Asian Adventure # 2 (Female Genital Mutilation)

[Please be impressed I’m sending this one to you from…wait for it…a little to the left of the Aleutian Islands at 10,000 plus meters, airspeed of 484 knots heading mostly west, and I think we just crossed the international date line which is some kind of global new service for single people.]

I had hoped to wait until we actually left the country to continue writing about leaving the country, but I can’t pass this up. Besides, if I don’t either lose some weight or gain some bank (so I can sit in business or first class) my traveling days are done for. I’m squished in, elbow to elbow with perfect strangers and bumping around on a transpacific flight that’s going to last another eleven hours. If this blog gets wordy (as most of mine do) I hope you’ll understand that my verbosity is a coping mechanism.

In line to board the Philippine Air big bird, after having just submitted our boarding pass to the ticket agent, all we had between us and our seats was a whole host of law enforcement officers awaiting us on the walkway platform to the plane. They moved about, asking for passports, checking identifications, and looking very serious. I suppose we’ve all gotten use to increased law enforcement presence at airports since 2001, but still, I wondered if I had forgotten about something I shouldn’t have done, especially since the agents asking for ID were Customs and Border Protection agents and I make a lot of jokes about drug smuggling.

Before I knew it, my family and I had been detained by federal authorities questioning us about our travel plans, and specifically, about our daughter. My wife handled this pretty well. She did not handle it so well about 10 years ago when, at the US/MX border, agents held us about 45 minutes, suspicious that we were kidnapping her from Mexico. Our daughter doesn’t share our skin color or genetics. Once I realized they the airport cops weren’t concerned we were kidnapping her, I thought perhaps Donald Trump had come up with some new transportation provision prohibiting children from traveling with their parents so they can stay home and watch Fox News and distance themselves ideologically from their parents.

Not this time. This time, I was happy to help the feds and cooperated fully. FGM. They were there to put a stop to Female Genital Mutilation, which, according to their hand-out, is happening in 29 countries around the world, one of which we were going to be in in about 14 hours. They were there because people living in the US are taking their daughters and granddaughters to countries that practice FGM in order to participate in a long-standing cultural tradition.

Because we had our daughter with us, our 15 year-old, brown, dark daughter, they thought they would stop and make sure we weren’t taking her to get her genitalia all cut to hell so she can be accepted in community and help some prick get his rocks off. The agent who questioned us was herself a mother, had no love-loss for her ultimate superior, and I could tell she knew she was doing the right thing. Her assisting agent who didn’t say much had a kind face, took notes I tried unsucessfully to read, and smiled kindly as we dismissed ourselves. It’s rare when I’m proud of my country. I was proud of it on the walkway. I was also proud of Hilary Clinton who pushed this issue when serving the United States as Secretary in the Obama Administration.

I had a bishop who once said there are very few absolutes. He wasn’t referring to FGM but to something more heady and theological. But he was right. There are very few absolutes especially when it comes to theology and broad assertions about God and the way God gets things done. But I will go out on the record as a tired and frustrated liberal and say that female genital mutilation has no place on our planet. I stipulate to that absolute. Nobody gets to do it, and they especially don’t get to do it to a female who has no say in the matter. I believe in some things. I have standards and I live by a moral code to which I try to adhere. I ’m open-minded and understand that culture matters profoundly and the way other peoples and other places do things requires respect. Not this time. Medical issues give you a pass, but nothing else.

During our interrogation, our questioner kept emphasizing that the practice of FGM was cultural and not religious. She said it enough that I began to guess the memo she received before storming LAZ instructed her not to blame Islam for FGN. It’s practiced by many Muslims (Christians too) its and is done to maintain social conformity and pushed by older women in communities -many of lower economic status and with limited access to quality information- so that their daughters and granddaughters aren’t shunned. It’s also supported by males who can experience increased sexual pleasure depending on scar formation left by the cutting.

My fifteen-year old daughter just went through a social and cultural ritual very much encouraged and supported by older Latina women. They put her quinceanera (15 year-old rite of passage) on for her and by all accounts, it was a tremendous success. The only thing that got cut was her hair. A friend or two cringed when they learned about her fake nails, but we got the friend some water and she recovered quickly. It was an unmitigated good. It was a wonderful event and I’ve even noticed a change in her a bit since then. That’s a cultural ritual I can get behind even if it means lot’s a make-up and the daddy putting on, with great difficulty, the quinceneras new heeled shoes to represent her womanhood. Rule number one for female rituals: Nobody gets hurt.

Call me an Ugly American. Call the federal cops at the airport enforcers of cultural imperialism. Call our country hipocrtical and inconsistent (the recent legislation in Alabama indicates that we’re better at exporting hands-off girls and their bodies policy than we are at living it out at home) but we’ve, along with the UN, has taken a stand on this and it’s the right stand.

The west has a bad history of seeing the rest of the world through its own prism and getting grumpy and all righteous and such when the colors don’t line up as expected. Most everything is relative and should remain as such. Live and let live I say…mostly. But we’re right about this. No more Female Genital Mutilation.