It was an anti-terrorism raid with a big difference.
Police in Bremen, Germany, raided an apartment recently not to arrest any terrorists but rather to prevent two of its occupants from being terrorized by another form of barbarism: female genital mutilation. In what has been described as "a first" by a German women's organization, authorities in the northern, port city were able to intervene and thwart a planned, female circumcision of two girls aged one and four. The infants, taken into state care, were to have undergone the horrifying procedure in their 25-year-old mother's native country of Gambia at a female circumcision ritual.
However, the girls' German father discovered the mother's gruesome plan when he returned home one evening and found two packed bags and his daughters missing. Very fortunately for the girls, their father was vehemently opposed to the hideous ordeal his wife of five years, whom he had married "according to Muslim law", was planning for them. Already aware of the father's fierce opposition to her scheme, the mother had hidden the intended victims among countrymen at another apartment, from which at least the one-year-old was slated to leave the next day for the West African country.
An ensuing, loud argument between the two parents about the mother's scheme luckily drew a visit from the police, now keen on finding the two little girls. The mother, however, refused to help the authorities and was taken into custody for obstructing police. But other Gambian women indicated where the toddlers were hidden, leading to their timely rescue.
It is estimated that 30,000 women living in Germany have undergone female genital mutilation, most in their native countries, and are part of the one hundred and thirty million women worldwide who have suffered the same, tragic fate. In addition, three million females, mostly girls aged four to ten, but babies as well, undergo this savage "operation" every year, while in Germany alone as many as 5,000 girls are in danger annually of joining that number.
According to one German publication, female genital mutilation is carried on especially in Africa where about 90 to 100 per cent of the women in such countries as Somalia, the Sudan and Gambia are circumcised. It is also practiced in the Middle Eastern countries of Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, but does not exist in any North African country except for Egypt. Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia also subject women to it. But while Muslim women are the main victims of female genital mutilation, African animist tribes, Coptic Christians and Ethiopian Jews also are guilty of the horrid practice, which pre-dates Islam. As well, many of these countries have launched their own campaigns to eradicate this terrible social blight.
The reasons given for the revolting practice are that it is traditional and prevents women from having sexual feelings, thus "saving" them from their own sexuality and leaving them "pure" for a future husband. An impure, or uncircumcised, woman would never be able to marry in some of the above-mentioned countries' cultures. The practice, therefore, ensures the girl's future standing as a wife and mother.
Female genital mutilation first came to the attention of western nations, including the United States and Canada, in the 1990s. Immigrants and refugees from the approximately 25 countries where it is practiced brought this anti-civilizational custom with them. One writer stated that hardly anything at that time shook western states more deeply than the realization that this brutal habit was being carried on within their borders.
Since then, western countries have introduced legal measures to fight the practice. It is now grounds for an asylum claim in some industrial states. As well, in 1999 in France, for the first time a woman was also given a long, prison sentence for having performed "innumerable" female circumcisions, while the parents were given probation. France and Germany have also made it illegal not only to have the offensive procedure done within their borders, but also abroad, since parents were flying their daughters back to their native countries after its proscription in the West.
One such victim, Fatou Bah, who now opposes the practice, gave a poignant account to a French newspaper about how she flew with her father back to her parents' native Guinea in Africa, ostensibly to get to know her grandmother before she died. Fatou, now a mother of a girl herself, was 11-years old and had been born in France and grown up French, which naturally left her completely unprepared her for her the terrifying ordeal.
Her first week in Guinea was calm, Fatou related, with unknown women passing by, who talked with her father. One afternoon during the next week, however, she found herself stretched out in a room beside six other small girls for the "operation", done without anesthetic. A girl lying beside Fatou died from it. Once back in France, her mother showed her daughter off "like a trophy" to the cousins who congratulated the parent for not forgetting the traditions. And when Fatou cried, the little girl's mother warned her not to denounce her parents to the authorities or they would go to jail and she would be put in a home where she would be beaten and receive nothing to eat. Her father simply threatened to kill her if she did so.
Now joining the fight against this barbarism fit for a medieval torture chamber are European Muslim women who have themselves been genitally mutilated. The most prominent among them is Dutch-Somali Muslim dissident, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Dutch Member of Parliament whose best-selling autobiography, Infidel, outlines in painful, excruciating detail her own terrible genital mutilation experience as well as that of her younger sister's, who, she claims, was never the same person afterwards. Both sisters had their inner labia and clitoris cut off by a man with a pair of scissors, causing her indescribable, piercing pain and "bloodcurdling howls" from her sister.
But the brutality Hirsi Ali and her sister underwent is often only the victim's first experience in what will afterwards become a life of physical pain and psychological torment. While five to ten per cent of the girls who undergo the often unhygienic procedure die, many others will suffer for years from various medical complications from the mutilation.
Nevertheless, despite all efforts to prevent it, Hirsi Ali and others maintain that female genital mutilation is still being carried out on kitchen tables in Western Europe. Ten per cent of German gynecologists in a 2005 survey said they had heard of female circumcisions performed in Germany, while almost half of them stated they had treated women who had undergone the cruelty. Some European nations like Germany are now also considering legally required medical examinations of girls before and after they visit countries where the practice is carried on. But more education, experts say, is needed for prevention and a good place to start is with those circumcised women treated by medical professionals.
Another good start is books to inform the general public like Die Traenen der Toechter (The Tears of the Daughters), an autobiography by the Senegalese woman, Khady, who describes her genital mutilation at age seven like "a rat attacked my body." It was seventh on the bestseller list in France when published in 2005 and was on Germany's bestseller's list last July. Like Hirsi Ali and Fatou Bah, what Khady wants is that "women do not let this barbarism be repeated on their daughters, who are already born or are still to be born, from which they will have to suffer their whole lives."
And you can bet these three compassionate women, who have had to suffer so much from this barbaric practice and know firsthand the terrible fate that awaited the two innocent Bremen girls in Gambia, appreciate very much the efforts of their German father and the Bremen police in saving their precious lives from ruination and perhaps even from death.
By Stephen Brown