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Loon Victory: Muslim Doctor Ousted for FGM Thought Crime

Dr. Hatem al-Haj

Dr. Hatem al-Haj

by Ilisha

All across the Looniverse, hate mongers are congratulating themselves on a stunning victory.

They’ve managed to oust Dr. Hatem (Elhagaly) al-Haj from his role as a pediatrician at the prestigious, US-based Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for nothing more than a thought crime.  There is no evidence Dr. al-Haj has injured, neglected, or in any way harmed any of his patients, and furthermore, there are no formal complaints against him stemming from his practice.

The successful campaign was spearheaded, according to loons, by a lone Jihad Watcher, who garnered hundreds of signatures on a petition submitted to the Mayo Clinic alleging the doctor endorsed Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and therefore posed a potential danger to his patients. The “smoking gun” and centerpiece of  the campaign against Dr. al-Haj is a paper he wrote seven years ago as part of his doctoral thesis. The paper was translated from Arabic into English by a notorious translator already exposed as incompetent by Loonwatch here.

The translation appears to be deliberately manipulative, and falsely attributes a quote to Dr. al-Haj saying FGM  is “an honor for women.” It is unclear whether Dr. al-Haj resigned under pressure or was fired by the Mayo Clinic in the wake of the manufactured “controversy,” but it is nevertheless an astounding achievement for bigots devoted to marginalizing Muslims in the West and demonizing Islam.

Dr. al-Haj is the latest victim caught in the crosshairs of a relentless, coordinated campaign to portray Muslims as misogynist and barbaric by falsely attributing FGM to Islam. In fact, FGM does not have its origins in Islam, is not practiced exclusively by Muslims, and is virtually unheard of in many Muslim-majority countries.

What is FGM?

Female Genital Mutilation is a term used by most human rights groups to describe various degrees of genital cutting performed on girls and women. The United Nations categorizes four major types:

Type 1:

Excision of the prepuce, with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris.

Type 2:

Excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora.

Type 3:

Excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening (infibulation).

Type 4:

Others, such as pricking, piercing or incising, stretching, burning the clitoris, scraping of itssue surrounding the vaginal orifice, cutting of the vagina, introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina to cause bleeding or to tighten the opening.

How prevalent are these procedures?

Although bigots always cite the most extreme forms of FGM and the corresponding side effects, Types I and II are most common, accounting for about 85% of all FGM procedures. Type III is mostly confined to Somalia, northern Sudan and Djibouti, and the highest rates of FGM today are found in parts of Africa:


Why is FGM performed?

FGM is sometimes viewed as necessary to control a woman’s sexuality, and though evidence contradicts this notion, some believe FGM helps to to ensure virginity and fidelity by diminishing sexual desire. In some tribal communities, FGM is part of traditional initiation rituals for girls entering womanhood, and continuation of the practice is sometimes bolstered by myths, such as the notion an uncut clitoris will grow to the size of a penis.

In other cases FGM is incorrectly thought to enhance fertility and improve hygiene, and some perceive it as more aesthetically pleasing. Some practitioners also believe it is religiously sanctioned or mandated, and in some communities, it is a prerequisite to marriage.

Is FGM a Muslim problem?

FGM does not have its origins in Islam, but it does need to be discussed among Muslims for several reasons. The practice is widespread in some Muslim majority countries, especially in Africa, and in countries like Somalia and Egypt, large majorities of girls undergo some form of FGM.

There is no direct correlation between religion and FGM. However, Muslims in areas where the practice is common often conflate this cultural inheritance with religion, believing FGM is either mandated or at least recommended, in Islam.

What is the origin of FGM?

Despite the fact many hate sites refer to FGM as “Islamic,” its is an ancient practice that predates Islam by centuries. FGM is thought to have originated under the Pharoahs of ancient Egypt, which is why Type III procedures are sometimes referred to as “pharaonic circumcision.” Archeologists have found circumcised female mummies, and in the fifth century BCE, Herodotus reported the practice among the Phoenicians and Ethiopians, as well as Egyptians, which means FGM predates Christianity as well.

