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Leela beloved,The case of women icmcurcision is an interesting example of cultural norms and liberal perspectives. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion and ultimately rejecting a specific cultural practice based on one's take. for example Bush's war to bring democracy to Iraq. In the place that we live in we it is inconceivable that someone might prefer a different kind of regime or that someone might have values that trump the perception of freedom that comes with what we conceive to be a democracy. however, it is a judgement that is better executed after we know about the core values and the priorities of the Iraqi people, of whatever culture we think that we should enforce our own worldview on. Female icmcurcision is probably (along perhaps with female infanticide ) one of the most visceral propositions that encounter immediate disgust and rejection among the like of us (me included). But it is a custom that exists in many societies none of which a society that do not have the equivalent practice for men. Genetile modification in most of these societies is also reflecting a perception of body and pureness, a tradition that has its own history and values that goes well beyond the shallow, two-dimensional portrayals of the ritual in the West- a mutilation of the female to enhance male dominance and horrific control over women's legitimate sexual urges. Which brings us back to the question of how do we pass judgement on practices of other cultures? For myself, I'm not a cultural absolutist (meaning I don't think that one can not pass such judgements) I believe that one needs to learn enough about such practices from an emic perspective (meaning one should learn about the practice from an "insider" point-of-view) that reflects real learning rather than the common media or other outsider portrayals. Take for example female icmcurcision. This is a practice common in many African countries, in some of the East Africa states it involves upward of 90% of the women. In the vast majority of the practices (which by the way vary considerably between different communities) the practice does not involve the removal of any organ (clit or lips) and in many of the societies it involves a single incision to the lips which heals quite fast and leaves no lasting effects. In many of the societies the women are responsible for the execution of the practice in a form of a rite of passage to adulthood , and this practice is more symbolic than surgical. There are many incidents of horrifying examples of this practice which make my skin crawl and the stomach turn. There are many other indications of pride in the practice as many believe it reflects some of the core values that they hold dearly. A Somalian women who lived in the US since childhood, decided to go back to Somalia and have this practice done following her graduation from Harvard. For her it meant very different thing than for many of the girls who are forced to go through that by force or by social pressure (in some societies one cannot marry unless she had that done). Before we condone (or reject for that matter) this practice (and other) we should learn about the actual details- How does it effect most women who experience that, socially, psychologically, and physically. One would actually find hardly any systematic scientific accounts for that phenomenon. We should learn how this practice is carried out and by whom. Sensational portrayals and selective accounts can hardly be considered a legitimate basis for passing judgement on an entrenched cultural practice. At the end we can still have an opinion on that (which would likely be more nuanced and informed) and hold on to our own core values in a way that suggest the universalism of them- there are no good cultural specific basis to perform act X regardless of the local cultural values. But through this process we might just learn about the other from eye level and not from a perspective filled with underlying tones of the superiority that so many of us Westerns still experience implicitly when we look at "primitive" cultural practices which we know so little about. Just a thought