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Genital Mutilation Charges Spark Bill to Keep Foreign Laws Out of Michigan Courts

Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R) said that the story of a Detroit-area doctor being charged with genital mutilation of young girls motivated her to sponsor a proposal that would ban the use of foreign countries’ laws in Michigan courtrooms.

Although House Bill 4499 does not mention it by name, Hoitenga also wrote in an email to her colleagues that Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who faces federal charges of genital mutilation, was “practicing a fundamental version of Sharia Law.”

Democrats and civil rights activists didn’t wait to pounce on the legislation that Hoitenga offered April 17.

Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D) immediately accused the Republican of targeting Muslims with the proposal, said she was wrong about genital mutilation being part of Sharia.

“It’s disappointing that Rep. Hoitenga would use this sad event to perpetuate such a harmful stereotype on our state’s Muslim community,” said Hammoud.

The Detroit News published a letter from Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in which he argued “female genital mutilation has no place here or anywhere else among any cultural group — including Muslim Americans — and that we stand firmly against it.”

Hammoud said no version of Sharia law permits female genital mutilation, which is a cultural custom and not a religious observance.

“This bill is simply a xenophobic, Islamophobic attack on Michigan’s Muslim community, which already abhors the practice of mutilation and does not want to be identified with it,” Hammoud added.

Faced with being called, in effect, at best ignorant or at worst a religious bigot, Hoitenga dashed off an email to MLive in which she claimed the legislation was never intended to take on any specific religion.

"It's important to affirm our state and federal constitutions and the freedoms they provide, as they are constantly under assault,” Hoitenga wrote. “A clear message must be sent that our state will not tolerate the application of any law that would result in inhumane actions against women and children, even if such are accepted in other countries.”

Yet, the Detroit Free Press reported Nagarwala’s attorney, Shannon Smith, said at a detention hearing that the doctor had removed membranes from the girls’ genitalia and gave them to her patients’ parents so they could bury it per the tradition of a sect of Indian Muslims, the Dawoodi Bohra.

This case involves two 7-year-old Minnesota girls who were brought to Nagarwala by their mothers. The children, according to court documents, thought they were coming to Michigan as part of a special “girls trip.”

Prosecutors say the case could be the first of its kind in the nation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward said in court that Nagarwala, an emergency room physician for the Henry Ford Health System in the Detroit area, performed many of these procedures, never billed for them, always performed the surgery late at night, and never kept any records.

Beyond the debate over whether Hoitenga’s legislation is an unfair attack on Muslims, House Democratic Whip Jeremy Moss warned her proposal could have the unintended consequence of ending the Jewish bris ceremony — the circumcision of a male baby.

“But beyond the intent of the bill, this proposal could end kosher slaughter of animals for Jews who observe dietary restrictions or criminalize 13-year-olds who say the blessing to drink the cup of wine during their bar mitzvah ceremony,” Moss said. “Such a law is ludicrous, impossible to enforce and, worst of all, unconstitutional.”

Hoitenga’s proposal is not the first in Michigan that attempted to force the issue of keeping foreign laws out of Michigan courtrooms.

Former Michigan Rep. Dave Agema, who lit more than one candle of hot debate while in the state’s legislature and a member of the Republican National Committee, proposed essentially the same idea nearly six years ago.

But Agema didn’t make any bones about his motivation.

The GOP firebrand told the Grand Rapids Press in 2011 Muslims were trying to impose Sharia law in U.S. courtrooms. He cited the case of an Oakland County, Mich., judge who had granted a Muslim couple’s divorce and, Agema said, then verbally declared the divorce three times under Sharia law.

“They want specific laws applied to their specific groups. They do not want to be under our law,” said Agema. “The people who are angry about this bill obviously have ulterior motives.”