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The Truth About Female Genital Mutilation

The other day I was chatting to a friend online and we were discussing the interesting online visual map Because Everything Is Best At Something.  My friend queried the Djibouti entry for female circumcision.  She did not know what it was and also did not know why it would be considered a crime.  We spoke about it briefly and it occurred to me that many people do not know about this most heinous of traditional practices.

female-genital-mutilation

The practice known as female circumcision or female genital mutilation (FGM) is a cultural and religious practice that takes place mainly in many African countries, the Middle East and southern and western Asia.  Whereas many proponents of male circumcision claim the practice to have health benefits, there are very few such claims about FGM.  This is an overtly oppressive practice that is designed to maintain the submission of women.  There are three main types of FGM and various cultural or religious excuses given for the practice.  Whatever the type or reason, what results is that women’s genital are mutilated, their ability to experience sexual pleasure is drastically reduced or removed and there are often very serious consequences of the practice.

Female Genital Mutilation map of Africa
Image source: Wikipedia

Types of Female Genital Mutilation

The World Health Organization identifies four main types of female genital mutilation:

  • Clitoridectomy: This involves the partial or full removal of the clitoris or in rare cases, only the prepuce (which is the fold of skin that surrounds the clitoris).  Sometimes the prepuce or hood of the clitoris can be too tight and there are possible medical reasons to remove or snip it but that is a rare procedure.
  • Excision: This is where the clitoris and major or minor labia are removed.  These are the lips that surround the vagina and they protect the vaginal opening so there is no possible medical benefits to be derived from removing them.
  • Infibulation: This most heinous form of FGM usually involves sewing together of the labia and leaving only a tiny whole through which a women can urinate and pass menstrual blood.  In the area presented in dark brown in the illustration above, the whole of the external genitalia including the clitoris, labia minora and the inside of the labia majora are removed and then the labia majora are held together by thorns.  The girl’s legs are held together for two to six weeks to allow healing.
Victims of Female Genital Mutilation

The World Health Organization notes that the procedure is usually carried out on girls between infancy and fifteen years of age.  Three million girls are at risk of FGM each year and between 100 and 140 million worldwide are living with the effects of FGM.  The practice is spreading to countries such as the United States and United Kingdom through immigrant populations who will undergo procedures in these countries are undertake them during visits home.

Cultural and Religious Reasons for Female Genital Mutilation

Unicef details five reasons for practicing FGM.  These reasons are based in religion and culture and as such are subject to conjecture, myth, tradition and ritual.  In other words, the reasons for practicing FGM are not legitimate and the act of doing so on an underage girl not only constitutes extreme abuse but it is an international crime against children too.  The reasons for the practice of FGM are:

  • Sexual: to control or reduce female sexuality.  It is very difficult, if not impossible for a woman to experience sexual arousal and orgasm once she has undergone any of the procedures listed above.  The whole idea is that sex should not be pleasurable for females and that only dirty or mentally ill women experience arousal and do such things as masturbate.  In addition to a loss of pleasure and arousal, women often experience massive pain and discomfort following any form of FGM but especially infibulation.  The process of infibulation is often reversed to allow for procreation and childbirth and then redone.
  • Sociological: FGM is a ritual that is performed as a rite of passage in many cultures, initiating women into womanhood and integrating them into the community.  Kurdish advocates of FGM state that the practice makes a woman spiritually clean so that she can serve food to men. 
  • Hygiene and aesthetic reasons:  Some cultures believe that female genitalia are unsightly, unhygienic and dirty.  They believe the healthy and self-cleaning mechanism of vaginal secretion to be dirty and something that can be prevented by infibulation.  They believe that FGM can preserve and maintain virginity and that it prevents the desire for masturbation.  They also believe that it can cure hysteria and depression.
  • Health: many advocates of FGM believe that it increases fertility rates and child survival.  Just so there is no confusion about this, I can state categorically that the opposite effect occurs and both fertility and child survival rates are dramatically reduced due to FGM.
  • Religious reasons: many people mistakenly believe that there is a religious requirement to perform female circumcision or cutting but there are in fact no basis in any of the holy Christian, Jewish or Muslim texts.  This is in contrast to male circumcision which is strictly required in both Judaism and Islam.  The practice does appear to be accepted by Sunni Muslims and there is differing opinions within the faith as to whether this has been passed down in their narrations.  There are some interpretations on Sunni law that state it is obligatory.

