The roots of fascism, when practiced in the modern democratic institutions, often goes unnoticed until it’s too late. It was Doremus Jessup, the liberal protagonist of the Sinclair Lewis classic dystopia “It Can’t Happen Here,” who noticed this consent for authoritarianism, whether federal or localised, isn’t exclusive to the outside third-world, but a universal threat conducted by the people, against the people, with the consent of the people.
“Nonsense,” snorted the political cheerleaders of Berzelius Windrip, the novel’s far-right populist president, when Jessup warned of his impending devastation. “That couldn’t happen here in America, not possibly! We’re a country of freemen.” When the text was published in 1935, obvious comparisons were made to the regime of Adolf Hitler, who rose to German power on the backs of persecuted ethnic minorities systemically savaged for their immutable characteristics. There are no akin savages within such high political power today, but their ideas of brutal conduct upon individuals, for no reason other than being born of the wrong sex, is continually practiced against women through the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely sanctioned across African nations.
Now it’s in the United States of America.
For more than two decades ago, the United States Congress had adopted sweeping legislation which outlawed the procedure as a human rights issue, recognising the ancient practice has ruined the lives of 200 million women and girls around the globe whose liberties were infringed upon by their religious families. On Friday, a federal court recently challenged this legislation by declaring the law “unconstitutional”, dismissing nearly all charges against two doctors in Michigan and others accused of subjecting nine minor girls to genital cutting at a clinic.
In his 28-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman said the federal government “overstepped its bounds” in prohibiting the practice in its 1996 law, declaring FGM was a “local criminal activity” which, “in keeping with long-standing tradition and our federal system of government, is for the states to regulate, not Congress.” The defendants, Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, the physician accused of performing FGM on the girls, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, who was accused of allowing her use his clinic for the procedures, as well as the families of the abused children, all of which members of the Indian Muslim Dawoodi Bohra community, were seemingly in the clear.
“As laudable as the prohibition of a particular type of abuse of girls may be,” Friedman wrote, “federalism concerns deprive Congress of the power to enact this statute.” According to The Washington Post, the prosecutors failed to show that the federal government had the authority to bring the charges as the judge rejected their basis Congress can regulate commerce and healthcare. Dr. Nagarwala still refutes performing FGM on her patients and claims she was merely conducting a “religious procedure” that “did not involve cutting the genitalia”, though why this was preformed at a clinic instead of a local mosque, along with the apparent scars on the children’s genitalia, leaves these claims surely beyond questionable.
The judge noted that FGM, which is “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-medical reasons,” according to the definition by the United Nations Population Fund, is only considered a criminal offence in 27 U.S. states across the country. Michigan only passed a ban on the procedure last year following this exact same case, which means the doctors and families can’t be retroactively prosecuted for the crime. Justice for these children can only be sought on the federal level if not sought under criminal assault charges, as the judge suggested.
“This is not a market, but a small number of alleged victims,” Friedman claims. “If there is an interstate market for FGM, why is this the first time the government has ever brought charges under this 1996 statute?” This is possibly due to the normalisation of the procedure across those affected, conducting their business across states on his basis for dismissal.
“The message it sent was a punch in the gut to survivors around the country and around the world,” said Shelby Quast, the Americas Director of Equality Now, an organization that submitted an amicus brief in the case, who spoke with PBS NewsHours. “This decision doesn’t only have an impact on those nine girls, but the tens of thousands of girls that live across the U.S. and are at risk of FGM.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), their estimates report of over 500,000 U.S. women and girls currently at risk of potential FGM if they haven’t been subjected to the procedure already, most of which conducted across state-lines in the 23 states without local legislation. Despite the accused’s interstate travel in order to conduct the procedure on their children, based on whatever cultural-religious superstition deemed just, they proceed to cry foul and act as though they’re enacting localised tyranny deemed lawful by the state’s lack of standards. After all, most crimes are considered legal by the apologists of those who commit them.
“I knew they were trying to find the federal law unconstitutional,” added Mariya Taher, an FGM survivor and political activist, who also spoke with PBS following the ruling. “The tactic of the defense was not surprising. Opponents are going to use this ruling as a way to allow [FGM] to continue, and that gives me concern that they will continue to perpetuate the cutting of our daughters. There are many survivors that feel disheartened to hear [the ruling] and felt traumatized by [the ruling].”
Gina Balaya, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, stated “We are reviewing the Judge’s ruling and will make a determination on whether or not to appeal.” She was joined by Quast who added “We need to not make this more than it is, but certainly push for an appeal.” Nagarwala will remain under trial for charges of conspriacy to travel to engage in “illicit sexual conduct” and obstruction by demanding defendants remain quiet on the FGM procedures she, of course, denies.
Thanks for reading! This article was originally published for TrigTent.com, a bipartisan media platform for political and social commentary, truly diverse viewpoints and facts that don’t kowtow to political correctness. Bailey Steen is a journalist, graphic designer and film critic residing in the heart of Australia. You can also find his work right here on Medium and publications such as Janks Reviews. For updates, feel free to follow @atheist_cvnt on his various social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Gab. You can also contact through firstname.lastname@example.org for personal or business reasons. Stay honest and radical. Cheers, darlings. 💋