In Ireland, I attended the 1992 Global Forum of Women as a participant in the panel entitled "Reclaiming Religious Freedom." Yet again I heard feminists denounce the practice of clitoridectomy. While sharing a table during the Irish president's opening reception, the other participants and I had an opportunity to discuss our upcoming panel. Berhane Ras Work, a panelist and president of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices, said that she would be discussing, among other things, the practice of clitoridectomy in certain African regions. The classical question came up: "But how could they justify it?" I listened attentively. Such a question is usually a prelude to subtle, sanctimonious denunciations of Islam. On this occasion, I was more curious than worried since Burhane was not an Orientalist, or someone who had obtained her information from Orientalist publications. She gave a straightforward answer. Burhane replied that the various tribes justify clitoridectomy on the basis of religion, whether Christian or Muslim. There was a gasp. "Christian, you say? How could they justify such a horrible practice on the basis of the Christian religion?!" I smiled and interjected, "The same way they justify it on the basis of the Muslim religion!"
For decades, western feminists have continued to latch onto the issue of clitoridectomy, not only as a symbol of the backwardness and hence inferiority of African and Asian Muslim societies, particularly Arab ones, but also as proof that Islam, as well as Muslim and Arab societies (which the west often conflates into one), are inherently patriarchal and oppressive. While these beliefs are not always openly articulated, they are always communicated. In holding these positions, western feminists do not attempt to educate themselves about Islam as a world religion, or about the points of view of Muslim or Arab women. Instead, western feminists hold an Orientalist view of Islam, and act on that view. This attitude has already resulted in western feminists silencing Muslim/Arab-Ameri