Circumscision and Freedom of Religion

A German Court made a ruling that has Muslims, Jews, and Christians all in a tizzy.

The Cologne court took action after police were alerted by a doctor who treated a Muslim boy for bleeding after he underwent circumcision. It emphasized it did not ban circumcision, but wanted families to wait until their sons were older. So far the ban applies only to the area of the Cologne court’s jurisdiction.

The religious are upset because they believe this impinges upon their religious freedoms.  Pinchas Goldschmidt, Swiss-born chief rabbi of Moscow thinks that circumcision is critical to Jewish faith.

“Circumcision represents the basis for belonging to the Jewish community. It has been practiced for 4,000 years and cannot be changed,” Goldschmidt told a news conference….

In a country that is sensitive to charges of intolerance and discrimination, especially against Jews because of the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis during World War Two, many politicians including the foreign minister have criticized the ruling.

On CNN Blogs, Arsalan Iftikhar, an international human rights lawyer and a Muslim, is perplexed by some things that should be obvious.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel ignored the Muslim origins of this controversy when she recently told her party members that Germany risked becoming a “laughingstock” and that her country should not be “the only country in the world in which Jews cannot practice their [religious] rites”.

This entire meta-narrative is even more perplexing since most estimates find that Germany is home to approximately 120,000 Jews and more than 4 million Muslims.

Iftikhar is not thinking about recent German history. Modern Germans understandably bend over backwards to avoid any suggestion of anti-Semitism. The sensitivity towards Muslims just isn’t there and has nothing whatsoever to do with the size of the populations of each.

On the other side of the Germany circumcision debate, noted journalist Andrew Sullivan recently wrote about the topic and asked, “[Can] parents permanently mutilate a child’s genitals to pursue their own religious goals?”

Although Sullivan clearly states that he “veers on the side of permissiveness” in this case in Germany, he does anchor his position on the belief that the religious practice of infant circumcision is tantamount to male genital mutilation. “At some point, one can only hope this barbarism disappears,” writes Sullivan. “And it will have nothing to do with anti-Semitism or Islamophobia; it will be about defending the religious liberty of Jewish and Muslim male [babies] to choose their religion, and not have it permanently marked as scar tissue on their [genitals].”

Although I usually agree with much of his writing on most subjects, I would be curious to see if  Sullivan would also consider parents who pierce the ears of their baby daughters to be committing “earlobe mutilation”?

Probably not.

Cutting off a foreskin is not the same thing as piercing someone’s earlobe. Piercings are not permanent; leave them alone and they grow over. I’ve never heard of a foreskin growing back. Circumcision is a permanent mutilation. It is totally unnecessary, has no medical advantages, and if not performed by a physician, can result in death. In his writing, Iftikhar does nothing to support the thesis that circumcision is not mutilation, he merely defends the practice as a religious action.

He continues

Similarly, as an international human rights lawyer, it would behoove me to highlight the importance for the global community to protect the legal and political rights of all religious minorities in every part of the world.

In the case of the German circumcision ban, people of conscience should stand with both Muslim and Jewish communities in Germany to help ensure that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are equally challenged, especially since we are seeing right-wing xenophobic political parties continue to rise to prominence in many part of the European Union.

We are able to dismiss female mutilation without raising cries of being anti-Islamic. Why is the debate over male circumcision any different? Why is it automatically assumed that a ruling against such a procedure is caused by prejudice and xenophobia? It is not; the ruling is simply about protecting children. The Canadian Children’s Rights Council is strongly against genital mutilation of any child regardless of gender, and reports the overall incidence of male circumcision for all of Canada declined to about 13.9 percent for the year 2003. One of the reasons for the decline is that most provinces will not cover the cost of circumcision unless they are medically necessary.

Freedom of religion is an important concept, but it is a freedom that pertains to an individuals right to practice their religion as they see fit. That freedom is curtailed when the religion promotes physical harm to another person. Iftikhar is wrong when he considers infant circumcision to be a religious right. Circumcise all the consenting adult males who ask. Leave the children alone.

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One Response to Circumscision and Freedom of Religion

  1. Pingback: Circumcision Again | PEI Curmudgeon's Blog

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