Liberating Victims


To the Editors of The Crimson:

There is absolutely nothing which is not worthy of scientific study and research. No "generally accepted but unwritten rule" forbids scientists to carry out investigations on any subject they wish. The inquisitions are over. If films on "experiments conducted on human subjects in Nazi Germany" had been shown in the 1930s, perhaps world opinion would have been strong enough to prevent the Holocaust which we now can see in films--50 years too late. The "standard of decency" in science is Truth.

Amnesty International is having some success in liberating victims of torture by releasing visual material of atrocities. The pathological activities of Ku Klux Klan against black people has been documented in films and "explicit photographic materials." (Alex Haley's TV Series "Roots" also shows violence against women.) According to Dr. Counter's "unwritten rule," such topics are "not worthy of scientific attention and go far beyond the realms of human decency to be presented in serious academic settings." Does the Black Students' Association agree?

The World Congress of Sexology in Mexico in December, 1979 included a Symposium on Clitoridectomy. The German Institute for Scientific Films supplied three films, including an eight-minute reel on Excision of Omar-Arab girls in the Sudan. The institute has the highest international status--Harvard scholars are among the collaborators.

The films were received with great interest, and I was invited to show them at the Museum of Anthropology and at the Department of Anthropology. I was also invited to show them at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. One my return to the USA, I called Professor George Wald and offered to show the films. He very kindly made the contacts and the date was fixed.

I had met Dr. Counter in Stockholm in 1978 at a Press Conference for Alex Haley and on a few other occasions. I sent him an invitation because the films have ethnomedical and health aspects. After the screening he made some aggressive remarks and walked out while most of the audience stayed on for further discussions. I did not have any "companion" and I did not know of any "German" in the audience.

Attacking me personally, Dr. Counter writes that I have been "refused academic endorsement" Sweden! Can Dr. Counter name any such institution?

My "bizarre subject matter" is cultural anthropology to which I was introduced by Malinowski in the 1930s. I met Jomo Kenyatta and read Facing Mt. Kenya. For the first time I learned about female circumcision. About 30 years later a paper on Female Infibulation was published in Studia ethnographica Upsaliensia XX, 1964, by Professor C.G. Widstand, director of the Scandinavian Africa Institute. His paper has what Dr. Counter calls "explicit photographic materials" on violence against women (and children). Dr. Counter should demand that this documentation be removed from the Harvard University Library and burned! To his outburst about my intelligence and academic training I state that apart from University and field studies in other continents, I have taken courses with Curt Sachs and Margaret Mead, and in 1954 I was granted a US Fellowship. I carry introductions from the International Secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and other scientific institutions.

Dr. Counter writes: "According to authorities these practices among remote African tribes have long since been outlawed by African governments." Who are these authorities? A resolution was passed in Lusaka by women delegates from 42 African countries condemning infibulation. I refer to the address presented at the 1979 Conference for Women in Lusaka, by the delegate from Somalia, Mrs. Edna Ismael: "Female circumcision ranks high in the list of preventable health hazards and affects almost 100 per cent of the female population of Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti, and to a lesser extent the females of Southern Egypt, Chad, Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, Ethiopia and Mail, just to name a few." Islam is the religion of Somalia and most of the other countries concerned.

The Swedish Internation Development Agency (equivalent to USAID) has published a booklet about genital mutilation and a group of women arranged a traveling exhibition with "explicit photographic materials." Female circumcision is considered a major health problem by an enlightened opinion who wants to give medical aid to Africa. Therefore, the Somalian delegate to the UN Conference for Women has made a film showing clitoridectomy and infibulation and SIDA has paid for copies. It was also shown at All Womens' House in Stockholm. I hope that this film will be shown at Harvard in spite of Dr. Counter's ridiculous protests, his hypocritical concern for 'images of blacks' and his attempts to stir up racism in the Black Students' Association. Tore Hakansson

The above letter is a response to the following, which ran on March 3, 1980.