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News > U.S.

Far-right Media Uses Female Genital Mutilation Ruling to Attack Muslim Legislator

  • Ilhan Omar voted in favor of a 2017 bill increasing punitive measures for those who commit FGM.

    Ilhan Omar voted in favor of a 2017 bill increasing punitive measures for those who commit FGM. | Photo: Reuters

Published 24 November 2018

Breitbart News accused newly elected Somali-American congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, of being against an anti-female genital mutilation bill.

Using a controversial ruling against a federal ban on female genital mutilation, Breitbart News falsely accused newly elected United States congresswoman Ilhan Omar a Black and Muslim woman of “arguing against a 2017 bill in her state that increased penalties for female genital mutilation.” 

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The "news" was shared by many far-right voters through social media, prompting Omar to show she had actually voted in favor of the bill. "I am perplexed by the number of “reporters” who are so allergic to the truth and maybe reading," the congresswoman tweeted in rebuttal, "Do better, just do better!"

The far-right media organization, known for stoking xenophobia and white nationalism, has yet to take down the article. Instead, it included the following text at the bottom of the article, which keeps the same headline: "Update: While she argued against the bill, Omar ultimately voted for it. The article has been updated to reflect that fact."  

The accusation follows a Tuesday ruling by a U.S. federal judge declaring a law banning female genital mutilation (FGM) unconstitutional. 

In the first federal case to involve FGM, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman of Detroit, Michigan said that the power to outlaw the practice belonged to individual states and that Congress lacked authority under the Commerce Clause to adopt the 1996 law banning the practice.

The ruling has resulted in the dismissal of several charges against two doctors and others in the first U.S. criminal case of its kind.

"As despicable as this practice may be, it is essentially a criminal assault," Friedman wrote. "FGM is not part of a larger market and it has no demonstrated effect on interstate commerce. The Commerce Clause does not permit Congress to regulate a crime of this nature."

Four of the eight defendants in the U.S. v. Nagarwala case were dismissed, including three of the four mothers accused of subjecting their daughters to the procedure.

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The decision has cleared the main charges against Jumana Nagarwala, a doctor who performed FGM on nine girls from the states of Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota. Nagarwala has pleaded not guilty to two remaining charges she faces, including obstructing an official proceeding, and conspiracy to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.

"We are very excited about today's ruling,” Nagarwala’s lawyer, Molly Blythe said. “Although the victory is bittersweet given we fully anticipated our client to be vindicated at trial on those charges."

A seven-year-old told investigators that she and another child had been taken to Detroit for what they thought was a "special girls' trip," and was told not to discuss the FGM procedure after it was completed, the U.S. government told Reuters.

“While the rest of the world is moving forwards on FGM, the US is moving backward,” Shelby Quast, American director of Equality Now told the Guardian.

The practice was outlawed in the U.S. more than two decades ago. However, Judge Friedman dismissed all charges against Nagarwala stemming from the 1996 law that bans FGM. He said U.S. criminal law is in the hands of states and not the federal government.

FGM is a common practice in northern and central African countries like Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan. The World Health Organization estimates more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM.

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