Law and Ritual Practices: On Circumcision and Ethics

Nilofar Ansher questions some of the questioning in the circumcision debate

Writing was sparked by this article on female genital mutilation in Kenya.

In my religion, male circumcision is considered sunnat (holy/ordained by god). Our parents organize the ceremony and a doctor does the deed. We never had any questions about the moral aspect of getting a piece of skin chopped off. After all, how can you question the ethical connotations of a religious custom? But the recent protest against male circumcision that has arisen in the media and western countries focus on this very aspect: the moral responsibility of parents to make religious decisions for their children. Circumcision protestors say that the foreskin of the penis is a natural part of a male’s body and religion should not be the instigator for getting it removed. Another rhetoric raised by protestors is that of ‘parental abuse’: parents who perform this ceremony (Muslims, Jews and Christians all follow this practice, apart from several hundred communities in Africa, Middle East, Asia and India) are abusing their parental authority on a child who is not old enough to understand the implications of this procedure. They ask for parents to delay performing circumcision until the boy is old enough to decide for himself if he indeed wants to follow in the religious footsteps of his tradition.

This latter argument is very sound. Parents who are religious will pass on their learning and customs to their kids from birth itself. Some of these customs are restricted to learning the scriptures, performing prayers and undertaking certain rituals. These include animal sacrifice, or visiting a holy place, or participating in festivals, fasting, or doing charity. Some of us grow up and discard these practices and refuse to follow ‘traditions.’ Some others continue to practice and lead a religious life. There is no moral judgement on either of these two folks; it is their prerogative to follow customs or to inculcate new rituals or to simply decide to not follow any of this. The thing with circumcision is that it is a permanent act–you cannot grow back the foreskin, it’s an irreversible religious act. The psychological damage is negligible. Hospitals perform the surgery in 10 minutes and a boy who is 4, 5 or 6 hardly remembers the pain years later. But if you are not a follower or believer of that religion years later, you just might feel short-changed by your parents. So, yes, from an ethical point of view, you cannot force your child to have a ceremony as part of a religious tradition that the child might not eventually follow.

Of course, there is no physical harm done per se. Doctors and hospitals wouldn’t have willingly agreed to perform such operations if they believed that they are causing damage to the male penis. Scores of medical texts wouldn’t talk about the benefits of male circumcision. For thousands of years, male circumcision has been performed and all these men seem to have had perfectly normal sexual and familial lives. They went on to have kids and their kids were also circumcised and so on.

But to say that parents are physically abusing their male child by performing this ceremony is distorting the very foundation of what parents do and the role they play. Yes, a child has rights. Certain unalienable rights. Rights to live, be happy, pursue education, have nutritious meals, make friends and be in a secure, warm and loving environment, travel and learn to sing, dance, play, or draw. Parents are responsible for actualizing these rights. Parents try their best to provide that ideal environment for their children. No parent will willingly or purposely abuse their kid by performing a religious ceremony. They do it in good faith, in the name of god, and in the belief that this is one of the holy acts ordained in their scriptures.

To be born into a religious family means to follow certain religious practices. These practices are all geared towards making a person good and kind and loving (irrespective of what the brain-screwed terrorists might say). So, is the case with male circumcision, which has several medical benefits–chief among them being hygiene. Why would people and media say that millions of parents around the world are willfully ‘abusing’ their children with this practice? Are all these parents mentally disturbed then? Are they incapable of making decisions for the welfare of their children because of the religious practices they believe in? In essence, are the protestors attacking the very idea of religion itself? To practice religion is to be mentally unsound and in essence, perpetrate abuse?

