Rep. Omar Berates Questioner for Asking Her to Condemn Female Genital Mutilation

By Patrick Goodenough | July 24, 2019 | 4:28 AM EDT

Rep. Ilhan Omar speaks at the Muslim Caucus Collective for Equitable Democracy event in D.C. on Tuesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) became agitated when asked at an event in D.C. this week if she and fellow Muslim congresswoman Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) would condemn female genital mutilation.

She decried what she called “assumptions about what our value basis might be because of where we might come from, and who we pray to.”

Awkwardly, the question came from Ani Zonneveld, president of Muslims for Progressive Values and also a featured speaker on the Muslim Caucus Collective for Equitable Democracy event, where the exchange took place.

Zonneveld drew attention to a Detroit judge’s ruling last November that a 22-year-old federal law making female genital mutilation (FGM) a crime was unconstitutional. As a result, charges against nine people accused of subjecting nine young girls to FGM were dismissed.

“Would you be able to make a statement against FGM because that’s an issue in Detroit,” Zonneveld asked Omar. “And it would be really powerful if the two Muslim congresswomen, yourself and Rashida, would make a statement on this issue.”

Omar described the question as “appalling.”

“Because I always feel like there are bills that we vote on, bills we sponsor, many statements we put out, and then we’re in a panel like this and the question is posed, ‘Could you and Rashida do this?’”

Omar went on to ask whether she needs to “make a schedule” to ensure she makes statements regularly condemning al-Qaeda, condemning FGM, or condemning Hamas.

“It’s a very frustrating question,” she continued. “It comes up – you can look at my record. I voted for bills doing exactly what you’re asking me to do.”

“And so I am, I think, quite disgusted – really to be honest – that as Muslim legislators we are constantly being asked to waste our time speaking to issues that other people are not asked to speak to, because the assumption exists that we somehow support, and are for – right? No, there is an assumption.”

Omar said what she was looking for was that people did not have “assumptions about what our value basis might be because of where we might come from, and who we pray to.”

Girls in Somalia take part in a discussion on female genital mutilation in 2014. (Photo by Nichole Sobecki/AFP/Getty Images)

Omar was born in Somalia, a country that according to the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF has the highest rates of FGM in the world – an estimated 98 percent prevalence.

FGM, which involves the partial or entire removal of the female genitalia, is a practice that experts say predates Islam, but is most prevalent today in Islamic countries.

After Somalia, the next countries identified by UNICEF with high prevalence levels are Guinea (96 percent), Djibouti (93 percent), Egypt (91 percent), Eritrea (89 percent), Mali (89 percent), Sierra Leone (88 percent), and Sudan (88 percent). Except for Eritrea, those are all Muslim-majority countries.

(The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the bloc of Muslim-majority states, has rejected claims of a link between Islam and FGM. During a U.N. Commission on the Status of Women session in 2013, the OIC called FGM a “cultural” practice that is “disguised as part of religious tradition.”)

Voting record

In her remarks on Tuesday, Omar referred to her past votes on measures opposing FGM:

Before she was elected to Congress, Omar was a member of the Minnesota House when in 2017 it considered a bill authored by a Republican, Rep. Mary Franson, seeking to make it a felony for parents to subject their daughters to FGM.

When the state’s House voted on the bill, Omar joined the bipartisan majority in supporting it, and it passed by 124-4 votes.

Prior to the vote, however, Omar suggested that the bill’s proponents may be seeking media attention.

“What I don’t want us to do is to try to create laws because we want to be able to get in the media,” Omar said during committee consideration of the legislation.

Franson was critical of that reasoning.

“This has absolutely nothing to do with the cameras in the room, with the headlines in the paper,” she said. “This is about saving children’s lives.”

(Franson’s bill failed to advance in the Minnesota Senate, and early this year she announced she would try again.)

In the U.S. House, several measures relating to FGM have been introduced in the 116th Congress. They include:

--H.Res.106, which denounced FGM as a human rights violation and called on the international community and the federal government to step up efforts to eliminate the practice.

Authored by Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) it was co-sponsored by 21 Democrats – including Omar – and eight Republicans. It passed unanimously (393-0) on May 20.

--Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (H.R.3583)

Authored by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), it has eight co-sponsors, all Republicans. It was referred to the House Judiciary Committee in June.

--Protect our Girls Act (H.R.959), which seeks to prohibit traveling interstate for the purposes of FGM.

Authored by Perry, it has 22 Republican and 19 Democratic co-sponsors, Omar not among them. It was referred to a House Judiciary subcommittee in March.

--Empower our Girls Act (H.R.960), which would allow certain grants to be used to help FGM victims.

Authored again by Perry, it has 17 Republican and 14 Democratic co-sponsors, with Omar not one of them. It was referred to a House Judiciary subcommittee in March.

--A House amendment (H.Amdt. 341) to appropriations legislation, which redirects $1,000,000 to combat FGM, was agreed to by a vote of 414-6 on June 18, with Omar among the “yes” votes.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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