Saturday, May 26, 2012

Interview with "CGW" -- an ordinary citizen who decided to make a difference


"Dr. Elhagaly is no longer employed or caring for patients at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. We are working with his patients to transition their care to another physician."

This is what the Public Relations department of the Mayo Clinic located in Rochester in southeastern Minnesota wrote in an email on May 16. 

And why was Dr. Elhagaly "no longer employed" at Mayo Clinic?  The email went on to say:

"Female circumcision in children, referred to as female genital mutilation in U.S. legal statutes, is a felony-level child abuse crime. Mayo Clinic strongly opposes the procedure and it has never been performed at any Mayo Clinic facility."

Though this Mayo Clinic memo in its rather flat affect doesn't clarify the point, the problem was not (apparently) that they had found out that Dr. Elhagaly was actually practicing female circumcision/mutilation on his patients, or that he had been counseling others to do so; it was the fact that he had been caught red-handed delivering a paper in which he advocated the practice of female circumcision/mutilation as a time-honored form of feminine hygiene in Islamic culture and had indeed noted that it was deemed by some Muslim authorities (whom he uncritically cited) as an "honor" for the girls involved.

The Mayo memo reflects an important victory for those concerned about human rights and the law -- and particularly about the practice of female circumcision/mutilation, a practice in flagrant and hideous violation of both human rights and all Western laws.

The rather monotonal announcement by the Mayo Clinic quoted above was sent to one individual, an ordinary citizen who a couple of weeks before May 16 had taken it upon himself to do something about Dr. Elhagaly, and to inform Mayo Clinic of their responsibility in this regard.  Along the way, he garnered the support and help of many friends and supporters.

For most of us concerned about the problem of Islam, it seems like a hopelessly complex and sometimes bewildering variety of issues, too often spanning the globe in far-flung places where we feel impotent to do anything about it.  

Rarely, it happens in our backyard.  And even then, we may not know about it until it's too late; or we may still feel ineffectual to do anything about it.

One day in early May, an ordinary citizen who goes by the online name of "CGW" learned of a particularly galling outrage against human rights happening right in his neck of the woods.  This outrage involved a doctor -- a pediatrician no less -- working in a clinic in the Mayo Clinic system of a small southeastern Minnesota town called Albert Lea in the heartland of the U.S.A.   As we noted above, this pediatrician had been documented to have advocated (by expounding at glowingly uncritical length) female circumcision not clearly distinguishable from the worse crime against humanity of FGM (female genital mutilation), both of which are felony crimes for underage females throughout the U.S.A. (and even for grown women in most states).

I have asked CGW if I could interview him with a few questions about how he got this done.  He graciously consented.  

The Interview

Hesperado:  How did you first hear about Dr. Elhagaly and his advocacy of FGM? 

CGW: I first heard about Dr. Elhagaly's advocacy of FGM on May 3, 2012 during my daily perusal of the articles posted on Jihad Watch, where I saw the article titled Leading Muslim jurist: Female genital mutilation an "honor" in Islam. I followed the link in that article to the original article at Translating Jihad and subsequently read that.

Hesperado:  You mean this doctor had advocated female circumcision/mutilation in Arabic?

CGW:  Yes.  It was a paper he presented to an organization of which he is a senior member, the Association of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).  I guess if it hadn't been for the individual at Translating Jihad, who regularly translates Arabic documents into English, we may have never found out about this American Muslim doctor's position on this issue.

Hesperado:   Yes, that website, Translating Jihad, does good work.  In fact, not long ago, in early April, they published a translation of another document relating to this Dr. Elhagaly -- namely, a paper delivered again at his organization, the AMJA, in which the Muslim members, all esteemed professional Muslims living and working in the U.S.A., were warned against working in law enforcement and were reminded that as Muslims they should "not be pleased with a legal system that does not come from Allah".

CGW:  Yes, I recall reading about that at Jihad Watch, though at the time I hadn't learned of the doctor's position on FGM.

Hesperado:  And so reading the May 3rd article was the first time your learned that a doctor working in your region of the U.S. was advocating what is tantamount to FGM?

