This seems to be the month of offending as many religious people as possible…
As I have stated in the post on Feminism and (Catholic) Religion, my lack of (thorough) knowledge of other religions usually (and rightly) prevents me from commenting on them in terms of feminist philosophy. However, Cologne’s district court has just handed down the verdict that the circumcision of boys due to religious reasons is punishable, and should be evaluated as actual assault.
Religious groups, both Jewish and Muslim, registered their protest against this verdict, and the Central Council of Jews in Germany (Der Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland) noted that this decision was “an unprecedented and dramatic encroachment on the right of self-determination of religious communities.”
I find this issue very difficult, especially in a german context. People both of Jewish and Muslim faith have historically been and are continuously faced with social pushback and outright violence when it comes to practicing their religion in this country. Furthermore, I would always have to take german history and the Holocaust into account when thinking about curbing the rights of Jewish religious groups, and the history of how Jewish people have been defined as “non-german” or foreign or undesirable, and certain practices other than christian ones have been condemned and illegalized.
There is a very thin line to walk here, and one could most certainly question why the district court is taking up this case that fundamentally concerns specific religious groups (and affects others, who are not necessarily believing in the religious value of circumcision, culturally), when one could also talk about the now existing legality of having children in public schools taught religious studies by priests (in a country that is supposed to be secular), or about the legality of having parents choose the religion of their children before said children can make that choice themselves at all.
I have no definite answers to these questions, but I think they are worthwhile the consideration. I also think this court’s decision is worthwhile a feminist consideration.
In the post about Catholicism and Feminism, one of the essential points I tried to make was that Catholicism and Feminism don’t go together because of the denial of bodily autonomy and bodily integrity of women*, especially in regard to reproductive rights. The right to bodily integrity is supposed to be a fundamental right of everybody – and children are people.
I have a massive problem with the equation of Female Genital Mutilation and male circumcision – usually brought forward by so-called men’s rights activists – for obvious reasons, but if the circumcision of a boy* or man* is not medically indicated and he is of an age where consent is impossible, I believe this procedure to be a violation of his bodily integrity. Parents naturally make all sorts of decisions concerning a child’s life and have a right to do that in order to keep a child from harm – but this particular decision undermines a child’s status and rights as an actual person whose body belongs to him_her.
People usually refer to studies that show that male* circumcision leads to decreasing risks of contracting and passing on STDs, that it simplifies hygiene, and that it prevents future problems that might lead to a medically indicated circumcision when the boy*/man* is older and the procedure is more painful and the healing process takes much longer.
Indeed, leaving religion or traditions aside for a moment, these seem to be valid cultural reasons for circumcision. To me, however, these are not valid cultural reasons to forego consent and physically alter a child who cannot defend him*self. Whereas Female Genital Mutilation is never medically indicated, has no purpose whatsoever but misogynistic humiliation, and usually has significant negative impacts on the (sex) lives of women*, a parallel cannot be drawn to male* circumcision – a partial penis amputation might be more accurate when comparing the two. However, it is a physical invasion of boys*” private parts, and it obviously is irreversible.
In theory, it should not be difficult at all to weigh religious traditions v. the right to bodily integrity and the right to not be forced into a non-indicated medical procedure that physically alters you without your consent. This is feminist territory. It should also not be difficult to still reject the notion that male* circumcision is even anywhere near FGM, but, in turn, acknowledge that the issue of consent is a central one here too, and that both procedures are performed in the name of religion or tradition and are cultural expressions, and not medically necessary.
Finally, while I have to agree that this is a decision that targets, yet again, groups of people who are relentlessly targeted within german society, it seems to be a bigger issue than that. Circumcision is a tradition that is thousands of years old, and throughout the ages it did not only have a cultural, but also a health purpose. We are now in an era, however, that makes preventive circumcision medically unnecessary, and that offers better solutions for boys* and men* who do decide they want or need a circumcision when they are able to understand what this entails. Deciding for your child that s/he will have to have parts of her body altered to adhere to certain religious traditions or to follow a cultural paradigm is not justified by any idea of bodily integrity for every person, however, and directly violates the rules of consent.
Cologne’s district court’s decision was a difficult and maybe ambivalent one to make. I, nonetheless, do no think it was wrong.