BBC and the 'Christian tradition' of female genital mutilation
His Grace was somewhat irked yesterday when he read a BBC Online article which referred to the 'Christian tradition' of female genital mutilation which some communities believe 'is a necessary part of becoming a woman'. It seemed a gratuitous swipe at Christianity for the sake of some politically-correct parity with Islam, just to ensure even-handedness to neutralise potential allegations of Islamophobia.
So irked, in fact, was His Grace that he decided to complain directly to the BBC. (He doesn't usually do this, principally on account of it being a complete waste of time: the last time he did so he received a dismissive response which was only heeded when an MP complained to make the same points, establishing irrefutably that some licence-payers are more equal than others).
Notwithstanding, His Grace completed the online complain form, thus:
You wrongly equate FGM in Islam with Christianity. You state:Three hours later (which is very good indeed), His Grace received the following response - not from some spotty complaint clerk, but from the author of the article herself:
"Some communities from parts of Africa and the Middle East, from both Muslim and Christian traditions, believe it is a necessary part of becoming a woman, that it reduces female sex drive and therefore the chances of sex outside marriage."
One can always find some outlying cultic theological belief or cultural practice to corroborate a particular bias, but this article completely fails to distinguish between Islam - in which FGM is widespread across both Sunni and Shia traditions - and Christianity, in which absolutely no mainstream church or denomination would support such barbarism. You fail to specify that some Islamic theologians claim to find support for the practice in the Qur'an ('sunna' circumcision), but no Christian theologian claims biblical provenance. You equate 'Muslim cultures' with 'Christian cultures' in Africa and the Middle East, but fail to mention the number of adherents, or how widespread their influence. If FGM is practised by any Christian communities, it is undoubtedly obscure and heretical. That is plainly not the case within Islam, which alone in the West is advocating the practice. Your article is misleading and biased in its presentation of Christianity.
Dear Mr Cranmer,To which His Grace replied:
Thanks for your email.
I have just dealt with a similar email to yours which complains that I have said that Muslims circumcise females as part of religion and points out that nowhere in the teachings of Islam does it say to circumcise females. I responded that my piece does not say that it is formal Moslem teaching that leads to female genital mutilation but that as I understand it the practice is carried out by some communities who adhere to Islam.
The information that I have says that the same is true of Christian communities who carry out this form of ritual mutilation. It seems to be a cultural act which has become entwined with the religious practices of some communities, both Christian and Moslem.
There are large numbers of both Christian and Moslem adherents in some of the countries where this is carried out for example Nigeria, obviously other countries where it happens, for example Egypt are mainly Muslim.
Dear Ms Burns,Ms Burns responded within 7 minutes:
Thank you for this.
Unfortunately, it fails to address the issue of misinformation bias, which was the very specific complaint. And you appear to be adducing the fact that you have received a similar complaint from a professing Muslim as evidence of your impartiality. This complaint is nothing to do with the (ab)use of scriptures.
Some communities from parts of Africa and the Middle East, from both Muslim and Christian traditions, believe it is a necessary part of becoming a woman, that it reduces female sex drive and therefore the chances of sex outside marriage.
Your very next sentence says:
Sometimes girls are sent abroad to have it done. Sometimes it is done in the UK.
Which communities from Africa or the Middle East from the Christian tradition send their girls abroad to have the procedure carried out? Which Christian communities send them to the UK?
You give no indication, as requested, of the relative number of Muslim or Christian of adherents of this practice: you leave the reader with the impression of socio-political parity. Neither do you specify which source you used. What was this? What authority or methodological validity does it claim?
Your assistance with these questions would be appreciated.
Thomas Cranmer (Dr)
Hello again,By now, His Grace was clearly on first-name terms with Judith, who was showing herself most helpful by disclosing both her source (Wikipedia) and her methodology ('do the maths'). His Grace decided to let the matter rest there. Basically, taking the BBC's figures for Eritrea, their assertion is purely quantitative: that because the country is 63% Christian and 37% Muslim, and because 92.6% of 35-39 year-olds and 78.3% of 15-19 year-olds undergo the procedure, that even if the 7.4% of 35-39 year-olds who had not been cut were all Christian, it still means that more than 50% of the Eritrean women who undergo female genital mutilation are professing Christians.
I have not got time to do this kind of research for you. However there is a lot of information on our website on this if you follow some of the links from the page.
However here are a couple of stats for you to think about.
Google for example a country like Eritrea and you will come up with this
There are two major religions in Eritrea, Christianity and Islam, however, the number of adherents is subject to debate. Eritrea: Religious Distribution (2002) indicates that Christianity makes up 63% of the population with Islam making up 37%.
Compare this figures with the numbers at the bottom of our piece which show that female genital mutilation of 35 to 39 year olds is 92.6% and of 15-19 year olds is 78.3%.
Do the maths!
Personally I conclude that fgm has little to do with classic religious teaching in either Islam or Christianity and a lot to do with underlying culture.
But this is beyond the remit of my piece,
This is, of course, a culturally-syncretised practice; it is not 'mainstream' Christian tradition. But very many Muslims would say the same about FGM in their religion.
The fact remains, however, that by describing the practice as a part of 'Christian tradition', the BBC lazily gives the impression that it could be supported theologically rather than established sociologically. The fact that very many Roman Catholics in the UK practise contraception methods other than the rhythm method does not render the use of condoms or the pill part of a 'Catholic tradition'. On the other hand, it is certainly true (paralleling the article) that 'some communities in the UK, from both Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions, practise contraception'.
So perhaps Judith can be given some latitude: there is nothing inaccurate per se about the article, but the wording is poor. It conveys the impression that FGM is encouraged by the religious teachings of Christianity as taught in some parts of Africa and the Middle East. His Grace must visit the Asmara Pentecostal Community and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church to tell them that Mary was never genitally mutilated.