Reflections on the Armistice, the Holocaust, UNESCO’s World Science Day … And FGM?

Many of you reading this will already have seen – and rejoiced, if with reserve – at the news of ‘dramatic’ plunges in prevalence of FGM.[1] At last, statistics are leaning our way, and thousands of girls who, only a decade ago, might have been dealt life-changing assaults will remain intact. Able to pursue education, they will contribute to development, peace, and prosperity. After all, a comfortable standard of living makes conflict less likely and maintenance of social harmony (relatively) trouble-free.[2]

The relationship between genital torture and peace, an enabling sister to prosperity, has not often been explored, but on November 9th, 10th, and 11th, three commemorations blend, and placing them in dialogue can be fruitful in understanding and thus promoting an end to FGM.

Macron MerkelFirst, in Compiègne, on 11 November 1918, an armistice was signed in the train compartment toward which Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel are walking in the image on my Frankfurt living room TV. I agree with the announcers for whom the magnitude of the current French-German friendship, given European history, has a legitimate claim on our emotions. I’m tempted to use an old German adjective, rührselig with, according to Duden, 349 synonyms, suggesting conflicting nuances an event so-described can evoke. Among English translations are maudlin, mawkish and lachrymose, but touching is another option I prefer. I am moved knowing that both leaders in these troubled times stand for a certain resolve summed up in the hopeful ring of “never again.”

Elise Kaufman stumbling block

ELISE KAUFMAN lived here. Born 1902 [she was] arrested 1942, deported [to] Ravensbruck [concentration camp and from there] deported to Auschwitz [and] murdered, 1. February 1943. ‘Stumbling blocks’ like these are embedded in the sidewalk in front of victims’ homes.

What should be avoided at all costs is commemorated here in Germany on November 9, Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. Tens of thousands of Jewish men[3] were arrested – not for any wrong-doing but simply because they were Jewish – and many were sent to Dachau, the first of the concentration camps that opened on 22 March 1933, less than two months after Hitler’s ascent to power. The dictator moved quickly to cement Nazi authority, a fact that implies our present need for swift refusal of fascist views together with prolonged remembrance.

Fast forward to today. As Observer journalist Robin Lustig notes, shortly after 11 worshippers were gunned down while praying in Pittsburgh, an acquaintance sent a letter. “She wrote from Magdeburg, an ancient university town where some of my father’s family had lived, and from where three of his cousins were deported to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. This is what she said: ‘It is 80 years since the synagogues were attacked here, and we all know that it was the prelude to millions of murders. Since 1945, and every year since then, when we remember what happened, we realise how important it is to fight back from the beginning’.”[4]

The beginning was in the Armistice, in the toxic mix of resentment (of obligations imposed by the victors and considered unfair by the vanquished), followed in the next two decades by inflation, political instability, the Weimar Republic, the stock market crash, massive unemployment, the depression … developmental skeins hard to unwind yet taken together, leading to dictatorship, nationalism, and war in Europe. And had there been no war, it’s less likely we’d be mourning genocide.[5]

What has genocide to do with FGM? And equally important, how are UnCUT/VOICES’ books working for peace?

As a Holocaust scholar, I’ve been long aware that racism is related to misogyny, defined as (unconscious, sub rosa) hatred or fear of women. Not acted upon or even present in the minds of most individual men who have been schooled in kindness, misogyny is the clearest explanation for certain sadistic historical phenomena – witch trials, for instance, which executed millions of European females, and present practices harmful to ‘the sex’, as women have been blithely called.[6] And how else to interpret the chastity belts, a homegrown northern substitute for infibulation found in continental Museums of Torture? How else to account for the fact that one in three women globally has suffered domestic violence?[7]

Anti-Semitism, a form of racism, has one foot stuck in the mud of misogyny. What was so wrong with Jewish men that they were among the first imprisoned on Kristallnacht? Yes, they were thought to be ‘rich’ – an ancient stereotype – so greed was part of it, and homes ransacked that evening were also looted. But scholar Sander Gilman has another idea. He suggests it was circumcision that caused bleeding which resembles women who … as the White House Orange has pointed out in an effort to disparage, “… Fox’s Megyn Kelly had ‘blood coming out of her wherever’.”[8]  Despite widespread taboos, menstruation should not be a problem, but when projected as emasculating on Jewish men, it becomes one. In the anti-Semitic imagination, Jews (meaning male) are feminized while the feminine itself is excoriated. Were it – the feminine — not a ‘bad thing’, the female would not be mistreated as it is.