CGW:  Yes.

Hesperado:  So your own local mainstream news media failed you in this regard -- they had failed to report a very important, and disturbing fact about a local doctor?

CGW:  That's right.

Hesperado:  What first moved you to do something about this issue?  Why this particular issue, and not any number of the 1,001 other issues and problems caused by Islam?  Did you just throw a dart at a board of Islamic Outrages and pick the first thing your dart hit, so to speak?

CGW:  I have long been a vocal opponent, both in my personal life and in online forums, of the barbaric practice known in all its forms in US statutory language as Female Genital Mutilation.

I live in a community with one of the highest immigrant Somali populations in the United States, and have heard from people in my community (both Somali immigrants and native locals) that the immigrant community here in Minnesota continues the practice of FGM, even though it is illegal in this country and in this state. 

Hesperado:  How bad is this problem in this immigrant community?

CGW:  Upwards of 98% of Somali females are "circumcised"; typically this takes the form of one of the more severe forms of the practice, including complete clitorectomy/clitoridectomy, excision or removal of the labia (both majora and minora), and infibulation, or "sewing up" of the external tissue that remains, leaving only a pencil-sized opening for the flow of menstrual blood and urine.  For graphic evidence of these practices, see this link.

Hesperado:  Let me understand you on this:  you've just listed various stages of the process, from less severe to worse, where "infibulation" is the worst form?

CGW:  That's right -- but remember, they are all just forms of the same practice, which has been deemed under our American laws to be a felony crime, no matter by what degree of severity it's practiced.  

Hesperado:  And so these Somalis are getting away with this right in our backyard, under our noses?

CGW:  Children are taken back to Somalia for the procedure, or are having it performed locally, both of which are illegal. There are individuals in various positions in municipal government agencies who have told tales of botched procedures done on kitchen tables at home using a razor blade where the children were in danger of bleeding to death, and which resulted in 911 being called; the cases have never been prosecuted due to a pervasive climate of deferring to "cultural sensitivity" here in Minnesota. None of these individuals would go on the record or pursue prosecution of these cases as they were warned that they would lose jobs, pensions, and would face physical retribution by the Somali community if they spoke out on the issue. 

Hesperado:  And you know of this through personal knowledge, but the specifics you do not, or cannot divulge, in order to protect certain individuals?

CGW:  Yes.  For example, I could provide a witness who could "name names" but that person made a pledge of confidentiality to the individuals involved and declines to go on the record.

Hesperado: Fascinating, and it's disconcerting that even with your relative knowledge of the local scene in terms of this problem, you had not heard of Dr. Elhagaly, who was right there in your general region.  That makes one wonder how many other Dr. Elhagaly's there are out there whom we don't know about -- not only in Minnesota, but in other areas of concentration of Muslim immigrants in America, not to mention anywhere in the West.

CGW:  True.  I guess we have to take these problems one step at a time.

Hesperado: Just out of curiosity, do you know if Dr. Elhagaly is himself Somali or is he just being an "ecumenical" Muslim helping his Muslim brothers from another culture?

CGW:  I believe that Dr. Elhagaly is from Egypt. This is what I found in the course of my research. Your readers can go here for more information.

And this is a cached copy of a page formerly at the Mayo Health System website. 

Hesperado: Thanks, that's interesting.  As we know, Egypt also has an incredibly high incidence of FGM itself -- over 90%.  Birds of a feather, as they say...  Now let's get back to you.  At the point when you learned about Dr. Elhagaly, what did you begin to do about the situation?  Did you have any previous experience with any kind of social activism before?  

CGW: Aside from the occasional participation in online activities, (such as Pamela Geller's effort to encourage Butterball to label their whole turkeys "halal" when they are indeed certifying them as such, both for export to the Middle East and for the broader American market, around Thanksgiving 2011), and participation in the comments sections of online forums, I had no experience with any kind of activism whatsoever.

Hesperado: What were your first steps then?  Were you (pardon the expression) flying by the seat of your pants?

