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“Child abuse with a sharp object.”

Ilhan Omar’s brushoff of Maryum Saifee’s urgent and pertinent question about female genital mutilation earned Saifee an NPR interview, during which she pointed out that since plenty of children in Omar’s own district suffer this abuse, it’s kind of rich of her to get all huffy and refuse to deal with the issue. Here’s more of what Saifee said:

[We need to be willing to talk about] misogyny within our own community… [N]obody talks about FGM. [It’s a ].. squeamish topic.

[Also problematically,] it is politicized as an anti-Muslim issue. [But this] doesn’t give the community a free pass not to talk about it. [In any case, FGM is not merely a local issue; it is an international] human rights issue. [It is] systematized child sexual abuse with a sharp object… 

[There’s] very low literacy on this issue, [and people need to be educated about it; silence of Omar’s sort is just the opposite of what’s needed].

Margaret Soltan, August 3, 2019 12:53PM
Posted in: FGM, heroines

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5 Responses to ““Child abuse with a sharp object.””

  1. TAFKAU Says:

    I don’t know, I’m a little torn on this one. Omar is apparently already on record as opposing FGM and is cosponsoring an anti-FGM resolutuon in the House. For years, African Americans (polticians and non-politicians alike) have appropriately expressed irritation at being asked questions about the actions of other black people as though they are obligated to be spokespersons for their race. Likewise, Muslims are often expected to condemn acts of terrorism by their co-religionists, while white people are almost never told that they, *as Caucasians*, need to condemn white males who shoot up, say, a school. So on the one hand, I wish Omar had taken the opportunity to once again use her powerful voice in opposition to a horrific practice. On the other hand, I can also understand why she resented being asked the question, even by a felow Muslim.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    TAFKAU: It’s true she has cosponsored H.Res. 106; she is also on record opposing FGM. Why either of these things means she should express resentment when asked about it is beyond me. Given her apparent concern with the issue, you’d expect her to respond in exactly the opposite way – with eagerness to bring more national attention to it.

    She was also free to say – it would have been useful for her to say – that FGM is not at all exclusively a Muslim phenomenon.

    As for asking high-profile individuals to speak about bad things people with whom they are in some way affiliated do – Catholic priests are routinely asked about child sex abuse in the priesthood; I think we’d be somewhat surprised if in response to a question about it a cardinal (ie someone with a position roughly as important and high-profile as Omar’s) said I resent the question because I’m not obligated to be a spokesperson for all priests. Of course you’re not obligated; but simply by virtue of your position, you should be prepared to.

    I think in your comment you conflate ordinary folk with people who’ve gone to a lot of trouble to earn a high profile, along with the impact and responsibility that comes with it. Those people can expect to be asked questions about the world, their city, their town, their community, their religion, their customs, etc., etc., etc. If they can’t take that variety of heat, they should get out of the kitchen. Plenty of other people – including the woman who asked Omar the FGM question – would love to have her platform in order to shed light on human suffering.

  3. TAFKAU Says:

    I’m not sure the priest/cardinal analogy works. It’s more like people going out of their way to ask Rep. Joe Kennedy about the priest scandal because he happens to be a practicing Catholic. The easiest–and probably best–response on his part would be to make a bold statement against the Catholic Church’s coverup of the molestation scandals. But I also recognize why he might feel a bit resentful that he is being singled out to respond to the issue rather than, say, Elizabeth Warren.

    I get that public figures should be prepared to answer questions on any topic. They voluntarily signed up for the job. But they’re also human beings, and I can understand why Omar might be left wondering why nobody ever asks Amy Klobuchar that question.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    You’re right – I’ve been chewing over that cardinal thing since I wrote it, and it doesn’t, er, fly.

    However! On the Klobuchar point: She doesn’t happen to come from a country where 98% of the women – make that girls – are cut. In Type III FGM, which is the most brutal form.


    Surely this grotesque, singular fact about Omar’s home country warrants more curiosity about her take on the procedure (a majority of women there support its continuation) than Klobuchar’s take. No country approaches Somalia when it comes to FGM.


    In any case: I look forward to the day when FGM is so front and center an issue in this country that people like Klobuchar ARE in fact asked about it as a routine matter. As Saifee says, it’s a “squeamish” subject, and of course it only affects girls and who cares about them, etc., etc. So none of this will be easy. But it seems to me that the expected response of a woman from Somalia who managed to get out AND has a platform would be something like Ayan Hirsi Ali’s, not Omar’s…


  5. University Diaries » NYT goes head to head with the fun button. Says:

    […] long as we have people like Alan Dershowitz in the United States (and, on the other side, Ilhan Omar), female genital mutilation will continue to be a popular option among some groups even here. […]

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