Various forms of female genital cutting have also been traced to parts of Africa, the Philippines, the Upper Amazon in South America, and to parts of Australia where aborigines performed FGM and in some areas, still do. Female genital cutting also occurred among the early Romans.

In Victorian times, clitoridectomies were performed in Western countries.  The first reported clitoridectomy in the West was carried out in Berlin in 1822 by Isaac Baker Brown, an English gynecologist who was the president of the Medical Society of London. He believed that “unnatural irritation” of the clitoris caused epilepsy, hysteria, and mania, and would remove it whenever he had the opportunity. His views sparked outrage and he was eventually expelled from the Obstetrical Society, though he certainly was not alone in believing removal of the clitoris was a legitimate treatment. As recently as the 1950s, clitoridectomies were sometimes performed in Western Europe and the United States to treat various “ailments,” including hysteria, epilepsy, mental disorders, masturbation, nymphomania, melancholia and lesbianism.

What’s being done to end the practice worldwide?

Fortunately, FGM has already been eradicated in many regions, and in 2003, the United Nations launched the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation as part of a campaign to end the practice worldwide. In recent years, a growing number of countries have passed laws banning FGM. However, laws alone are not enough to eradicate the practice, and may in some cases, merely drive FGM underground.

Firmly entrenched in some societies where it has been practiced for centuries, FGM is viewed as essential by some families, regardless of their religious affiliation. If physicians are banned by law from performing any form of FGM, families sometimes resort to an unlicensed practitioner who may use crude tools in an unsanitary environment, causing further pain, trauma, and potential complications. Stiff penalties also may deter families from seeking proper medical attention if complications arise, further endangering the lives of girls who undergo the procedure despite the ban.

This brings us back to Dr. Al-Haj, who discussed in his paper the “ritual nick” as a possible alternative to other forms of FGM, which in some cases may appease families convinced FGM is necessary without causing permanent harm to the girl or woman. This suggestion caused a firestorm of protest, yet it is noteworthy that the supposedly “radical” position espoused by Dr. al-Haj in his paper was endorsed in 2010 by the American Academy of Pediatrics as reported in the New York Times. Criticizing a federal law that prohibits all forms of female genital procedures, including the ritual nick, the group said:

It might be more effective if federal and state laws enabled pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a ritual nick as a possible compromise to avoid greater harm. ~ The American Academy of Pediatrics

No matter how adamant and eager activists may be to end the practice, social change is a process, and it takes time. The strategy for eliminating the practice should first and foremost take into account the health and well being of girls and women, and not the politics of bigotry.

The Other Side of the Story

Many of the hate sites crowing about their victory include a link to Dr. al-Haj’s website, despite the fact his thoughtful explanation undermines their case against him:

I have always condemned Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM. Moreover, I have unequivocally voiced both orally and in written form the condemnation of all harmful forms of Female Genital Cutting FGC, justifiably known as FGM. Furthermore, I have taught that nothing in Islamic Law and religious texts supports such a heinous crime. In fact, it is repugnant to Islamic principles and values to inflict such trauma and suffering on any female. The severest forms of this practice are akin to killing in Islamic Law.

The statements I have made, that are now being unfairly distorted against me, are those regarding a subtype of Female Genital Cutting FGC, a harmless procedure called the ritual nick. This subtype doesn’t involve any form of clitorectomy. It is merely an incision (or a minimal excision, as explained in the details below) of part of the clitoral hood, the counterpart to the foreskin in males, and does not remove any part of the clitoris. This opinion is scientifically irrefutable and shared by many American non-Muslim pediatricians. It is the position expressed by the Committee on Bioethics of the American Academy of Pediatrics. [Pediatrics Vol. 125 No. 5 May 1, 2010 pp. ‎‎1088 -1093‎.], which noted:

“This [the ritual nick] is no more of an alteration than ear piercing. A legitimate concern is that parents who are denied the cooperation of a physician will send their girls back to their home country for a much more severe and dangerous procedure or use the services of a non–medically trained person in North America.”…

The claim that I said, “Female genital mutilation is an honor” is so repugnant. The statement sounds to me like an intractable conflict. However, my opponents have used against me every other logical fallacy in their campaign, such as generalization, poisoning the well, straw man, etc. Therefore, it does not surprise me that they ascribed such statement to me.