An Interview With Fredrik Stanton, Author of Great Negotiations

Fredrik Stanton headshot Fredrik Stanton is the author of Great Negotiations: Agreements That Changed the Modern World which I reviewed earlier this month.  Stanton is no newcomer to international relations and foreign policy.  He is the former president of the Columbia Daily Spectator and has written for both the Boston Herald and the United Nations publication A Global Agenda.  Stanton was also an election monitor in Armenia, the Republic of Georgia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Azerbaijan.

Fredrik is currently promoting his book and has kindly taken time out of his hectic touring schedule to speak to us.

Can you tell us a little about Great Negotiations?

Great Negotiations: Agreements that Changed the Modern World tells the stories of the highest stakes poker games in history, moments when the strategic forces were so finely balanced that individuals were able to leave their mark on the course of events. It explores how great leaders make choices under pressure, and introduces a new way of seeing history. History is traditionally viewed through the lens of war or biography, and this fills in a missing piece of the puzzle.

Can you tell us how you came up with the idea for the book?

The book began as a question: what examples were there of people changing history with language and wits alone?

What made you choose this specific set of negotiations?  Were there any that might have been included but didn’t quite fit your criteria?

The negotiations I picked met three criteria. They had to have had a large footprint, and lead to changes that still affect our lives today. They couldn’t be a dictation of terms or a natural unfolding of events.  The individuals at the table had to have the ability to affect the outcome.  Finally, there had to be enough material available to recreate the give and take of the discussions, to give the reader a seat at the table as the drama unfolded.  There are any number of other good examples of important, successful negotiations, and others I considered included Yalta, Camp David, and the Alaska Purchase. In the end I felt that the ones I included presented an array of different situations and personalities that give a sense of the possibilities and the pitfalls of these turning points in history.

These were all fine examples of negotiation and the diplomatic process even if the result was not always a success. Can you think of any examples of negotiations that were clear examples of disasters or failures?

The Munich agreement in September 1938 is obviously an example of a disastrous failure, and serves as an enduring reminder that appeasement which rewards aggression does not buy peace for long. The Paris Peace Conference, which I cover in my book, is an example of a flawed agreement that led to wars on several continents.

The world has changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War which is where your book concludes. Can you think of any outstanding negotiations in that period?

Absolutely.  Nelson Mandela’s negotiations from within his prison cell to peacefully overturn Apartheid in South Africa comes to mind.

Print The research in the book was meticulous and you did a fine example of bringing to life the personalities of some of the greatest leaders of the modern era.  What materials and sources did you use in your research?

With the older negotiations, I used a great deal of archival research.  With some of the more recent ones, recently declassified material from both sides gave invaluable insights, and I was fortunate to be able to interview many of the participants. One of the benefits of hindsight is the ability to allow the reader to see through the eyes of each side, and pull back the veil of uncertainly to show the cards they actually held.

How long did it take you to research and write the book?

It took much longer than I expected. Over five years.

The book tackled what could have been a dry subject matter and yet it read like a novel and I raced to the end of each vignette. Was that intentional?  Who would you say your target market was in writing this book?

It was definitely intentional.  I was fortunate in that there is an inherent tension and drama to the stories, as the stakes are high, the clock is ticking, and the characters don’t know how it will turn out until the end.  The target audience is broad. The stories at the end of the day are about people, some remarkable, others normal people put in remarkable situations, and how their choices affected history.

I was a bit sad to reach the end of the book – have you planned a sequel? 

I haven’t yet decided.

What will your next project be, if not a sequel?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the writing process, it’s that you invest so much of yourself in it you must have an unshakable conviction in the idea.  I’d like to find a subject that seizes me the way Great Negotiations: Agreements that Changed the Modern World did, but I think my next stop is a vacation.

What work have you done to promote the book?  Are you touring at the moment?

I’m currently giving talks, and so far it’s been a very encouraging experience.  It’s rewarding to see people so excited about the idea, and it’s very satisfying to see how much people are enjoying the book.

