Looking from the Outside-In: Initial Perceptions of Female Genital Cutting

By Batoul Saleh

A campaign event for Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and former Michigan rep. Rashida Tlaib was disrupted on August 11 by Laura Loomer, a conservative media personality. Invading the event, Loomer claimed that Omar, a Somali-American, supported Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation (FGC/M), along with other accusations about her African culture and background, essentially questioning her ability to successfully fulfill political office because of her origins.

Laura Loomer is an “investigative Journalist [and] Former Project Veritas operative” and according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, she has also been “investigating Muslim candidates” across America prior to the August 11 incident. She later rationalized her unannounced and uninvited appearance at Omar’s event saying that she was “helping Minnesotans “break free from Sharia”.

However, Loomer’s assertion that “[Omar] voted against legislation that would have made Female genital mutilation a felony in Minnesota” because “she didn’t want to offend the Somalian community” while saying that she is “ Somalian first” and “Anti-American” goes no farther than being a rash, racist comment made to instill fear in Minnesotan voters. In reality, the bill that Loomer was referring to, H.F. NO. 2621, which looks to “expand the crime of female genital mutilation; updating requirements for education and outreach; expanding the definition of egregious harm; [and] expanding the definition of a child in need of protection or services to include a victim of female genital mutilation” only had four representatives vote against the bill: David Bly, Rena Moran,  Susan Allen, and Tina Liebling — Ilhan Omar, in fact, voted in favor of the legislation.

This is just a single incident of bigotry; however, for those who have not experiencedScreen Shot 2018-09-20 at 7.47.18 PM.png it themselves or were not raised in a community where FGC is prominent, uninformed and insensitive judgments about FGC/M can be passed on as fact, leaving those who are from those communities stereotyped, ridiculed, and shamed for where it is they come from.

After this incident, many Americans, without knowing the truth about Ilhan Omar’s position on the FGC/M case, replied with intense anger and racism against her. With false information coming from alt-right politicians and journalists, the truth is easily distorted, and those individuals can spread those initial misconceptions about Female Genital Cutting just as easily as journalists like Laura Loomer did to encourage division and xenophobia, as shown in the tweets above. (See Sahiyo’s Media Toolkit on effective and sensitive reporting on FGC)

The accusation that Loomer created and spread publicly stems from her failing to separate the values of a person’s country and that country’s political and social beliefs from the personal beliefs of the individual. Just as a considerable amount of Americans now do not align themselves to the US government’s values and decisions, women of African, Middle Eastern, and South East Asian origins are just as much, if not more, unbounded by the uncontrollable beliefs of their government and community. In fact, a US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health study concluded that  “prevalence of supporting the continuation of FGM among adolescent girls in Kenya is only 16%, Niger 3%, Senegal 23%”. It has also been recorded by Sahiyo that 81% of the female Bohra community disagreed with the continuation of FGC. Though the prevalence of FGC in the respective countries is high, adolescents girls in these countries are in opposition to its practices.

Thus, there is a clear distinction between someone’s cultural norms and the attitudes they hold, and from an outsider’s perspective, it is vital that the media coverage and education they receive about Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation should be just as nuanced and integrated as the reality of FGC/M.

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