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There has been much wrrring and grrring over the past few days, after a German court deemed circumcision to be illegal, under the country’s assault laws. As Bob from Brockley reports, the issue has understandably split the left.
This, in fact, is one of those relatively rare occassions on which I disagree with Bob’s approach. All things considered, it is fundamentally a good thing that the law is finally being brought to bear on this matter. Children do have rights. And, contrary to what Brendan O’Neill appears to believe, parents are not entitled to absolute sovereignty over their households.
That said, some of those campaigning against the circumcision of minors desperately need to get a sense of proportion. Inevitably, parents do end up making a whole range of decisions on behalf of their children – many of which are so significant that they make the decision to circumcise seem rather trifling. Bringing up a boy to be “man” – in the mainstream heteronormative sense – does far more damage to the child’s humanity (and indeed to society), than any parents’ decision about the fate of their child’s foreskin.
As for the claim that circumcision can do long term emotional damage, this says more about the current vogue for cod-Freudian melancholia, than it does about reality. Circumcision may have limited my capacity to gain sexual pleasure. But that’s only because one of my fellow Third Estate bloggers finds it amusing, whenever he sees me chatting up a woman, to come up to us and announce “He doesn’t have a foreskin!”.
So why am I happy to see the courts taking a line on this? It’s because I think that citizenship is important. And sovereignty over one’s own body, and protection from the deliberate and unnecessary imposition of physical pain, is fundamental to being a free citizen. Such protection represents one of the most basic things that society seek ought to guarantee to the individual – and that applies to children too.
Yes this will bring states into conflict with religious, and indeed religious minorities. Yet it is also true that religions do adapt to the circumstances in which they are practised. One only has to look through some of the more ridiculous shit demanded or legitimated in the bible, in order to grasp that religions have a fantastic capacity for benign amnesia. And perhaps it is time that such pressure was applied to the ritual of circumcision.
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