Michigan Takes Female Genital Mutilators to Court
FGM defender decries an “outright attack on this particular set of Muslims.”
On July 19, U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman denied bail for Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, a physician, as the Detroit Free Press reported, “accused of cutting the genitals of two Minnesota girls as part of a religious procedure.” According to the court, Nagarwala may have subjected as many as 100 girls to the procedure over the last 12 years.
Prosecutors also accuse co-defendant Dr. Fakhruddin Attar of letting Nagarwala use his clinic for the genital mutilation, with his wife Farida Attar “holding the girls’ hands during the procedures.”
Nagarwala and Attar are members of the Dawoodi Bohra community, an Islamic sect whose members practice FGM on young girls, prosecutors contend, “as part of their religious and cultural practice.” In June, Detroit-area woman Tahera Shafiq was charged with aiding in the mutilations, and identified by one of the victims.
“There was no mutilation of any genitals, of any kind,” Shafiq’s attorney, Victoria Burton-Harris, told CNN. “This is, quite honestly, ignorance of religion that has caused fear and an outright attack on this particular sect of Muslims.”
The mutilations took place in April and in early July governor Rick Snyder signed 13 bills stemming from the case. “Those who commit these horrendous crimes should be held accountable for their actions,” Snyder told reporters, calling the legislation, “an important step toward eliminating this despicable practice in Michigan while empowering victims to find healing and justice.”
One bill makes FGM a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Others revoke the perpetrator’s medical license, extend the statute of limitations for the crime, allow civil lawsuits, and seek to educate the public about the risks of FGM.
Dr. Nagarwala, an emergency room physician with the Henry Ford Health System, claimed she performed no genital cutting on the victims. On the other hand, as the Free Press reported, doctors found scarring, a tear, lacerations and “what appears to be surgical removal of a portion of her genitalia.”
The FGM squad told the girls they were going on a special trip to Detroit but on arrival told the girls they had to go to the doctor. After the genital mutilation, the victims were given cake and told to keep the procedure a secret. That seems to be common practice with FGM perpetrators.
Last year, an Australian court found Dawoodi Borha leader Shabbir Mohammedbhai Vaziri, guilty of helping two women “cover up the mutilation inflicted on the two young girls.” According to a Guardian report, both victims were seven and in the “khatna” ceremony one was told to imagine she was “a princess in a garden” while a retired nurse inflicted the mutilation at the behest of her mother. The girl’s grandmother was also present and “prayers from the Quran were read while the ceremony took place.”
In its first criminal prosecution for FGM, Australia handed out three 15-month sentences. In parts of Australia, FGM can bring a maximum sentence of 21 years. In 1996, the U.S. Congress made FGM of girls under 18 a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. As of 2013, it illegal to transport girls out of the country for FGM.
The Michigan FGM prosecution is shaping up as a landmark domestic case but has drawn little attention from high-profile feminists and the establishment media. On April 14, one day after the arrest of Jumana Nagarwala, the U.S. State Department released a video of FGM survivors, including the case of Renee Bergstrom. She claims that in 1947, when she was three, a fundamentalist Christian doctor removed her clitoris. Her FGM took place “in white, midwest America. It took place in a church clinic that used a scalpel on girls who masturbated.”
Bergstrom told reporters “she had concerns that Muslims worldwide are facing growing discrimination” and she was “worried that genital mutilation would be one more reason for people to show animosity toward Muslims, and so she shared her story as a non-Muslim.”
News reports cited no medical reports documenting what allegedly happened to Bergstrom 70 years ago. The Michigan victims, whose genital mutilations were confirmed, could be forgiven for thinking that Bergstrom’s story is a fabrication. On the other hand, it has been documented that FGM is on the rise in the USA.
According to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in the United States: Updated Estimates of Women and Girls at Risk, 2012, a Centers for Disease Control public health report from March-April 2016, approximately 513,000 women and girls in the United States were at risk for FGM/C, more than three times the 1990 estimate. According to the CDC report, the increase in the number of women and girls younger than 18 at risk for FGM/C was “more than four times that of previous estimates.”
Michigan governor Rick Snyder seeks “healing and justice” for the victims, but Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in the United States tracks another key issue. The increase in women and girls at risk for genital mutilation, according to the CDC report, “was wholly a result of rapid growth in the number of immigrants from FGM/C-practicing countries living in the United States.”