CGW: My first step was to try and find out what I could about the pediatrician in question. I contacted the Mayo Clinic in a series of phone calls, trying to determine who to call to make an official complaint about what I perceived to be advocacy of an illegal procedure. The first hurdle I encountered was determining that the pseudonym of the physician was not his legal name for the purposes of employment. I asked about a "Dr. Hatem Al-haj", the name in the original article at Translating Jihad, and was told that no such physician worked there. Several of my online comrades also had this problem as they tried to contact Mayo directly. So I searched the Mayo Clinic Health System site for Albert Lea, MN and found his photo identifying him as Dr. Hatem Elhagaly. With that name in hand, I resumed calling Mayo. I was pretty much given the run-around; it was clear that the individuals I spoke to were not all that willing to address the situation. I left several messages for different individuals but never received a call back. Finally I was given the email address of an individual in the Public Affairs Department to whom to address emails. After a few exchanges, he provided me with another contact email address for the general public to use to address the issue with the Mayo Health System.

From there, I consulted an acquaintance with an interest in health-and-wellness issues who volunteered to organize a petition on the website This petition being established, I began the process of attempting to disseminate the information that I had gathered to various organizations, websites, etc. 

Hesperado: It's interesting to contemplate that you had little experience of political activism under your belt, but you plunged in anyway, making all those phone calls until you finally tracked down at least someone at Mayo Clinic you could begin to contact to communicate your concerns.  At that point, after you had the public relations contact and your friend began the online petition, what was the next step?  Did you just sit back and wait for the petition to grow numbers, or did you have to do more phone-calling work?  

CGW: After I had left a few phone messages for several parties at the Mayo Clinic Health System -- both at the Rochester and Albert Lea facilities -- that went unanswered, I pretty much despaired of hearing back from anyone by phone and shifted my efforts to Internet communication. All of this was still happening on the very first day, May 3. Both the phone calling and initial email contact began before the petition was ever organized; that came later in the evening.

Hesperado:  And so the Mayo Clinic wasn't timely about responding?

CGW: Actually, Mayo never got back to me independently on the resolution of the matter; I never received anything from them regarding my initial inquiry except an email saying that they were investigating the matter and thanking me for my "outreach". I followed up on May 16, and received a short response stating that Dr. Elhagaly was no longer employed or caring for patients at the Mayo Clinic facility in Albert Lea. I responded, asking if he continued to be employed by Mayo in any capacity.  The reply was in the negative.

Hesperado:  How did you find that out?

CGW: This came from the Public Affairs Department.

Hesperado:  And so how did the process play out from there?

CGW: The rest of the process was pretty straightforward. I posted a few comments online during the day about my progress in getting in touch with people, as well as additional information on the issue. Once the petition was complete and ready to sign, I began a series of outgoing emails alerting people to the issue.

Hesperado:  Now I know the petition had specific people and/or entities slated to be contacted with the petition results.  Did you contact anyone else?

CGW: Yes.  Along with the designated recipients named in the petition, who each received an email for every signature added, I contacted local, regional and national media (both television and print - no response), the MN BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension), the MN Attorney General (asking the last two to investigate whether or not anything criminal was taking place or had occurred), a few hundred Mayo Clinic Health System physicians and practitioners, a few websites, some online acquaintances, friends and family members. I also posted the same information in the comments sections of several websites, especially those which had already carried the initial article from Translating Jihad. I spent the better part of a 24-hour period composing and sending out emails, with little sleep. I felt driven.

Hesperado:  Your perseverance is much appreciated by all of us concerned about this issue.  When I first saw your notices in comments threads on Jihad Watch about the petition, I just imagined some guy who had a link trying to alert other readers to sign a petition.  I had no idea of all the work you were putting into this project. 

CGW: I did receive a helpful reply from the MN BCA, advising me that they only follow up on referrals from law enforcement agencies and from county attorneys' offices. They suggested that I contact  the MN Attorney General’s Office, the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice and the Dept. of Human Services Protective Services Unit. The second was already being contacted through the petition, and I had already contacted the first directly. At that point I decided not to pursue contacting the DHS-PSU, keeping the option open for a later date if necessary.