Who decides what legacies and traditions are alright to be passed on to the next generation and which other learnings and customs should be held back? For example, many believe that home-schooling is an unorthodox and unusual practice of educating children. Kids who are home-schooled might not adjust well in a big classroom or university where they eventually have to go to study later in life. They might feel overwhelmed and not be able to keep pace with home work, assignments and group projects. But the government or society won’t go around banning home-schooling, because it is left to the parents’ good judgement to decide what is best for their kids. This is because it is understood that a parent will inherently do only what is good and always keep the best interests of the child (children) in mind. The same applies for decisions regarding medical complications in a child: do we amputate the limbs, do we get a mole removed, do we wait for the teeth to fall out before surgery? We trust parents and the institutions in charge to make the best decision possible.

Are there hundreds of cases where parents end up willfully abusing their children? YES! Those are people with psychological problems and they either need help, rehabilitation, some time off—or most probably jail time if they are sociopaths or maladjusted adults! But to question the sanctity of a parent-child relationship–across hundreds of countries and millions of parents who perform circumcision (or any other religious rites for that matter)–is plain ridiculous and disturbing.

What role does law play in unpacking these private tensions between religion and family on one hand and the public discourse on what is ethical parenting on the other? There is a tension between the Western model of viewing all issues from a rights-based lens and the Eastern model of living life based on the foundations of tradition, mythology, religious books and teachings, and, dare I say, common sense?

***

Is the term ‘female genital mutilation’ even appropriate to describe what is primarily a religious or tribal custom? Let me enumerate the various tribal practices that could possibly come under the purview of the judiciary: body piercing and branding (using a hot iron rod–Native American, Indian, Asian, African); neck elongation using heavy metal jewellery since childhood (because this tribe believes that an elongated neck is beautiful–African); facial piercings (ears, eyebrows, mouth, lips, cheeks, rod through cheeks–Native American, Indian, African, East Asian); full body tattoo (several cultures and tribes); sexual, menstrual and marriage rituals that involve blood sacrifice or some sort of isolation or ceremony involving fire or some form of body ritual (across all religions and traditions); animal sacrifice; fasting without food and water, and other variations of fasting (basically, denying your body essential nutrients for up to 12 hours in a day–Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jewish). This list is endless and older than the idea of religion itself.

Now, we have a rising tide against male and female circumcision. Be it Kenya or America, human rights activists are batting on the side of ethics, proclaiming this ritual as outdated, unnecessary and traumatic. There is more outrage surrounding female circumcision than male. They focus on the bleeding, the pain, lifelong painful intercourse, and the psychological damage that takes place when an essential component of your femininity is cut off (the physical part of what makes you a woman, and the psychological aspect of connecting a part of your body with sex and sexual identity). I am a woman and I would never wish to have my “femininity” cut off in such a painful manner or using such crude and unhygienic tools (as is the case in every village where female circumcision is performed–be it Africa or the Middle East). However, I would also never reduce my femininity to a part of my body. That’s like saying that if I happen to lose my breasts, I would stop functioning as a woman and conceptually stop being feminine! What sort of trajectories do the feminists/rights activists walk on when they relate a female’s genitals to her womanhood? Seems like they are objectifying (glorifying) a body part–not for the functional role it plays, but for the gender implications it has in society. Not good. But yes, this is a different issue to deal with.

There is no arguing on one point: the girl child who undergoes circumcision is in constant pain, while growing up, during menstruation, during sex, childhood and suffers innumerable complications. We don’t hear much of such complications arising out of a male circumcision (primarily, yes, because this is a private affair and routine, too) and with hospitals and doctors performing this operation legitimately, there is really no human rights issue at stake here (apart from the matter of deciding your children’s religious following, which I discussed above).

For female circumcision, it is highly mandatory that the women themselves take charge and decide to stop practicing a ritual that scars them for life. The solution needs to come from the women. The idea of what empowerment means to them and how it has been shaped or influenced by their tradition has to be taken into account. Are Western feminists, health care professionals and local government departments going to ‘educate’ these women (Africa, Asia and Middle East, tribal, rural and urban) about what empowerment ‘should’ mean and what is the ideal way to be modern? Is there a one-size-fits-all idea of modernity and empowerment? Of course, they function within a society (traditional, but I won’t use the word orthodox) where empowerment and goodness is associated with the performance of these rituals. Where does that leave them? In another article I read about female circumcision in a small village in Africa, one of the women said that female circumcision is a rite of passage for their tribe and it marks the transition of a girl to womanhood: she is now ready for marriage, sexual intercourse and childbirth, and is empowered to be a decision maker. When the government banned this practice, their community men ostracized them and the women also felt a sense of outrage and betrayal at the hands of the government. In a sense, the men in the government were stopping these women from being empowered by taking away their right to perform an essential ritual.

