PHILOSOPHY PROFESSOR at University of Alabama at Birmingham James Rachels (1941-2003), in his book The Elements of Moral Philosophy (3rd Edition, USA: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 1999) discusses the case of a 17-year old girl in relation to the practice called “excision” in her native country of Togo in West Africa.
As reported by the New York Times in a series of articles (mainly by Celia W. Dugger), Fauziya Kassindja arrived at Newark International Airport in 1996 and asked for asylum. She escaped from her country to avoid the permanently disfiguring procedure that is sometimes called “female circumcision.”
Bearing little resemblance to the Jewish ritual of circumcision, excision is more commonly referred to as “genital mutilation” in Western newspapers. According to the World Health Organization, the practice is widespread in 26 African nations, and two million girls each year are “excised.” In some instances, excision is part of an elaborate tribal ritual, performed in small traditional villages, and girls look forward to it because it signals their acceptance into the adult world. In other instances, the practice is carried out by families living in cities on young women who desperately resist.
Fauziya Kassindja was the youngest of five daughters in a devout Muslim family. Her father, who owned a successful trucking business, was opposed to excision, and was able to defy the tradition because of his wealth. His first four daughters were married without being mutilated. But when Fauziya was 16, he suddenly died. When Fauziya’s marriage was arranged, preparations to have her excised were also done. Fauziya was terrified, and her mother and oldest sister helped her to escape. Her mother, left without resources, eventually had to formally apologize and submit to the authority of the patriarch she had offended.