Despite my acknowledgment of the harmlessness of the ritual nick, I have unwaveringly discouraged all people from having it done because of its illegality in the US. I have never advised, suggested or encouraged any of my patients or their families to undertake any type of female circumcision, including the ritual nick…

The smear campaigns against me are unfounded in that they are based on religious bias, ignorance and misconceptions of my real positions and actions on the issues at hand. These defamers have misquoted me, taken excerpted words out of context, distorted my position and plainly fabricated lies against me in order to vilify me as some type of evil, backward extremist physician. I am none of these things. Quite the contrary, I give medical care to my young female patients, as I would my own daughters…”

Read the Rest here:

Whatever one thinks of the “lesser evil” of a ritual nick, it doesn’t seem as if mere discussion of the prospect should cost a doctor his job. As Dr. al-Haj has said, and even the loons admit, he has never performed any form of FGM, has never seen any such procedure performed, and has never actually recommended it to any patient. His paper merely provided an overview of Muslim opinion with respect to FGM.

Circumcision in Islam: A Wide Range of Opinions

Hate sites put an emphasis on any evidence they can harvest to suggest FGM is mandated by Sharia (Islamic Law). Fortunately, they are not able to present evidence from the Qur’an, nor reliable hadith, promoting the practice of FGM. They must resort to quoting dubious sources, ranging from uneducated villagers to imams whose credibility is highly questionable, and who are not recognized authorities in the Muslim community. In the absence of a comprehensive global survey, it is impossible to determine how widespread support for FGM is among Muslim scholars. However, it is clear there is a broad range of opinion regarding the practice.

Despite Pamela Geller’s constant reference to “clitoridectomies” as being “Islamic,” there is apparently no credible Muslim scholar who believes removal of the clitoris is mandated in Islam. Many prominent Muslim scholars have issued fatwas against FGM in all its forms. In 2006, leaders from around the world gathered in Egypt and ruled female circumcision un-Islamic, and the following year, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa issued a fatwa against the practice. Gomaa said FGM is not commanded in the Qur’an, nor the hadith, and while it may have been accepted in the past, studies showing dangers to health make it unacceptable today.

Gomaa also pointed out that there is no record of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives or daughters ever having undergone the procedure, and suggested it was an unwelcome innovation stemming from cultural tradition. The full fatwa can be read on his website here.

Gomaa received support from the Grand Sheikh of Egypt’s prestigious Al-Azhar University, Muhammad Sayyed Thanthawi. Thanthawi said female circumcision is prohibited and cannot be justified on religious grounds. Despite the loons consistent efforts to present inauthentic hadiths as evidence of support for FGM, Thanthawi also confirmed that FGM is justified neither by the Qur’an nor reliable hadith, and further stated that circumcision in Islam applies only to men.

While the circumcision of men is a majority opinion, it is further testament to diversity that some Muslim scholars believe all forms of circumcision are prohibited in Islam. They cite passages in the Qur’an (40:64, 64:3, 95:4, 4:119, and 6:38) as evidence that God created the human being in the desired state, without need for alteration, and argue that circumcision violates the central theme of compassion in Islam.

The Prophet Muhammad is said to have been born without a foreskin (aposthetic), and while some Muslims argue boys should be circumcised in order to emulate the Prophet, opponents point out it is possible to glean the opposite message: since the Prophet Muhammad obviously didn’t undergo circumcision, boys today can best follow his example by not being circumcised.

Don’t expect to see this wide range of opinion on the issue of circumcision on hate sites devoted to portraying Muslims as a monolith. Anyone sincerely devoted to ending the practice of FGM should be promoting statements by Grand Mufti Gomaa and like minded scholars to spread the good news FGM is not mandated in Islam. Instead, bigots masquerading as “human rights activists” use their considerable resources to spread the opposite message, putting their agenda ahead of the interests of the girls and women whose rights they pretend to represent.

