On February 14, Dr. Ali Selim, lecturer in Arabic in Trinity, gave a public apology on The Pat Kenny Show for comments on “female circumcision” he had made the week prior. He advocated for it on medical grounds but sparked outrage as the phrase is seen as a synonym for female genital mutilation (FGM), which was outlawed in Ireland in 2012. He claimed that he had misunderstood the terminology, giving his lack of medical experience as an excuse. He clarified in a statement to The Irish Times earlier that week that he was referring to labiaplasty. Labiaplasty is a surgical procedure whereby the inner labia are altered or reduced in extremely rare cases, usually due to discomfort after pregnancy.
Firstly, the word “sorry” was not uttered once. This was no apology, this was a cover-up – a chance for him to clear his public image, a chance happily given to him by Kenny, who, at times, asked him leading questions that worked only to his benefit.
Secondly, the fact that a part-time language lecturer felt that he had any right to imply medical knowledge in the first place is absurd. His behaviour has been strongly condemned by the wider public, including the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, and a Clinical Associate Professor in Trinity, who threatened to give up his position if Selim is kept on as a member of staff. His own students penned a group letter calling for his dismissal on the grounds that they simply did not feel comfortable with the thought of him teaching them any longer.
In response, Selim was suspended from teaching for one week and will have returned as a lecturer in Arabic by the time this has gone to print. What recompense was offered to his students and those offended by him was little and lacking in gravity. Parallel Arabic classes will be offered to those who do not wish to be taught by him. In other words, Trinity is saying: “You don’t like him, we completely understand. We’re not going to get rid of him or anything like that, you’ll just have to leave his classroom and go somewhere else.”
This waiving of a man’s individual responsibility, especially one in an authoritative position, reflects the general trend of inaction when it comes to dealing with their inappropriate and incongruous attitudes towards female assault.
In September 2017, when George Hook implied that female rape victims have a personal responsibility to themselves to avoid being raped by changing their behaviour on nights out – shifting the blame from the attacker to the victim – he received a slap on the wrist from Newstalk following his own public apology and a short suspension of three months. However, despite the widespread outrage at his comments and calls for his resignation, after this suspension period he was brought back into the studio and given a Saturday morning programme as if nothing had happened. You don’t like him, Newstalk management completely understand, but they do request that you tune in to a different station.
Selim also denied that his comments caused widespread outrage, stating that it was but a single student that called for his dismissal. In fact, over 20 of his students signed a group letter to the head of the School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultural Studies earlier that week. This blatant denial of such a straightforward truth only brings into question the honesty of his claimed misunderstanding of terminology.
FGM exists solely to control female sexuality. It is a form of assault in all its occurrences and it has affected more than 200 million women alive today. One cannot simply misuse terms when discussing it in national media. His apology is not accepted, and neither is the condemnation of his remarks by College management and the School itself, until appropriate action is taken.