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Response to Counter On Peabody Films



To the Editors of The Crimson:

Copies of a letter by Dr. S. Allen Counter published in The Crimson have been forwarded to me here in Stockholm.

Now for some facts about the films at the Peabody Museum on 24 January, 1980. I attended the 4th World Congress of Sexology in Mexico City in December, 1979 at the National Medical Centre. The World Association of Sexology, including many renowned scientists, was responsible for the large programme which included a Plenary Session on "The Truth about Sexology in Different Countries," "Sexology and Anthropology" and a Symposium on Clitoridectomies. A film programme was also part of the proceedings. I had brought a film which I had made myself in India about a youth village and from the German Institute for Scientific Films I had borrowed the following films:

i) Initiation of latmul men in Papua (20 min.)

ii) Scarification of girls in the Sudan (10 min.)

iii) Excision of Omar-Arab girls in the Sudan (10 min.)

The German Institute for Scientific Films has the highest international status--Harvard scholars are among the collaborators.

The films I presented were received with great interest and I was invited to show them at the famous Museum of Anthropology, at the Department of Anthropology and the Film Institute of Mexico. Three screenings also took place at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and were received with great interest. In my travel plans I had included a visit to the Peabody Museum.

I had met Dr. Counter in Stockholm in 1978 at a Press Conference for Alex Haley and on a few other occasions altogether the times we met can be counted in minutes. I sent him an invitation because the films have ethnomedical and health aspects. It is not true that he "strongly protested the showing of the films" or tried to stop the presentation. After the screening he made some aggressive remarks and walked out while most of the audience stayed on for further discussion. I was not the "main speaker"; I was the only speaker and introduced the films. I did not have any "companion" and I did not know of any "German" in the audience.

Attacking me personally Dr. Counter stated that I have been "refused academic Sweden." It is not true, as I have never sought any, having spent most of my life since my youth in foreign countries (S. Asia, Africa, and the Americas) in both academic, United Nations and independent research. My "bizarre subject matter" is cultural anthropology to which I was introduced by Bronislaw Malinowski in the 1930s. At the same time I met Jomo Kenyatta, who let me read the papers which later were published in "Facing Mt. Kenya." For the first time I learned about female circumcision, but it was never my subject. About 30 years later a paper on Female Infibulation was published in Studia Ethnographica Upaliensia XX, 1964. The author is Professor C.G. Widstrand, Director of the Nordic Africa Institute. His well documented 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 outbursts about my intelligence and academic training I state that apart from University and field studies and continents, I have taken courses with Curt Sachs, Paul Wingert and received an M.A. from Haverford, a college which, I am told, has a very high standing in the Harvard Admission Office.

I am well aware of the fact that sexual mutilation of girls predates Islam (Note: Pharaonic Circumcision), but I refer also to the address presented at the 1979 U.N. Conference for Women, 6 December, 1979 in Lusaka, by the delegate from Somalia, Mrs. Edan Adan Ismael, "Female circumcision ranks high in the list of preventable health hazards and affects almost 100% 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 Mali just to name a few." Islam is the religion of Somalia and most of the other countries concerned.

Dr. Counter writes: "According to authorities these practices among remote African tribes have long since been outlawed by African governments," I would ask him who are those authorities? It is only as late as 7 December, 1979 that a Resolution was passed in Lusaka by women delegates from 42 African countries condemning infibulation (Pharaonic female circumcision).

As a student of cultural anthropology, I am well aware of the complexities of all customs. There are no easy answers, but nothing should be concealed or denied. Unlimited research in causes and effects is essential.

I hope that other films like mine 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. Such films may shock some people, but the general reaction is a feeling of compassion and willingness to help these unfortunate women and girls. Dr. Counter's reaction is sick and sickening. He is incapable of understanding that it is the image of men, both Black and white, which is damaged when their cruelties to women and girls is exposed. Tore Hakansson

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