The UN says ISIS has ordered the mass genital mutilation of Iraqi women around the Iraqi city of Mosul. This is expected to affect four million women and girls, in an area where FGM is not currently a common practice.
What are we going to do to prevent this atrocity?
I don’t mean: “What hashtag shall we use?” I don’t mean “What strongly-worded letter should we send to somebody’s ambassador?” I don’t mean, “After they do it, how shall we treat this or that person as a pariah ever thereafter?” I mean: “What are we going to do to prevent it?”
Four million women and girls are about to be mutilated. Not me. Not you. Not your friends. These will be four million women and girls in a country far away. If we let them be mutilated, that probably won’t create any very direct threat to our security, and almost anything we could do to prevent it probably would create a threat to us of some sort. We have no realpolitik interest in preventing them from being mutilated. If we let them be mutilated, there probably won’t be any very visible consequences for us at all. We won’t see anything horrible on TV. If we let them be mutilated, in a couple of years’ time almost all of us will have forgotten. We might occasionally feel a bit ashamed that humans do such things to one another. Maybe one day some Iraqi woman will come to London and we’ll hear her story and get to cry a little. But it’ll be okay. Life will go on.
“Four million women and girls are about to be mutilated.” Does it seem easier if I put it in quote marks, as something someone said, rather than as if it were a real thing, a fact, an actual horror that will happen to actual people?
“They are yet more victims of Blair’s wars.” No they aren’t. They’re women who haven’t yet been mutilated who will be mutilated unless we find a way to stop it.
“It’s none of my business.” No it’s not. Just like it’s none of your business if a child starves to death in Africa, or a little girl gets no education in India. Just like it’s none of your business if 8,000 men get murdered in Srebrenica or two million get murdered in Rwanda or 800,000 Kosovan Albanians are ethnically cleansed by Serbs. Just like almost all of the deaths and misery and ignorance and oppression and want in the world are none of your business. Absolutely right. Women getting mutilated in Iraq is none of your business.
But four million women and girls are about to be mutilated – what are we going to do to prevent it? What are you willing to see happen to prevent it? What mistakes are you willing to see occur? What accidental killings of civilians? What terrorist attacks by those that resent your interference? What spikes in oil prices? What taxes to pay for defence?
Perhaps ISIS lacks the ability to impose such a policy. Perhaps they might start to do it and then turn the local people decisively against them? Perhaps we can prevent this by simply warning Iraqis that it is threatened to happen? Let us hope so. But if such mass mutilation does get going, don’t try to tell me “It’s none of my business.” I may not be able to be polite in reply.