Gov. LePage devoted one of his weekly radio addresses last month to an alarming subject.

“There is a horrific type of child abuse happening right here in Maine,” he began. “We must stop it.”

As he was recording his message, police say 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy was in the process of being slowly beaten to death by her mother and stepfather in the town of Stockton Springs.

But that wasn’t what the governor had on his mind that day.

He was talking about female genital mutilation, a cutting ritual practiced on girls in parts of Africa and the Middle East that can result in lifelong pain and other serious health problems. LePage told his radio audience that “young girls in Maine are being forced to undergo” the procedure, which he claimed was common in “refugee populations.”

Then he said he was introducing a bill to make the practice a crime in Maine. But before legislators vote on it, they should consider this fact: The governor was lying.

There has not been a single reported case of a genital mutilation taking place in Maine. None. Zero.

It would be easier to list the parts of LePage’s address that are true than would be to knock down all of the falsehoods. (His name really is Paul LePage and he is, in fact, our governor. That’s about it.)

But instead of focusing on what he said, lawmakers should be asking themselves why he said it. How did outlawing this practice become such a high priority for him?

They’ll find that it is part of a national campaign to demonize immigrants and Muslims, dividing them from their neighbors by casting doubt on their basic humanity. The sponsor of this bill, Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, did not ask for the help of Maine’s immigrant communities to write it, but she had the counsel of ACT for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls an anti-Muslim hate group that is trying to whip up the same hysteria in every state.

Before signing up for that crusade, lawmakers ought to talk to Fatuma Hussein.

She is the founder of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine, which works with women who have experienced sexual and domestic violence. She is a refugee who came to America as a child. And she is a survivor of female genital mutilation, performed on her when she was a girl in Somalia.

Now she is the mother of four daughters, and proud to say that coming to America has enabled her to protect them all.

“We came from a background of great hardship,” Hussein said. “But we protect our children at any cost. Because they are here, because of Maine, our daughters are thriving.”

Hussein abhors the practice, but says the bill is the wrong way to attack it.

It creates suspicion about a group of people that is already isolated. “We are people who have been fleeing all of our lives,” she said. “We don’t want (American) people to think that we are bad people. We do not mutilate our daughters.”

Unfortunately, this relatively small community has fallen into the middle of a political culture war that has little to do with them.

LePage has always been able to use fear of immigrants to his advantage.

Just two years ago, before he discovered his zeal for the well-being of refugee children, he was going before one audience after another, claiming that asylum seekers were the state’s biggest problem. He accused them of mooching on welfare and bringing diseases such as tuberculosis, AIDS and “the ziki fly” to our communities.

The female genital mutilation bill looks like a political trap for Democrats, challenging them to vote against the ban in an election year, opening them to charges of being soft on barbaric practices – or shills for Shariah law.

Democrats have muddied the waters by introducing their own bill, which would put some additional resources into health education and outreach, but they still accept the notion that what some immigrants might do to their children is so weird it can’t be punished under normal laws. The Criminal Justice Committee is supposed to meet Wednesday to try to merge the two bills, but the members should do the right thing and reject them both.

Children in Maine are suffering, but not from this.

If the Legislature wants to help them, it should end our unconscionable high rate of childhood hunger or make the governor stop stalling and expand MaineCare eligibility.

And if it’s child abuse that concerns them, they should get busy investigating how a little girl could be tortured to death over months, even after her neighbors and school told authorities that something seemed terribly wrong.

Maine does not need to make up problems – we have enough real ones already. Maine does not need this bill.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: gregkesich

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