Given the brutality seen so far from the militant group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), it’s easy to believe any act attributed to them must be true. But a United Nations officials’ statement on the group ordering female genital mutilation in one Iraqi city under their control seems to be less than accurate.
The story began on Thursday when the U.N.’s second senior most official, Jacqueline Badcock, told reporters of a new religious edict issued in ISIS’ name. The edict — or fatwa — ordered all girls and women in the city of Mosul between the ages of 11 and 46 to undergo female genital mutilation, Badcock told reporters in a teleconference from Iraq. “This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed,” Badcock, who serves as the U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator in Iraq, said.
“This is not the will of Iraqi people, or the women of Iraq in these vulnerable areas covered by the terrorists,” she added. The result of such an order, she said, could be up to four million Iraqi girls and women in and around Iraq’s second largest city being forced to undergo the painful procedure. Aside from the initial suffering, the process often leads to a multitude of health problems “including severe bleeding, problems urinating, infections, infertility and increased risk of newborn deaths in childbirth.”
The story quickly began to go viral, racking up hundreds of shares on social media. Soon thereafter, however, journalists with contacts in Iraq began reporting that the story didn’t hold up. “My contacts in #Mosul have NOT heard that ‘Islamic State’ ordered FGM for all females in their city,” Jenan Moussa, a reporter with Al Anan TV tweet out. “Iraqi contacts say #Mosul story is fake,” echoed freelance writer Shaista Aziz, adding: “Iraqi contact on #FGM story: “ISIS are responsible for many horrors, this story is fake and plays to western audience emotions.’”
NPR’s Cairo bureau chief also claimed that the story was false, tweeting “#UN statement that #ISIS issued fatwa calling 4 FGM 4 girls is false residents of Mosul say including a doctor, journalist and tribal leader.” Not long after a version of a document in Arabic, bearing the black logo that ISIS has adopted, began circulating on Twitter. The document, those who shared it said, is a hoax and the basis for the United Nations’ claim.
As one analyst who looked at the document told the Independent, the issuing of such an edict would be a huge shift for ISIS, which has held territory in Syria for months without demanding that FGM take place. The practice tends to be based more on culture, Shiraz Maher, a Senior Fellow at King’s College London, said and “not something jihadists have ever really taken up” or “spoken about.” ThinkProgress reached out to the United Nations for comment on the discrepancy, but did not receive a response as of press time.
The traction that this story seemed to quickly gain is easy to understand given ISIS’ previous actions in the territory it controls. Along with reports of civilian executions, massacring Shiites, and enforcing a strict adherence to their interpretation of Islamic law, ISIS has even resurrected the practice of crucifixion in Syria. But for now it appears that female cutting is one atrocity that ISIS has yet to order.