The Fate of Dr. al-Haj

Emboldened by their ill-conceived victory, anti-Muslim bigots have waged a new campaign aimed at having the doctor’s license to practice medicine revoked as well. Because their baseless accusations can’t stand up to even rudimentary scrutiny, the new campaign should fail. Unfortunately, in the current climate, where irrationality and knee-jerk reactions often prevail, they may very well succeed in sacrificing Dr. al-Haj’s career and reputation on the alter of anti-Muslim bigotry.

It is shocking and disappointing that the Mayo Clinic would take action based on this devious and dishonest witch hunt. Dr. al-Haj is guilty of nothing more than being a Muslim and engaging in a “thought crime,” perpetrated years ago in a paper written as part of his doctoral thesis. If the prestigious Mayo Clinic is willing to cave into a few loud-mouthed bigots based on a campaign of lies and distortions, what’s next for Western Muslims?

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  • Ravenscroft

    Germany, take note…

    The Scientific Case for Circumcision

  • Peter Jones
  • DrM


    No, I was too busy reading your comic book collection to understand your thought process or lack of it.

  • HGG

    Oh, hai DrM.

    Don’t you have some fake patients to attend?

  • DrM

    hgg said

    “You seem to have a definition of “witty” at odds with reality.”

    So says the atheist comic book geek still nursing a grudge because I don’t share his veneration for the late Christopher Hitchens. Go watch “Avengers,” and leave the discussion to the adults.

  • HGG

    “DrM is right! I would also like to nominate him as the wittiest LW commenter.”

    You seem to have a definition of “witty” at odds with reality.

  • Okay, Im not going to sit here and argue about circumcision, but the next time some idiot tells me its immoral to circumcise a penis, let me make something clear for you.

    I was circumcised when I was just born. I don’t remember it. It doesn’t come to mind. Im not traumatized. And I don’t care.

    Im sure 100% other individuals that had it when they were born agree with me. Further, if you choose to do it, its not anyone else’s business. That should really be the end of it. Done.

  • Sam Seed

    @Peter Jones, would you consider cutting the umbilical cord after the birth of a baby an act of mutilation?

  • khushboo

    DrM is right! I would also like to nominate him as the wittiest LW commenter.

  • DrM

    Peter Jones,

    I see you’re still committed to making a fool out of yourself online, but thanks for proving yet again that you’re NOT a doctor. Why else would you refer to epidemiology as a “big word” when its a subject medical students all have to go through? Perhaps they didn’t teach you that at the imaginary school of atheist quackery you were enrolled in. The only reason you’re engaged in this buffoonery is because you’re upset that a practice with its roots in religion has medical relevance. You secular fanatics are no different then anti-vaccine nutters and PETA morons.
    Only idiots, not refined medical professionals refer to circumcision as “mutilation” as if a male infant was being thrown in a meat grinder. Citing a handful of foolish organizations which caved in to anti-male circumcision pressure proves nothing(even they don’t call it mutilation) but your desperation. Millions upon millions of men who were circumcised as infants have no problem with sexual health whatsoever, and no amount of your pedestrian fear mongering and sloppy innuendo can’t change that reality.
    Get back to me when you have something relevant(like selling foreskin “restoration” kits on Ebay) to add. In the mean time deal with the fact that we’re right, and you’re wrong.

  • AJ

    Peter Jones,

    Good for you. Keep yourself and your male offspring “intact”.

  • Peter Jones

    All the major medical associations in the world have deemed male genital mutilation unnecessary. Here is a small starter list:

    American Academy of Pediatrics
    Canadian Paediatric Society
    Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (UK)
    European Paediatric Association
    etc. etc.

    I have forwarded them your erudite postings DrM, and they have kindly agreed to take a vote their next general meetings and reverse their positions. They were very impressed by your use of big words like “epidemiology”; but it was your fatwa: “The science is in, we’re right, you’re wrong. End of story.” that really nailed it for them.