Now for a little bit about you.  Can you tell us anything about your writing process?

The writing process flowed fairly naturally out of the research. They say that writing is mostly editing, which was certainly true in this case.  Once I’d laid out the structure, much of my effort was spent crafting the language and making sure that the stories flowed naturally.

All writers have strange habits and things they do when they are writing. What are yours?

I did much of the writing in longhand on legal paper. Once I’d written most of it out, then I’d transfer it to the computer for editing and reworking.

You’ve had a fascinating career to date, can you tell us a bit more about that?

After college I worked for several years doing strategy consulting for technology companies for a firm in Boston. I’ve also worked for an internet startup and in private equity, but I’ve always been fascinated by foreign policy and history.

Can you tell us a bit more about your time as an election monitor in countries like Armenia, Republic of Georgia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Azerbaijan?

It’s a remarkable experience. Each country is fascinating in its own way, and the people involved in the monitoring process are first-class professionals. Both the Balkans and the Caucuses have a rich history and a tumultuous past, and whatever the political situation, I’ve always been impressed by the warmth of their people. These are places where democracy is putting down fragile roots, and it’s wonderful to see how much it means to people who are experiencing it for the first time. It’s often imperfect, but it reminds me how precious things are that we often take for granted.

Do you think you would do such work in the future or will you focus on your writing now?

For now, I’m focused on the book tour.

How can people contact you or keep up with your activities in the future?

The best way to reach me is by contacting my publisher at Westholme Publishing. Their website is www.westholmepublishing.com.

Thank you for taking part in the interview Fredrik!  You can read my review of Fredrik’s book by visiting this link:  Book review: Great Negotiations by Fredrik Stanton.

Article first published as An Interview With Fredrik Stanton, Author of Great Negotiations on Blogcritics.

Book review: Great Negotiations by Fredrik Stanton

Great-Negotiations As much as wars, invasions and military expertise changed history and shaped world borders, it was often the endless negotiations and avoided conflicts that bore the greatest significance and impact on later generations.  In fact, conflicts often ended not with the stalemate or defeat of armed forces but in meeting rooms as the powers negotiated withdrawal and armistice.

Great Negotiations: Agreements That Changed the Modern World is a collection of eight vignettes focusing on negotiations that changed the course of history.  Author Fredrik Stanton has selected eight major episodes in modern diplomacy and he has gone to great lengths to describe the personalities of the key players, what each party held at stake and the influences impacting on their decisions. 

The cross-section of modern negotiations includes Benjamin Franklin's appeal to the French Court for support for the American revolution in 1778; the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from the French in 1803; the Congress of Vienna following Napoleon's defeat in 1814-1815; the Portsmouth Treaty that formally ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905; The Paris Peace Conference at the end of the First World War in 1919; the Egyptian-Israeli Armistice Agreement in 1949; the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and the Reykjavik Summit in 1986 which eventually facilitated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987. 

LeMay_Cuban_Missile_Crisis
Kennedy and his advisers, The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 [Wikipedia/Public Domain]

Great Negotiations: Agreements That Changed the Modern World is an extremely well researched and well written book.  Stanton has utilized letters, diaries, transcripts and a host of historical texts in drawing up these vignettes and the level of detail in the chapters dating back to the 18th century is on par with events that took place within the last century.  It would be reasonable to expect that a book like this would be dry and a mere collection of fact but it is not.  For all of its detail, Great Negotiations reads like fiction and I found myself racing to the end of each vignette as the tension mounted and the stakes increased.  I was rather sad to reach the end of each chapter, thinking that the next wouldn’t be merely as riveting and I was pleased to be proven wrong in each case. 

Stanton chose his eight subjects carefully.  He focused carefully on major negotiations involving key players that impacted on the state of the world today.  The negotiations in the book were all elaborate feats of strategy and diplomacy and were ‘negotiations’ in the purest sense of the word.  To this end, Stanton was keen to avoid those meetings that were a pure dictation of terms or that simply consolidated the situation as it had emerged. 