If all female practices are going to be reduced to the rhetoric of ‘patriarchal conditioning,’ where does that leave the millions of festivals, customs, celebrations, art, music, rituals and ceremonies that all religions perform every day? Both men and women enjoy and take pride in tattooing their bodies, in piercing their skin, in conducting sacrifices and in initiating their children through the same journey. It’s plain silly to view just one custom as violating human rights and turn a blind eye to the other customs that are equally physical (and painful). This reasoning obviously means that we hold on to all these practices for the sake of preserving culture and civilization. Is that what is at stake here, preserving culture at the cost of human rights? Can the law ban genital mutilation by claiming that it is barbaric and unhealthy and leave alone the other rituals and practices I listed earlier?

Being human means being a creature of culture. How did human rights become disparate/separated from being human? Can the world really have a blanket proposal on a particular community’s sacred practices? Is not the community sentient and intelligent enough to know what practices should be kept and what should be discarded as time moves on? Can’t the community decide among themselves what sort of rituals should be passed on to their kids and which practices are harming their survival? Can we really expect a bunch of MA Sociology graduates and government lackeys to understand the mythical relations between a tribe’s identity with their rituals?

How can the government promise religious freedom and cultural integrity while maintaining a human rights index is a question that needs much debate today. Even the notion of ‘humanity’ is under question: does the rights of a person begin when she is a cell in the womb, or when she is born, or when she attains puberty or when she is 18 and ready to participate in society? It’s tough. The reason these debates keep popping up every now and then is because age-old issues are now being highlighted in the domain of human rights abuse.

***

This tension between person and society, between private and public, between the home and the law has always been extant since societies came into being.

The Muslim face veil was banned in France last year citing security reasons, where as in the Middle East, the face veil is a sign of modesty and considered a custom (there is still debate over whether its a mandatory religious practice). We can argue the point till the end of the world that these practices are influenced by patriarchy and conditioning and that the system wants women to be subsumed and submissive under the blanket of rituals and customs. The patriarchy that we blame for the suppression of one half of the species is also responsible for what we understand to be civilization today. What we know of culture, what we experience of music, art, drama, literature, professions, folklore and mythology all originate from the world-view of that system. How do we by-pass all that? Do we have an alternate model of an ideal society? What is society without all these rituals? You cannot argue for the ban on one custom and champion other rights and practices–it doesn’t sound too moral to my ears.

  • We are not all bullied into doing what we don’t want or like.
  • We are not all cows yoked to traditions that we don’t believe in.
  • We are not all puppets of a male-dominated society where we are helpless to voice our dissent.
  • We have not all been brainwashed into serving the men, the husbands and fathers in our lives in the name of duty or tradition.
  • We are, most of us, content to have tradition as our bedrock.
  • We are, many of us, happy to practice religious rituals.
  • We are, several of us, aware of the injustices perpetuated in our name.
  • We are, all of us, capable of realizing wrong from right. We might not always have the opportunity to correct wrongs, but please give us enough credit to know when we have been treated unfairly. We do not need professionals to educate us about our sorry plight.

We are empowered to protect and nurture our children in the best way possible. We might not at all times act on the guidelines of Scientific Journals, but we really do our best in keeping our children safe and happy and well-taken care of.

Please do not act on our behalf. Please listen to us. Please understand why we follow certain customs. Please don’t belittle our practices. Please don’t be ignorant about our ways. Please don’t try replacing our way with yours–because your way is not paved with wisdom either.