    Please don’t make it TOO easy for me to troll you, or it ceases to be fun 🙂

  • DrM

    I see Peter Jones, the phoney peds doc has been busy desperately googling his way around to “prove” his ideological extremism. I’m sure if you data mine enough you’ll find just the “numbers” you’re looking for. It doesn’t change the fact that millions upon millions of circumcised men around the world have no problems with sexual health or performance.
    The cherry picked “study” you found is statistically insignificant, pure and simple. You apparently were so pleased with your silly self you didn’t even bother to read the limitations the authors themselves cited. If you were a doctor and knew anything about epidemiology you would have thought twice before pulling these shenanigans, but your intent is to confuse and mislead the uneducated. You’re engaged in classic confirmation bias, even a first year med student could see that. For every one of these “studies” there hundreds which conclude the exact opposite. I did find Pakistani Canadian buffoon Rizvi’s HuffPo article amusing in setting up a false premise, amid attempts to inject pop culture tunes. Very forced and lame.
    You anti-circumcision nutters cling to the foreskin like it was some holy grail, denouncing every new(and old) study that shows circumcision to reduce the incidence of HIV, HPV, STDs, and a host of other ailments. Any “foreskin restoration” quackery you wish to amuse me with? The science is in, we’re right, you’re wrong. End of story.

  • DrM

    Sabhanak Yarab said,

    “ut that’s probably just because I’m an illiterate atheist extremist who wants to spread STDs. ”

    I didn’t say you were trying to spread STDs, that was someone else. What I did say was that you were engaged in fear mongering and disinformation regarding male circumcision. Your attempts at wit and sarcasm fail.

    “we should take our services elsewhere”

    Yeah, please do. We’ll manage somehow without your “services” as you fly off into the sunset with your cape.

  • Peter Jones

    How the circumcision solution in Africa will increase HIV infections

    Department of Pediatrics and Human Development, College of Human Medicine, Michigan State University, Marquette, MI, USA

  • Peter Jones

    Male Genital Mutilation: Circumcision removes close to 50% of the total penile skin – about 15 square inches in the average adult. Shocking.

    This year, 1.2 million male babies in the United States will have between 35 and 50% of healthy, functioning penile skin — containing over 20,000 nerve endings and the five most sensitive areas of the penis — removed in a procedure that all of the major medical associations in the world, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Paediatric Society, have deemed medically unnecessary.

    Overall, routine, non-therapeutic circumcision costs over $2 billion a year; in most states, it is still covered by Medicaid, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to the taxpayer. Despite near-universal recommendations against performing it routinely, it is the most common surgical procedure performed in the United States.

    A recent study looking at sensitivity of the penis in the circumcised and uncircumcised male found that the five most sensitive areas on the penis are removed at circumcision, and that the keratinized glans on the circumcised penis is less sensitive than the foreskin-protected, mucosa-lined glans on the uncircumcised penis. The skin removed from the penis at circumcision makes up close to 50% of the total penile skin, amounting to 15 square inches in an adult.

  • Peter Jones

    Male circumcision leads to a bad sex life

    11 New York infants infected with herpes through ritual in Jewish circumcision

    Male Circumcision and the HIV/AIDS Myth

    Circumcision of HIV-infected men did not reduce HIV transmission to female partners

    Circumcision to prevent HIV is ill-advised

  • AJ

    JSB, if and when the time comes to make a choice between Loonwatch and the Islamophobic friends – ditch the friends, keep Loonwatch 🙂

  • Dawood

    @Ilisha: Yes indeed, that was quite a while ago now. 🙂 There is more on him here, which shows his modus operandi at work clearly, and further follow-up articles after that as well.

    “I wonder how they found this paper and got the idea to mistranslate it in the first place?”

    That is the worrying part, in actual fact. In the original post, he does thank Frank Gaffney’s organisation as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow people are “funded” to spend their days looking for ways to portray Islam and Muslims negatively – we know it’s what Spencer makes his money from and plenty of others.

  • Just Stopping By


    It is good to hear that some ex-Islamophobes had their views changed becaue of Loonwatch. I will incorporate that into my thinking.

    I still think my view that “I think that someone inclined toward Islamophobia would be more likely to have their views reinforced rather than changed by visiting LoonWatch” is probable, and the “more likely to” prevents it from necessarily being an overgenarlization, but let me rethink for a while based on what you have said.

    Of course, without some experiment in which you track how many weakly Islamophobic readers come away with stronger or weaker Islamophobic views, none of us can really know the typical effects of this site. Maybe Geller or Spencer can send you a sample of weak followers and you can randomly assign half to read this site and half not to? 😉

  • Dehnus

    Trying to get Muslims fired, sigh…. not wanting to make a Godwin here, but by just mentioning it I already do.