Reagan_Gorbachev_negotiate_outside_Reykjavik_Summit
Reagan and Gorbachev, The Reykjavik Summit, 1986 [Wikipedia/Public Domain]

This is a book that will appeal to both casual historians and those more conversant in international relations and foreign policy.  It is certainly on a level that could be followed by beginners in the field but it is also text that allows comparison across the many years and situations.  For example, it is interesting to see how the negotiations of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were slowed down by the snail’s pace at which messages took to cross the Atlantic Ocean.  Communication today is lightning fast and the effects of this were perhaps most obvious as matters during the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened dizzily to spin out of control as varying bits of information spun around the globe.  Today, we have the Internet and video conferencing and couldn’t be further removed from the days when letters and messages took weeks or even months to reach their destinations.

Likewise, in choosing these eight events, Stanton is able to show how the United States of America matured from appearing, hat in hand, as revolutionaries before the French Court to facilitators in negotiations in Europe and Asia before finally becoming the world power that was the subject of major negotiations involving nuclear power in the 20th century.

Great Negotiations: Agreements That Changed the Modern World is certainly recommended and gives an excellent introduction into some of the great triumphs and failures of modern diplomacy.  I will certainly keep an eye out for future publications from Fredrik Stanton as he has an excellent writing style that brings to life the events of the past.

This review was written by me and first appeared on Blogcritics.org.  I was given a preview copy to review by Allison of Media Shop PR but all opinions are my own.

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab Convicted For Mumbai Terror Attacks

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab
Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab [Photograph: Sebastian D'souza/AP]

Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, a 21-year-old Pakistani citizen, has been found guilty of murder, conspiracy and waging war on India by the Mumbai Special Court held in the Arthur Road Jail.  The charges relate to the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai which lasted for three days and resulted in the deaths of at least 173 people and wounded 308 others.  Together with an accomplice, Ajmal Amir was directly responsible for the deaths of 58 people and the wounding of 104 as he walked around one of Mumbai’s busiest railway stations and shot indiscriminately into the crowd.  He was the only one of ten gunmen that was captured alive.

To view the article I wrote about the Mumbai terror attacks last year and see the explosive Dispatches video footage, visit Dispatches – Terror in Mumbai.

The trial began on 8 May 2009 and recorded 3,192 pages of evidence, examined 658 witnesses and worked for 271 days.  Ajmal Amir has been specifically disingenuous throughout the whole process.  There is footage in the Dispatches video on the night of his capture showing him candidly (and voluntarily) discussing the aim of the terrorists to kill as many people as possible yet he gave a plea of not guilty on 6 May 2009.  He retracted his not-guilty plea and pleaded guilty to all charges on 20 July 2009 and then in a dramatic turn of events, he claimed he was innocent on 18 December 2009.  He told the court he had arrived in Mumbai 20 days before the attacks had started and that police had arrested him a couple of days before the attacks.  They had then shot him and made it look like he was involved in the attacks.

Thankfully, video footage and the testimony of several eye witnesses meant that his claims held little weight.  Perhaps most significantly, the court accepted the prosecution contention that “the conspiracy of the 26/11 attack was hatched on Pakistani soil and inevitable inference can be drawn that the attack was state-sponsored” which prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam claimed in his closing arguments. 

Ajmal Amir will be sentenced in the next couple of days and there is a strong possibility that he will be sentenced to death by hanging.  Once he has been sentenced, the case must go to India’s high court for ratification.  Ajmal Amir can then appeal to the supreme court and if that is not successful he can appeal to the president for mercy.  Considering the lack of mercy he showed his victims and the numerous times he has lied and attempted to delay the process, I doubt he will be shown mercy by anyone.

Apart from the massive loss of life and the destruction of families and property, one of the greatest tragedies here is that young boys were taken in by the terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba and they were indoctrinated and given basic, commando and advanced training.  A theme in many of these situations is that Ajmal Amir showed only a basic understanding of the purpose of the attacks beyond killing and the promise of an after-life afforded to ‘martyrs’.  Naturally, the fight against terrorism does not end with carrying out the sentence against Ajmal Amir, but that is a topic for another post.

Naming of Ajmal Amir: I have referred to the terrorist in this article as Ajmal Amir but you will often see him referred by the full Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab.  It is possible that he does not have a surname and that ‘Kasab’ may have referred to a caste origin or profession.  ‘Mohammed’ is his father’s name.


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