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04.11.2006 Feature Article


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The stiff sentencing of an Ethiopian man resident in the American state of Georgia, this week, to ten years' imprisonment ought to serve as a strong warning signal to impenitent and sadistic practitioners of the odious procedure of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

The man, Khalid Adem, whose age was not given, was charged with “using a pair of scissors to remove his daughter's clitoris in 2001”(see “Father Jailed for U.S. Mutilation”

And though the British Broadcasting Corporation's website claims that this patently heinous incident is the first of its kind in the United States, according to the celebrated African-American novelist, poet, Womanist scholar and civil rights activist Ms. Alice Walker, in her novel “Possessing the Secrets of Joy,” the practice was quite prevalent in the Southern United States during the nineteenth century and before. And what is more, it was not restricted to non-European Americans.

But what is even more comically repugnant, and outright lurid, is the fact that during the course of his trial, Mr. Khalid Adem, the father of the victim, who is now seven years old, vehemently denied the charge and even had the scurrilous temerity to characterize FGM as a “reprehensible” act and an unpardonable breach of human rights (BBC-News 11/1/06). If so, then one is apt to wonder why Mr. Adem never informed law-enforcement agents in order to enable the latter to promptly track down the “real” culprit, assuming, at least hypothetically that, indeed, Mr. Khalid Adem was innocent of the charge or crime.

What is also indubitably fascinating is the mother of the child's rather infantile claim that she had not noticed the fact that her own daughter had been genitally mutilated until twenty-four months later. And here, knowing what we do know about patriarchal tyranny in many a traditional African society, the mother's lame excuse most likely alludes to the fact that she practically had no say in the matter.

On the other hand, having herself, perhaps, undergone this excruciating procedure, the mother might well have encouraged the performance of such crude and barbaric procedure on her daughter as a mark of the loyal maintenance and bizarre preservation of the family's “honor.”

If the preceding observation has validity, then the victim's mother ought to have been prosecuted together with her husband. For unless the couple retained the services of a maid, thus relieving the mother of such basic chore as bathing her then-two-year-old daughter, a highly unlikely proposition, going by a critical interpretation of the BBC's news report, then there is no way that she could not have been privy to this dastardly act.

It is also quite interesting for Mr. Khalid Adem to have poignantly and studiously recognized the fact that once he opted to emigrate to the United States in order to raise his family there, he was inextricably bound the laws of his new homeland, his apparently pathological penchant for the loathsome practice of Female Genital Mutilation notwithstanding.

Indeed, the fact that Mr. Khalid Adem was born in Ethiopia, an ancient African polity with a rich and civilized history, makes this affair all the more disturbing, particularly since the convict also appears to be reasonably well educated. It also highlights the serious nature and staggering extent of the practice, particularly the fact that Mr. Adem boldly determined to flout American law by resorting to the globally maligned practice of FGM.

Indeed, it does not give those of us who hail from cultures in which the practice is unknown any solace; for at the close of the day, Mr. Adem is invariably wont to being perceived as a veritable symbol of all that is unsavory about traditional African culture.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York. He is the author of “Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana.”

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