No blog can do justice to the intricacies of this subject, but connecting the dots, I see reason to fear. Acts of anti-Semitism, expressions of Islamophobia and racism against people with ample melanin have been increasing exponentially since the fall of 2016.

Fascism is anti-female, and whatever is against women inherently favors FGM. Our cause – ending excision and infibulation — has been hijacked, it’s true, by Islamophobic forces intent on maligning populations who cut as worse than others, as, I’ll dare say, ‘lesser humans’. Now that we know what happens to “unworthy life”[9] – Beware!

Opposing violence in the form of FGM, all UnCUT/VOICES books promote health, prosperity and peace. Khady, in Blood Stains (2010), urges the UN to act, which it does on 20 December 2012 when, with unanimous support from the African group, the General Assembly passed the “Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilations” resolution. In Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris, we see the battlefield surgeon at work to repair the wounds of the ‘war against women’ – as widespread systematic infliction of pain on females has been described.[10] In Nick Mwaluko’s WAAFRIKA 123, drought induces fear which in turn demands blood sacrifice – and the clitoris is the mystical/logical object of choice. Resentful men excise the Chief’s lesbian daughter. Books that quest to stop such acts of ritual onslaught — Waging Empathy, Taboo, Kiminta, Swimming in a Red Sea, and In the Name of Tradition. Female Genital Mutilation in Iran[11] –, enhance prosperity and social harmony.

UNESCO commemorates Peace and Development in marking a Day for World Science. Germans remember in order to preclude (another) Kristallnacht that now appears, in hindsight, as a prelude to war. Europe celebrates the armistice because mortal enemies’ reconciliation shows progress. And elevating women’s status, dignity and independence by ending FGM hastens world peace.[12]

[1] See https://gh.bmj.com/content/2/4/e000467 and https://3news.com/study-finds-huge-fall-in-fgm-rates-among-african-girls/

[2] Poverty doesn’t cause FGM, just as membership in a leisure class doesn’t prevent it. But tradition can dig in its heels when confronting chaos, as change can be perceived.

[3] As in society at large, men (and homosexuals) and women (and lesbians) were targeted differently by the Nazis. See Tobe Levin. “The Holocaust and Women’s Studies: An uneasy rapprochement.” Book Review. European Journal of Women’s Studies. Vol. 7, 2000: 245-255. https://doi.org/10.1177/135050680000700206.  See also « Pouvons-nous appliquer les principes de la critique littéraire féministe aux écrits de femmes sur l’Holocauste? » [Can we apply principles of feminist literary criticism to women’s Holocaust writing?] Féminismes et nazisme. En Hommage à Rita Thalmann. Ed. Liliane Kandel. Paris: Publications de l’Université Paris 7, Denis Diderot (CEDREF), 1997. 250-259; rpt. In Féminismes et nazisme. Ed. Liliane Kandel. Paris: Odile Jacob, 2004. 250-259.

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/nov/10/eighty-years-after-kristallnacht-family-german-robin-lustig

Accessed 11 November 2018.

[5] It may sound as though I support the notion that the Jewish Holocaust is singular in history. I don’t, aware of the preceding mass murder of Armenians at the close of the Ottoman Empire as well as decimation of Native American tribes in the past, of large-scale killing in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, or ‘genocide’ applied today to the expulsion of Rohingya from Myanmar. The point is not a “competition of tears,” but to draw close parallels to developments today and those that led up to the scourges of World War II.

[6] The adverb is defined as “in a way that shows a casual and cheerful indifference considered to be callous or improper,” exactly the way I mean it. https://www.google.com/search?q=blithely+definition+in+english&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1-ab Accessed 13 November 2018.

[7] “Global estimates published by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.” http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women Accessed 13 November 2018.

[8] “Trump says Fox’s Megyn Kelly had ‘blood coming out of her wherever’.”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2015/08/07/trump-says-foxs-megyn-kelly-had-blood-coming-out-of-her-wherever/?utm_term=.e65625c953eb

Accessed 11 November 2018.

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1484488/

Accessed 11 November 2018.

[10] By Marilyn French in her novel of that name, among others.

[11] For the full titles and authors of UnCUT/VOICES books, visit www.uncutvoices.com. All books can be order through Amazon.

[12] As Emma Batha writes, “No Women, No Progress, Development Experts Warn.” http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2018_human_development_statistical_update.pdf

Accessed 13 November 2018.

 

 

 

 

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