  • @JSB, OK, I think I have a clearer understanding of what you meant now.

    I don’t have time to add too much to the discussion right now, but hope to later. But one point I’d like to respond to now.

    JSB wrote:
    I think that someone inclined toward Islamophobia would be more likely to have their views reinforced rather than changed by visiting LoonWatch.

    This is too general of a statement. Of course many Islamophobes, those who are dead set on it are not going to be convinced by any arguments. Individuals who hold irrational attitudes about Muslims and Islam are in many ways similar to anti-Semites who have entrenched beliefs about Jews and Judaism. Rational arguments, facts, etc. do not really attract or convince such people.

    We’ve also received emails and correspondences from ex-Islamophobes who left Islamophobia because they encountered Loonwatch, and so while I agree that we are not going to appeal to everybody (common sense), I would not agree with the assertion that Islamophobic visitors to Loonwatch would have their views “reinforced.”

  • Just Stopping By

    @Ilisha says, “I think I’ve entirely missed your point with the Mother’s Day article.” The article has the “Islamophobia” tag. Why? If someone were to suggest that LoonWatch just uses the “Islamophobia” tag without thinking, wouldn’t that be Exhibit A?

    Otherwise, I agree with the rest of your comment.

    And, yes, at least one of my somewhat Islamophobic friends (or acquaintances) is Jewish. However, my original comment was about somewhat Islamophobic people of any religion. I have no problem recommending articles on LoonWatch to people of any religion who are not Islamophobic; I have my concerns about recommending it to any of people of any religion who are at least borderline Islamophobic.

  • Just Stopping By

    @Ilisha says, “I do want to add that I’m somewhat surprised that you think LW would reinforce the notion Zionism is a cover for Antisemitism.”

    I don’t think that is LoonWatch’s intent, but I do think that is a byproduct of some of the positions taken here. Let me go back to two points I made above.

    First, if supporting actions (generally military, but including economic) against majority-Muslim countries is described as “the greater Islamophobia,” does it not follow that supporting similar actions against Israel is “the greater Anti-Semitism/Judeophobia”? I am sure that some peoople can try to find a difference in the two, but most likely anyone who does will conclude that “their side” is justified and the other is acting due to bigotry. I actually agree with you, Ilisha, that some of the actions on each side are due to bigotry and some are due to conflicts that would exist apart from religion. But that is a much more reasoned and nuanced tone than I expect from people who come in with reasonably strong religious prejudices.

    Second, there are various articles here dealing with violence by some Israelis against Palestinians that are tagged with “Judaism” or “Islamophobia,” even when no religious motivation is cited or religious site such as a mosque is targeted. That is, it appears that the baseline case is often that if Israelis attacked Palestinians, the root cause must be religion or religious hatred. Again, unless we accept hypocrisy, this can justify the assumption that opposition to Israel is similarly religiously based.

    “But the idea most Jews visiting LW would decide it’s Antisemitic doesn’t align with my perceptions or personal experience, and that’s the part of what you’re suggesting that gives me pause.” I don’t think I said that. This part of the discussion started with my saying, “I have sometimes thought of suggesting this site to friends who may be somewhat Islamophobic to help them see otherwise, but, for various reasons, I am not sure what the net effect of their browsing the site would be.” Obviously “friends who may be somewhat Islamophobic” is not the same as “most Jews,” and I think that somehow this may have been lost in the lengthy thread (meaning that I do not think you are intentionally treating the two phrases as the same but that you may not have remembered my original comment). If there is something I said that led you to believe I was talking about most Jews, please let me know and perhaps I can correct or clarify what I said.

    Finally, let me add that part of the problem is that, in my view, the tag Islamophobia is often used here without thinking if it really applies, and that causes part of the problem. Don’t believe me? I dare anyone to explain why this post has the tag Islamophobia:

  • Sarah Brown

    @Ilisha – I most certainly have sympathy with moderators trying to negotiate between being too liberal and too censorious. I wish you had commented on that post! I hope you took my point about finding the Holland book on balance actively anti-Islamophobic.

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