Hesperado:  After the initial point starting the whole process, and before the Mayo Clinic announced that Dr. Elhagaly was no longer working for them, did you hear from them?

CGW: No Mayo Clinic physicians/practitioners replied to me directly, but I did receive notification that one of the pediatricians that worked with Dr. Elhagaly in Albert Lea had forwarded the email to the Public Affairs Department at Mayo. I also received a supportive response from the administrator of one of the websites that I frequent. Online acquaintances posted additional helpful information and encouraging comments. One friend reported that he had posted links on 10 separate FaceBook pages that he visits regularly, as well as at additional websites.  

Hesperado:  When you said that you -- 

"...contacted local, regional and national media (both television and print - no response), the MN BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension), the MN Attorney General (asking the last two to investigate whether or not anything criminal was taking place or had occurred), a few hundred Mayo Clinic Health System physicians and practitioners..."

-- am I correct in assuming by "contact" you mean you emailed and phone-called?  Did you have a system?  Did you first try to phone-call, then if that didn't get through, you emailed?  Or did you just do one and the other in no apparent order?  Or did you just do one form (email or phone) and not the other for all these?

CGW: I only emailed them. As I mentioned previously, after an initial day spent waiting in vain for Mayo representatives to return my calls, I decided that email contact would be more fruitful, as it would provide all the information I needed to convey in a written format that could be referred to at any time, saved and passed on to others. I knew that I could effectively reach more people in a shorter amount of time by sending out an informational email. Calling and waiting on the line an inordinate amount of time to get passed around from person to person only to ultimately be forwarded to a voicemail system seemed unproductive and proved frustrating as well.

Hesperado: How did you get the email contact info for all those medical people you contacted?  In my (limited) experience, I've found that often doctors and other medical practitioners don't like their email addresses out in public for non-patients to see.

CGW:  I've had the same experience trying to get my own doctor's email address, to no avail, ultimately.

I accomplished the mass-emailing in a rather interesting way. Once I've let the secret out of the bag, I hope they don't change the system to shield their employees from further contact from the public!

When I had trouble getting in contact by telephone with anyone in Public Affairs at the Mayo Clinic who could be responsive to me, I called both the PA office and the facility in Albert Lea and requested an email address for the public to contact, warning that absence of the same would risk tying up their phone system for days with calls of complaint and protest. Upon being given three such addresses, I noticed a pattern of how the addresses were structured, using the first and last names of the intended recipients. I then began researching a list of Mayo Clinic physicians/practitioners by accessing their online database which lists all of them by name and specialty. This information in hand, I stayed up all night typing in each deduced address one by one.

Hesperado:  Amazing, all the ingenuity and patient attention to detail you put into this.  

CGW:  I literally hand-typed each address, referencing the names on each printed page one by one, spelling the names out loud to myself both as I read them  and as I typed them. I contacted hundreds of doctors in the Mayo System, primarily in the departments of Pediatrics (Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Pediatric General Medicine, General Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine-Pediatric Diagnostic and Referral Clinic, Pediatric Gynecology, Pediatric Nephrology, Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, Pediatric Pain Management, Pediatric Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Pediatric Plastic Surgery, Pediatric Psychiatry and Psychology, Pediatric Research, Pediatric Urology), Obstetrics and Gynecology (Gynecologic Surgery, Gynecology, Nurse Midwives, Obstetrics, Reproductive Medicine, Urogynecology), Family Medicine in Minnesota, Urology in Minnesota, Women's Health Clinic in Minnesota, along with a few other individual names. Primarily, I chose departments whose physicians/practitioners I felt would have either a direct or tangential interest in the subject of FGM.

Hesperado: When you spell it out like that, it's really staggering, and all of us concerned about this issue remain indebted to you.  Even so, it sounds like you didn't get much response from any of these people.  Did you follow-up with everyone who did not respond to you anyway, during the time before the day you were informed that Dr.Elhagaly was no longer employed (May 16)?

