America’s First FGM Trial: Ruling Was ‘Inhuman’

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Somalia: A ‘cutter’ looks into a piece of a mirror. (Photo: Nichole Sobecki / AFP / Getty Images)
Somalia: An FGM ‘cutter’ looks into a piece of a mirror. (Photo: Nichole Sobecki/AFP/Getty Images)

America’s first FGM trial failed to punish abusers as the judge in the landmark  trial dropped charges against Dr. Nagarwala and the two mothers accused of bringing in their daughters for female genital mutilation.

Judge Bernard Friedman passed the responsibility to individual states, ruling in this judgment that FGM is a criminal act and not a violation of federal commerce laws . However, Michigan’s FGM law was enacted after Dr. Nagarwala’s after-hours back-shop butchery that involved a procedure of genital cutting on multiple girls. The newly-passed Michigan law can’t be applied retroactively against Dr. Nagarwala or the parents of the girls.

Legally, we’ve lost this battle and it’s been utterly crushing for all of us, especially survivors. But we can still win the culture war that can ensure all states pass FGM laws to make it clear that these are our values and there are the consequences for trespassing against those values.

Right now we’re in a culture war on women’s rights. We’ve gained ground with the #MeToo movement and are beginning to collectively understand forms of aggression and abuse that have historically been glossed over. It is only fitting that we not only protect women, but also emerging women: our daughters. If you can’t do that — if you can’t protect girls — you don’t get to say you care about women’s rights.

The judge’s announcement came the same day as International Children’s Day, and the U.S. legal system failed to protect American girls against a dehumanizing cultural practice that reduces a girl’s value to little more than a breeder. For the last year since this trial came to surface, activists have struggled to pass laws against FGM because what is clearly gender violence is camouflaged as a community practice and protected as such.

As a civilization we need to figure out what we’re about: We’re either about human rights or we’re not. We either protect the individual, or we’re comfortable with children being sacrificed to culture. Which is it going to be — because it can’t be both.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. The activists and survivors I’ve spoken with in the last 48 hours are shocked and devastated. The ruling undermines their stories, their pain and suffering, and has in a way silenced them at this hour.

Muslim reformer and American veteran Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, whom I discussed this issue with earlier this year, also shared his outrage:

This premature ruling is beyond egregious. It is inhuman and un-American. The judge just signaled to butchers like “Dr” Nagarwala that they can seek refuge in the U.S. federal system for their crimes against the humanity of young girls.

I understand the mental gymnastics of his federalist ruling. But the case hasn’t even been tried yet. While Nagarwala may yet end up in jail for decades due to obstruction charges, there appeared to be many other ways justice could have served those poor tortured girls she slaughtered without dismissing the entire FGM charge.

This is what happens with premature uniformed judgments on such a landmark case. The judge cannot just wrap himself conveniently in a few words of acknowledgement of the horrors of FGM.

This case was breaking new ground and it’s not clear to anyone that the feds made their case fully yet as to why they had jurisdiction and why the federal law was in fact constitutional. Instead it appears the judge just took a sweeping premature puritanical approach to his federalist concerns.

Seven- to 9-year old girls were being trafficked between states and then tortured by licensed physicians. Federal law enforcement devoted heavy national resources to the case after finding probable cause for the crimes on federal books.

It requires a suspension of disbelief for anyone to entertain an argument that FGM based in cross-state trafficking could not fit into many aspects of federal jurisdiction especially given the ’96 law.

Yet the judge predetermined the law to be unconstitutional. So if this case is about justice for young girls, there must have been countless ways to send a clear and unmistakable message about FGM regarding many counts against the perpetrators while yet leaving some room in the decision for some teaching points on “federalism.”

The U.S. attorney’s office can speak to elements of the crimes related to trafficking for abuse and harm of children or the cross-state abuse of medical practice privilege upon vulnerable children who were tortured.


Journalist Khadija Khan also had harsh words for this outrageous verdict. Khan, who covers women’s rights, minority issues and extremism, had this to share with Clarion Project:

I hoped that after having these culprits convicted and punished under U.S. law, we would move on to take further measures for the protection of these vulnerable girls who are potentially at the risk for FGM. But this decision seems to have brought us back to the square one.

Every year, more than three million girls and women are estimated to be at the risk of FGM. The mindset to control women through FGM and modesty culture lurks behind the façade of religion and custom. Therefore, labeling FGM as religious right is actually a cover-up for this heinous crime. Same goes for the rites like halala and hijab imposition for kindergarden kids.

It is outrageous that there are religious fanatics who defend this inhuman practice with impunity despite it being illegal in the USA. It has been decades since Britain and USA banned FGM, but there is very little being done to prevent this heinous crime.

Saying that it can’t be dealt under federal law because it is a “local criminal activity” and has to be done at state level is tantamount to diminishing the intensity of FGM, especially when it is happening across the USA as well as in the West.

The fear and trauma victims face during these inhuman procedures are simply impalpable. They live with lifelong scars and a mutilated body with insufferable psychological and physical pain. Therefore, these cases should be dealt without any caveat as it is done under the French law with up to 20 years in prison for performing FGM on girls/women and parents who commit such horror to their own kids are considered accomplices to the crime.

Humane values that embody equality and tolerance amongst people demand compassion and unconditional commitment to these vulnerable girls and women. Almost half of the U.S. states don’t even recognize FGM as a crime, which points to the need for more empathy for the victims and progressive law making if these girls are also considered human beings by the society. Civilized people can’t shed their skin by simply turning a blind eye to their plight.


In the days to come, Clarion Project will bring you additional voices of survivors and activists, including Muslim women, all of whom have been tirelessly working to end female genital mutilation. The fight on America’s first FGM trial is far from over. The case can still be appealed and, in the interim, every state that has still not passed a law against female genital mutilation needs to make it part of their 2019 agenda to do so.


Judge Dismisses FGM Charges Against  Michigan Doctor

Standing Up to FGM in America


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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.

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