If we do wrong, speak to us, don’t patronize us. If we are unable to cope, guide us, don’t hand-hold us.

Stop taking credit in our name. Stop handling our burden. Stop trying to save us.

We are equal to you and you are not above us.

Author’s Note

This article has not been written in the favor of ‘a’ side. It has not been written to disparage Western ideals. It tries to question all the sides, all the arguments, all the tensions inherent when we end up erecting sides. I cannot be a product of a modern, Western education and criticize those very standards. But I do want to argue about the validity of championing ‘a’ particular way of life as just and moral and ethical, while condemning the other way of life that you haven’t ever understood or lived. I also don’t claim to know much about feminist manifesto or theoretical underpinnings of what motivates feminists. However, I have come across several articles where feminists have championed the ban on genital mutilation as a step forward in the right direction, based solely on an understanding/viewing of female circumcision as a violation of a woman’s body. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn’t. Only those who have undergone the procedure/ritual would know. Let them speak. On my behalf, instead of censure, I would request an engaged and sensitive response from my readers on this issue. Comment is free!

Photo: edbierman/Flickr

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About Nilofar Ansher

Nilofar Ansher is a writer, editor and researcher from India. She recently earned her Masters of Arts in Ancient Indian Civilization. Nilofar is also the Community Manager for the 'Digital Natives with a Cause?' project, a research initiative of the Centre for Internet & Society that looks at the changing dynamics of youth, technology and change in the Global South. She is still trying to figure out the most basic questions of life: what motivates people to get out of bed each day, how do we change the world, where do we go from here and how does inter-space travel work in Asimov's books? In the mean time, she keeps busy with her communications job at the United Nations initiative, G3ict (http://www.g3ict.org), maintains a blog (http:www.trailofpapercuts.wordpress.com) and another one (http://www.longformwriter.com), indulges in a trip every 4 years, loves sinking into sci-fi movies and reading fiction, and cooking when it's accompanied by a willing partner ready to gulp the end result. She lives with her husband in the southern part of India.

Comments

  1. Beth Chariton says:

    This is obviously a very complicated issue to debate. I am jewish, and my son was circumcised, as was my ex-husband and as is my husband-to-be. My father was not circumcised as an infant. As a grown man, he ran into many medical complications and health issues with side effects like impotency, and had to have a circumcision as an adult. It was extremely painful for him, and the recovery took a long time. If it’s not done at infancy, you certainly wouldn’t put a young boy or a teenager through it, so why take the chance and wait until adulthood for complications to arise? If it is outlawed. Then there’s no choice at all.

    • ” so why take the chance and wait until adulthood for complications to arise?”

      Yep, totally agree. And, given the rising rates of breast cancer, we should remove all the breast tissue from young girls to avoid potential complications in adulthood. Sound OK to you?
      Honestly, your argument makes no sense at all. I’m sorry to hear about your father, but the vast majority of uncircumcised men go through life quite happily with foreskin attached.

    • I am uncircumcised, my penis was fine. The majority of men uncircumcised do not have any major problems. How about we remove the uterus at birth to stop our children getting cancer there?

    • John Anderson says:

      “If it is outlawed. Then there’s no choice at all.”

      No choice for the parents, but should they be the people with the choice? You talk about choice then remove choice from the person who’s penis it is. I’ve suspected for a long time that opposition to MGC was about preserving choice for women about giving women control and hegemony over male bodies.

      One of the largest populations in the world, Asians, don’t get circumcised. Yet, they’re over half the population of the world. They don’t appear to have problems with impotency, quite the opposite.

  2. There is nothing much to comment except that this is an outraged lay lawyer defending her or her community’s ways. The rest doesn’t matter.

    But I do feel that harping on doctors and hospitals or how harmless or beneficial the procedure is … is just so much verbiage. The author needs to look up data… what percentage of population is served by doctors and hospitals ? what % can afford it ? Look up FGM, especially in Egypt… they framed laws to ban it after years of advocacy… yet reluctantly. But who cares ?