CGW:  The only responses I received are outlined above; and I did not follow up with any of the other parties that I contacted initially, with the exception of the request for information that I made to the Mayo Clinic on May 16. I figured that, if people were interested or concerned, they would reply to my initial email or forward it onward to the indicated parties.
Hesperado:  Sorry for seeming a little dense here, but I'm still unclear as to whether you emailed people independently of sending them the petition, in addition to emailing them the petition.  Or was there only one emailing of all those people, and it included the petition?  When you mentioned about how you contacted all those medical personnel including doctors etc. Did that precede the emailing of the petition, or was it the same process?

CGW:  There was only one email directly from me to the entire list of recipients. It included a link to the translation of the original Arabic article at the Translating Jihad website; a link to the doctor's employment information page at the Mayo Clinic Health System (Albert Lea website); a link to his own website, where he uses the pseudonym "Sheik Hatem Al-Haj"; a link to some information about the practice of FGM; and lastly, a link to the first draft of the petition.

Hesperado:  How long did it take for the first petition to be complete?  Was it simply ongoing until the "victory day" (May 16)? 

CGW:  The number of signed names on the petition grew slowly but steadily. 

Hesperado:  How long did it take for the petition to garner a sufficient number of names?  Like, how long did it take for 100 names to appear? 
CGW:  I think that it took a couple of days to reach 100 signatures or so.

Hesperado:  To whom exactly was the petition communicated ?  

CGW:  The petition letter was communicated to the Mayo Clinic Public Affairs Department, the American Board of Pediatrics (Board of Directors), the American Academy of Pediatrics (Board of Directors), the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice (Board of Directors), the American Medical Association, and the American Board of Pediatrics (Maintenance of Certification). The petition organizer did all the legwork, i.e., the research necessary to determine which organizations should receive the petition letter and their contact information.

Hesperado:  Did they receive the complete list of the petition signers as it was growing?

CGW:   No, actually, each time someone signed the petition, an email went out to each of the above-named recipients with that person's signature, generating a veritable flood of individual emails to their inboxes.

Also, a link to the petition was sent to all the recipients that I enumerated before in various medical departments and offices. I have no idea if any of the individuals with whom I communicated directly signed the petition, but the petition organizer is privy to that information. We'd need to compare lists to see.

I also posted a link to the petition online at several websites.

Hesperado:  And, of course, the petition has "morphed" into a second petition.  

CGW:    That's right.  It has been modified to reflect Dr. Elhagaly's departure from the Mayo Clinic (the Mayo Clinic has been removed from the list of contactees).   And the petition is still ongoing as we speak.  It can be seen at this link.

Hesperado:  As significant as the May 16 victory was, it's not enough that Dr. Elhagaly is no longer working at a particular clinic.  What is the purpose of this second petition?
CGW:  Two main purposes:  1) to urge proper authorities to revoke Dr. Elhagaly's medical certifications; and 2) to refute the statements made by followers of his that the entire petition effort has been the result of "Islamophobia" -- a word, by the way, invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in America to suppress all legitimate criticism of Islam, sharia law and Islamic practices -- which in this case serves the purpose of trying to deflect the public's attention away from genuine problems, such as a concern for the medical and health implications of the situation. 

Hesperado:  And to whom all is this petition going to be sent?

CGW:  The American Board of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, the American Medical Association, and the American Board of Pediatrics.  

Hesperado:  It boggles the mind that this advocate of female circumcision/mutilation is a pediatrician practicing in the U.S.A.!  

CGW:   Indeed.  

Hesperado:  How is this second petition going so far?

CGW:   Very well.  The total signatories at any given time can be checked by visiting the link I gave you.

Hesperado:  And that link, to remind the readers, is this one.  Well, CGW, I thank you for taking the time out to answer my questions.  I think it has been quite enlightening to any of my readers interested in the nuts and bolts of how an ordinary person can get involved and make a difference.  I wish you and the petitioners the best of luck with their goal.

CGW:  Thank you very much.


Traeh said...

Hesperado, an outstanding interview. CGW, you have done and are doing a great thing. You must be rather pleased. And you should be. Thank you!!! I'm going to sign the petition, right now.

Hesperado said...

Thanks Traeh, much appreciated. Let's hope CGW's second petition is as successful as the first!