It would be hard to imagine a religion-beat topic more difficult to cover, in an accurate and balanced manner, than that of female genital mutilation.
Some journalists attempt to ignore the whole subject and, in particular, deny that it has anything to do with debates inside the complex world of global Islam. There is a tendency to say this practice is rooted in backward cultural traditions linked to sexism and patriarchy (in isolated groups of Christians and some other faiths as well) and that is that.
That stance is hard to justify if journalists actually listen to the voices of people involved in these debates, which often take place in private, or in Muslim community events that draw few observers from the outside.
Now one of these debates has gone public in the Virginia suburbs near the Washington, D.C., beltway, drawing coverage from The Washington Post -- "A Virginia imam said female genital mutilation prevents ‘hypersexuality,’ leading to calls for his dismissal." This report is much better than the norm.
However, there is one tension in the Post article that is worth noting, because it is linked to a crucial fact: In a debate among Muslim leaders, it is highly likely that people on both sides are going to quote Islamic writings and traditions when stating their case. Hold that thought. Here is the overture in this report:
A Virginia mosque has publicly condemned the words of its leading imam, highlighting lingering divisions among Muslim leaders over the controversial and widely rejected practice of female genital mutilation.
The Board of Directors at the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church said Monday that Imam Shaker Elsayed’s seeming endorsement of the outlawed practice as “the honorable thing to do if needed” ran afoul of both U.S. and Islamic law.
Elsayed’s comments during a lecture on child rearing and family life last month sparked a brief controversy last Friday after a right-wing watchdog group circulated a video clip of his speech online.
The fact that it took actions by conservative groups to force this into the open complicates matters for some mainstream journalists. However, the YouTube videos are there to see and to debate.