    Recently, a boy had to be surgically bobbitised in India during circumcision …in oder to save his life !

    The author’s plea is : let us be !
    Huh … my plea is : let those in her community who believe ottherwise go, not question or force !!

  3. If they’re not your genitals and it’s not a true emergency, then cosmetic surgery not your decision. That would be the end of the discussion with ANY other body part. What in hell makes the penis so different?

  4. Margaret Escobar says:

    I don’t see the gain of banning a religious practice that does no proven physical harm. Why interfere in the rules of two religions simply to make a point? In all the writing on the subject I’ve seen no medical harm listed, just the larger philosophical one of parental control on the infant’s body. I have seen reports that circumcision has some benefit in slowing the spread of AIDS in Africa. Female circumcision does have a demonstrable loss to the subject as such it is possible to make a medical argument for it’s banning or control. Arguments can and perhaps should be made against the circumcision of males at birth in American hospitals for nonreligious reasons, but these should be medical arguments. Against “plastic surgery” for infants? Perhaps infants with clefts should forgo rhinoplasty (a common surgery for children with clefts) until adulthood as well? Parents make many decisions for their children every day that have the potential to alter their bodies and lives. The decision to follow a religious precept and pass on a culture and religion is simply one of them.

    • How about we remove the breast tissue in our young girls to avoid breast cancer, remove their labia for hygeine, etc. Removing a cleft doesn’t affect the sexual performance of a child, circumcision however can have very serious consequences for the child. How about parents quit being lazy and learn how to clean a penis safely? In my country circumcision is rarer and we men grow up fine without it. The only time it’s really needed is to fix phimosis and not all men get that.

      “I have seen reports that circumcision has some benefit in slowing the spread of AIDS in Africa”
      So why do that in western countries where we have access to condoms and there is no real need for it? Why do it to western boys when they can simply wear a condom, and should be wearing one to help reduce the rates of all other STI’s? Removing breasts helps slow down the rate of breast cancer too.

      The only time circumcision of under 18’s should be allowed is for fixing phimosis and other problems. It sickens me that people try to justify genital mutilation in the name of their religion. Some religions also think women are far below men, do you follow that too and remain subservient to a man?

    • John Anderson says:

      Funny I’ve seen reports that female circumcision has medical benefits also. They seem to mirror the same benefits that people claim male circumcision has. Less gets trapped in the folds of the labia when they are shortened. If their was harm to FGC, why would it be legal for adult females to get designer vaginas? So why shouldn’t FGC then be controlled (possibly limited), but not banned?

      • I know of no women electing to get a clitorectomy, which is what most types of FGM do. They usually are just reducing their labia size because of ridiculous portrayals of what labias “should” look like. Changing of the vagina by elective cosmetic surgery can not be equated to a non-elective ceremony to reduce women’s libido with an enormous amount of complications post surgery. Female circumcision and male circumcision absolutely have no health benefits, period. Later on in life men and women, when they give their consent, can choose to have a cosmetic surgery to achieve a certain look it that allows them to have a greater sense of culture. FGM is never performed for a medical reason. Male circumcision, however, may be performed in a very, very small percent of cases for a few very specific conditions for medical reasons and should not be confused with infant circumcision for religious or cosmetic reasons. Very different intent.

    • wellokaythen says:

      “I don’t see the gain of banning a religious practice that does no proven physical harm.”

      One could make that case for a few water sprinkles at a baptism, but not for circumcision.

      I’d count the pain and blood of circumcision as evidence of physical harm. Scar tissue seems to be clear evidence of harm. But, okay, maybe we could discount all that as minor and temporary. Let’s say for the sake of argument that there’s no long term physical damage from being circumcised as a baby.

