Genitals are political. In the UK our genitals are policed, and in our current electoral moment, astoundingly falsified information is being attached to them. It’s not just a case of the UK prohibiting the representations of consenting sexual adults online—the stiff upper lip of government alarmists denying the general populace the opportunity to watch a spot of face-sitting—but a broader trend of misunderstanding, a known misunderstanding of how other cultures communicate with sexual identity and sexual expression. This, for the far right United Kingdom Independence Party, is one way to propagate Islamophobia. UKIP is currently claiming that the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is derived from and intrinsic to Islam, citing wild numbers of how girls and women are increasingly threatened by this practice in the UK, all to promote an anti-immigration policy favorable to Neo-Nazi sympathizers. Vote UKIP, 2015.
In a recent interview, Sean Hannity and UKIP’s Nigel Farage discussed FGM in their segment entitled “Rise of Radical Islam.” Good old Nige, bastion of True British Values, provides a series of strong ambiguities and generalizations regarding the “tens of thousands” of women who have “recently” undergone FGM in the UK, and how there have been no prosecutions in any of these cases. Hannity surmises that this is because we in the UK allow “the Sharia courts to take care [of] their own issues.”
The two insisted that countries like the UK and France are increasingly being ruled by Sharia proponents (not true), and that a multitude of “no-go zones” for non-Muslims have been established (totally not true). Below the video in question, we see the success story of their provocation: the violent narrative in the comments section posted for the video’s uploader, username “Very Concerned.” I don’t think you could find an alias that better combines the polite stiff upper lip and blatant xenophobia. Comments such as “Diversity is a code word for White GENOCIDE ” (from user “Alice Rabbit”), and “Enough is enough and as that Moroccan Muslim Mayor in the Netherlands said the other day to his fellow Muslims "Integrate or f*** off, they are your choices" (from user “expat”), highlight how easily this narrative is provoked, insinuating that it has bubbled beneath the surface for quite some time. Commenters are in fact so Very Concerned that Nige be ready for the upcoming vote that they discuss his health, with user “sltr1” saying, “Farage needs to start exercising and get a nutribullet blender. He looks terrible” in preparation for his campaign of xenophobia.
The misinformation about FGM has a long and torrid history, one that will likely continue to be misrepresented in Western conversations and media, as Nadifa Mohamed notes, “to create an image of a dark, brutal, incorrigible mass who, to use Kipling's phrase, are ‘half devil, half child’ and therefore cannot be trusted to even raise their own children decently.” In this recent and troubling example, we see something both old and new. The conversation shows how a far right party can intentionally distort and problematize elements of a religious culture alien to them, and posit these elements as threatening to our borders, our small towns, our white picket fences, and our little girls running around oh so freely. But UKIP has gone further, directly correlating a practice that is entirely disparate from the religion they’re attacking. The party presents FGM and Islam as a co-dependent and apocalyptic presence in our beloved West. As Resa Aslan discusses in his notorious CNN interview, FGM is not a tradition inherent to Islam, far from it, as it occurs across twenty-eight African countries whose religious denominations vary greatly. Farage and UKIP show an explicit disregard, lack of respect, and lack of care for the young girls and women who have been affected by FGM, and who seek community support and understanding on this sensitive issue. They politicize the issue to the point where the numbers of women and girls affected do not matter anymore; they can just spout gross ambiguities of “tens of thousands” and the easily-swayed and consistently-prejudiced will shout, “The numbers don’t lie! Numbers never lie!”
UKIP and UKIP’s allies will never want to look into ways of promoting “circumcision through words”—an alternative practice that seeks to uphold the cultural significances bound up in communities who practice FGM through discussion-based education on these important traditional values, without actually performing the circumcision itself. They talk about FGM and how it is influencing and infiltrating the bloodstreams and the waterworks of the West, but they are entirely ambiguous with it. Their only dialogue is about the lack of prosecutions for “Muslim men” performing the practice, propagating a damaging narrative on who actually performs the procedures, and, it would seem, solely focusing on how to thrust darker skinned men into prison cells.
On May 7th Great Britain will go to the polls and our Queen will open a new government where UKIP are likely to see a swell in seats won from those disenfranchised by our Tory government. UKIP’s manifesto does not lay out a plan to improve the situation for those women and girls negatively affected by FGM in the UK, which is telling of the degree to which they actually care about it. At least the Tories right now have had some kind of traction on the issue, with schools in inner cities providing a sensitive education on the dangers of FGM. UKIP, however, plucked their FGM “concern” with out of thin air, throwing it about as an epithet for Islamophobia, directly correlating it with dark, unthinkable barbarism, where their only proposed solution is the incarceration of "all these men" linked to FGM (again not understanding much of FGM as a practice), and sending the rest of them on a wave of the classic statement, “back where they came from.”
UKIP using FGM as a token to show they care about the women too in the anti-immigration debate adds serious insult to injury. Their rhetoric makes young girls’ and womens’ bodies a temporary political space onto which bigots and racists may pin their insecurities, a place to politically point-score whilst these women carry the weight of a narrative which tells them your bodies aren’t normal and don’t belong in our “normal” spaces anymore.
Emma Welton is an editorial intern at Warscapes. She has written for publications such as The Guardian and The Student Journals.
Image via The Independent.