CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. If bombers were a threat once, they still are (Times)

David Aaronovitch argues that it would be disastrous for the UK to distance itself from the United States. The US remains an indispensable, practical and ideological ally in a world where fundamentalist terror has not gone away.

2. Eureka! At last, I can see what David Cameron is on about (Daily Telegraph)

Cameron's "Big Society" project is truly radical, says Benedict Brogan. Here is a rare example of a politician who has faith in individuals to wrestle responsibility for society away from the state.

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3. Big ambition (Times)

But a leader in the Times says that it is still hard to see how the "Big Society" translates into policy. Cameron appears to have forgotten that the voluntary sector draws most of its funding from public sources.

4. We're getting everything from this election but radicalism (Independent)

As polling day draws closer, the differences between the parties are narrowing not widening, writes Adrian Hamilton. We desperately need a bold approach to a host of challenges, from Afghanistan to Trident to financial reform.

5. Berlin has cut the motor, but now Europe is stalled (Guardian)

Germany once drove the European project but its retreat into British-style self-interest puts the EU at risk, argues Timothy Garton Ash.

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6. Brown's lies and chicanery on immigration are crying out to be exposed by the Tories (Daily Mail)

The Tories should launch an all-out attack on Gordon Brown's misuse of immigration statistics, says Stephen Glover. The party should not be frightened of saying that indigenous workers have been priced out of the job market.

7. Immigration: Speaking softly (Guardian)

Staying with immigration, a Guardian leader says that Brown's attempt to reassure voters will work only if they believe he is telling the truth. The Prime Minister must not use inaccurate data again.

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8. When Beijing and New Delhi pull together (Financial Times)

To bring China and India closer together, the yawning trade deficit between the two countries must be remedied, writes James Lamont.

9. Begin by breaking up the big banks (Guardian)

We will suffer a repeat of the financial crisis if we fail to reform the banks fundamentally, warns Larry Elliott. Politicians must recognise that the main banks remain far too big and far too complex.

10. Serbia says sorry for Srebrenica, but it should go further (Daily Telegraph)

Serbia's apology for the massacre at Srebrenica should acknowledge that what happened there was genocide, argues Harry de Quetteville.

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Female genital mutilation is not just a women’s issue, it’s a human issue

A new play explores how two women react when their daughters' friend is subjected to FGM.

Alice Denny was born into a body that didn’t feel like hers. There is no one ‘right’ way to live and no one should have to hide who they really are.  For years, she accepted the guise before eventually making the transition she deserved.

“A life and body to finally match my mind,” she says softly, quoting one of her own poems to me. “I know, it’s silly,” she adds in a fluster, but Alice needn’t be so modest. In fact, she should be very proud.

We’re at The Joker, an offbeat bar in Brighton, and Alice explains how the realisation of her womanhood inspired her to take up a leading role in CUT, a community play highlighting the horrors of female genital mutilation (FGM), which premieres in Brighton next week.

“For anything to stop women from being women, I find so upsetting,” Alice tells me with a communicable heartbreak in her voice.

FGM involves the removal of a woman’s clitoris, inner-and-outer lips of the vagina, and the sewing or stapling together of the two sides of the vulva leaving only a small hole to pass urine and menstruate – depending on the variation. Typically, FGM is carried out with a razor blade on girls between the ages of four and 15, often without any anaesthetic.

This misguided practice, fed by some faux-rationale about raising girls properly, is most common among cultural and religious groups in Africa and the Middle East with the World Health Organisation estimating around 125 million cases across the globe. Many of these communities believe FGM will serve to limit a woman’s libido, discourage sexual promiscuity and strengthen the institute of marriage.

“It’s brutal and makes me almost ashamed to be a human being,” Alice states emphatically.

Of course, to take solace in the fact FGM is not as common in Britain, where it is illegal, is to cataclysmically miss the point. It shouldn’t happen anywhere or to anyone. As it is, an approximate 137,000 women in Britain are affected by FGM, but even that number could be more given the ‘hidden’ nature of the crime.

Daughters of some first-generation immigrants and asylum seekers can be at a particular risk, with these girls taken to their countries of origin against their will during the school holidays for the procedure, allowing them time to ‘heal’ before their return. In reality, the lasting effects both physical and psychological never cease completely.

It is a terrifying thought and one that the incisive CUT, written by Suchitra Chatterjee and Susi Mawell-Stewart, explores. The play chronicles the lives of two women, Brona and Kiva, neighbours forced to face up to the problem of FGM on their doorstep when a shared African friend of their daughters is about to be sent away to be mutilated. Parent of two Alice stars as Brona, while Norma Dixit portrays Kiva. 

So what does CUT hope to achieve?  “It’s about trying to break the conspiracy of silence surrounding this issue,” an impassioned Alice reveals.

The former psychiatric nurse continues: “FGM isn’t something that’s isolated to one place or one group of people. It’s a wider feminist issue, a human issue, which needs to be addressed collectively. The play is about raising awareness, a vehicle to say to women to make the world a better place for each other.

“Women matter, never mind culture, never mind traditions of people being subjugated. We matter and we can make our lives what we want them to be. I’ve made my life what I want it to be and I feel so happy about that.

“People who say ‘it’s nothing to do with us,’ of course it is. It’s brutalizing women. I would love people to say, ‘actually I do know something that’s going on and I will go to the police and they will listen to me.’ I want people to be energized and make it their business.”

Admittedly, CUT, directed by Rikki Tarascas, is not for the faint hearted and will no doubt leave the audience shocked in their seats. Then again, that’s the idea.

CUT will premiere at the BrightHelm Community Centre in Brighton on May 10 and features a pre-show event with speeches from, among others, Khadijah Kamara, an FGM survivor and Heather Knott, a former Soroptomist International UK committee member.