      We could then say the same thing about cutting off one of your baby’s earlobes. Living without an earlobe would make no difference in your long-term health. If someone cut off your baby’s earlobe and claimed religious reasons for it, I think you’d be violently angry, and you wouldn’t accept the “no real physical harm” argument. It’s just a piece of skin, and the baby won’t remember it anyway, so what’s the big deal?

      At least, I _hope_ you would be angry if someone cut off your baby’s earlobe and tried to tell you that it’s what God wanted…..

  5. This is hard because it’s not a black and white issue. At what point do religions/cultures use coercion for members to do something they would not have wanted to do under different circumstances? And is that an issue? When should the minority be protected from the power of the majority if harm is a potential factor? What amount of harm should be tolerated (in life, “none” is not an option)?

    In FGM there is clear medical evidence that it does harm. I’m not sure that going along with traditions and not changing for fear of causing disruption and disorder is worth the physical damage (even if women feel empowered and there is no psychological damage, at some point the sheer amount of physical damage that the women would not choose if they came from different circumstances, has to be taken into consideration). In male circumcision, which this article is clearly biased in favour of based on the language used, there are very, very few very rare cases in which the foreskin must be removed for medical reasons. It cannot be justified for medical reasons, there are no significant medical benefits. Unlike FGM, it is usually practiced in a sanitary manner and has low risk of complications, and will likely not cause any long-term residual pain. Safety in having it performed is generally very high. So, that ties back to how much harm is it really? And how much of a right do parents have to give their sons an elective surgery that will not improve their quality of life, but may increase their sense of belonging in their culture?

    • Except that it is a black and white issue. On the one hand, you mutilate and abuse your male child for no good reason whatsoever (religion notwithstanding) – on the other hand, you don’t. It’s not that complicated.

      • As a non-religious person whose parents were adamantly against circumcision, I don’t see any logic in it either. I’m trying to ask questions that the article didn’t address and since the article was trying “not to present one view point” (though obviously it was in favour of circumcision) I attempted it. Not sure if it was pulled off.

    • John Anderson says:

      “And how much of a right do parents have to give their sons an elective surgery that will not improve their quality of life, but may increase their sense of belonging in their culture?”

      What prevents the child from getting circumcised as an adult, if he wishes to do it to feel closer to his culture and what of children who decide that they don’t wish to be closer to their culture or reject their culture for another? Since circumcision is irreversible, morality, hell common sense, dictates that erring on the side of non-circumcision is the correct thing to do.

    • “but may increase their sense of belonging in their culture”
      What is that but forcing them to conform to a cultural norm? Circumcision is only part of a culture because it was in the past. Culture can change. This one would have long ago if it wasn’t done to someone who can’t resist. Saying “God said we have to do it” doesn’t make it so, nor is the parents’ bellief that God ordered it any guarantee that he will believe it.

  6. “[T]o question the sanctity of a parent-child relationship–across hundreds of countries and millions of parents who perform circumcision (or any other religious rites for that matter)–is plain ridiculous and disturbing.”

    Foot-binding was widely practiced across China for hundreds of years. Just because a lot of people are doing it doesn’t make it correct, ethical, logical, or even sane.

  7. To the women arguing in favor of circumcision, I only have this to say:

    My body, my choice.

    Why shouldn’t it apply to men?

    • I agree. The balance of “look at the benefits of circumcision!!” are biased and totally unnecessary. Most of Asia isn’t losing penises left and right because of the lack of circumcision. Hygiene is not a good reason, foreskins aren’t inherently dirty just like how vagina’s aren’t inherently dirty.

    • It applies even more strongly to men, because the ethical argument against abortion is that the rights of a second person have to be considered. (The big question there is not whether, but when.) There is no other person involved in circumcision.

  8. There is a belief out there that because morality is related to our experiences (i.e. cultural experiences) then talk of morality must be subjective. It is not, or at least, it should not be. Facts exist with regards to how conscious creatures experience culture which can differentiate between experiences of misery or well being.

