he tweeted in English and French.
“Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and the UK stands steadfastly with France against terror and intolerance.”

Pope Francis prayed for the victims as the Vatican said that “terrorism and violence can never be accepted.
“Today’s attack has sown death in a place of love and consolation,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
The pontiff urged people in France, a multi-cultural society, to “unite to combat evil with good.”
During talks with the Italian foreign minister, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin warned: “The attempt to foment war between religions is inconceivable.
“There is no war between Christianity and Islam, or between Judaism and Islam and we must be sure that no one is allowed to make that happen.”