The practices of FGC appear to—more than just about any other issue—capture the popular imagination, trigger emotional responses, and reduce the complex to the unnegotiably absolute. Regardless of one's stance on the appropriate level of the West's involvement with the practice of FGC, encounters are becoming increasingly common in which a completely hands-off approach is untenable. On a legal and political level, the recent granting of political asylum to a Togolese woman on the basis of her fear of returning to Africa and being forced to undergo FGC has established a legal precedent which— at least in theory—could apply to millions of women (but see Bashir, 1996, for an argument against the fear of opening "the floodgates" of immigration). In the context of Western biomedicine, the recent influx of immigrants from communities that practice female "circumcision" has forced health practitioners, when confronted with the practice, to come face to face with issues of autonomy and multiculturalism (Schwartz, 1994, p. 431). Ethics committees are facing newly articulated "rights and wrongs" as they seek to adopt policies toward a procedure which has alternatively been described as a barbaric practice, an extreme act of misogyny, and an "affirmation of the value of women in traditional society" (Schwartz, 1994, p. 431).
While many scholars correctly argue that the issue of determining the future of FGC is best resolved by members of the communities in which the practice is found, the undeniable reality is that this has already—irreversibly— become a global political issue. Western governments have reclassified female "circumcision" as a "human rights violation," and the implied threat of withholding economic assistance to countries where the practice persists must be perceived as coercion for countries already reeling from structural adjustment programs. Morsy has offered a scathing critique of such global "rescue missions" and warns that "Western compassion can be nothing less than the kiss of death" (Morsy, 1991, p. 22).
Clearly, it is an inescapable reality that the choice whether to continue or to eliminate the practice of FGC is no longer solely in the hands of those who currently engage in this practice. Consequently, any resolution of debated issues and the development of culturally sensitive approaches to eliminating FGC require that we do not focus on this practice in isolation, but rather that we consider the lives and opinions of the people affected by it, and the local and global domain of discourse and domination in which they are embedded.
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