    Religious notions of morality cannot be exceptions to the facts of our well being. They cannot simply be followed for their own sake. They must make moral sense. Moral blindness in the name of cultural tolerance is a stupid belief, as is the notion that religious moral relativism should be sustained as a self contradictory universal moral truth. Cultural practices that are not grounded in factual the well being of our consciousness must be made extinct.

  9. John Anderson says:

    For those who support choice when it comes to abortion, but not when it comes to infant circumcision and claim that there are health benefits to circumcision, what have you done to support the health of men and boys? Did you sign the petition demanding that the government remove the gender disparities in the ACA? Are you helping to provide nutritious meals to young boys / men because proper nutrition impacts health?

    If pro-choicers can ask the question what have you done to care for the unaborted children, if your concern is actually for the children. It’s fair to ask pro-circers if the health of men and boys is a concern for you how have you advanced it other than wanting to mutilate their penises?

    • I supported my mother and other striking nurses who refused to attend infant circumcision because anesthesia was not administered adequately at our local hospital. And why gender providing nutritious meals? I support nutritious meals for all children across the gender spectrum because it is important for brain development. We all have brains.

      • John Anderson says:

        “who refused to attend infant circumcision because anesthesia was not administered adequately”

        So they’d have no problem with MGC if it was? I just lost a lot of (not all, it was still a good thing to do) respect for those striking nurses.

        “And why gender providing nutritious meals?”

        Not advocating only providing meals to boys or men. Simply pointing out that those arguing in favor of MGC for “health” reasons are not actually concerned with men or boy’s health.

        • Because the way circumcision is performed inherently doesn’t provide adequate anesthesia. Do you think nurses have the great power to strike against every procedure they don’t agree with? They have to pick an aspect of something they do not like. Sure they can run around striking here there and everywhere, but it’s not going to work if you don’t use a specific aspect to bring the attention to the issues surrounding the procedure. Want to disrespect that? Don’t agree with strategy?

  10. “how can you question the ethical connotations of a religious custom?”
    Very easily. Why not? Many religious customs of the past were evil, and rightly ended. Human sacrifice, to name only the most obvious example. Are all religions equally sacrosanct, from Scientology to Jedi? And if not, who is to say which religions are true enough, or old enough, to be protected, and not to be questioned? Cutting children’s genitals without pressing medical need crosses a line between upbringing or teaching and unacceptable imposition on their human right to bodilly autonomy.

  11. More argumentum ad populum claptrap.

    What in god’s name are we to even make of a statement like this?:

    “You cannot argue for the ban on one custom and champion other rights and practices–it doesn’t sound too moral to my ears.”

  12. wellokaythen says:

    Let’s say I have some houseguests staying with me who have an uncircumcised baby boy with them. One day, without the parents’ consent, I go into the room where the baby is staying and I cut off the baby’s foreskin.

    In that case I should be charged with some combination of aggravated assault and sexual assault of a child. My action should outrage the entire community. I should be sent to prison for a long time and registered as a dangerous sex offender. During the trial, the prosecutor would be sure to highlight the blood that I spilled, the baby’s screams, and the violation of an innocent little child who couldn’t defend himself.

    If I expressed no remorse, because I defended my action on religious grounds, that would only make me look more deranged. I would have no defense that I was just exercising my religious freedom, because the law would come down on the side of protecting innocent people from mayhem. I would get no reduced sentence because I made a really skilled incision or because I’ve done this lots of times before. No one on the prosecution side would suggest that I have violated the parents’ rights by taking the choice out of their hands. I would not be accused of violating anyone’s religious freedom.

    So, let’s say the only difference is that the parents sent me into the room to cut off the baby’s foreskin. Let’s say I’m a pediatrician or a mohel who’s paid by the parents to cut it off. Maybe instead of a houseguest the baby is delivered in my hospital.

    That makes it all okay, no crime at all? It’s still the same screaming, the same blood, the same innocent baby who can’t defend himself. Babies get no protection from genital mutilation as long as the parents consent to it? Somehow I don’t think the screaming, bloody baby can spot the difference.

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