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German Circumcision Case Causes Global Debate

Posted on the 18 July 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost

Mideast Iran Jews praying Jews in Iran praying. The German circumcision case has had global repercussions. Photocredit: Sajjadi Livejournal

The background

Jewish and Muslim communities are in uproar after a judge in Cologne, Germany, ruled that the circumcision of children was against a child’s interests, since it caused an alteration in the child’s body and because other people were determining its religious identity.

The ruling, which came two weeks ago, was given after a Muslim couple had their son circumcised in Cologne; the boy began to bleed, and was taken to hospital, where the doctor who performed the operation was charged with bodily harm. He was acquitted, but the ruling recommended that circumcision of minors should be outlawed, since the harm to the child outweighed parental consent. Muslim and Jewish leaders alike are calling it an affront to their religious freedoms. The Central Council of Jews in Germany said that if this law were to become the legal norm, then Jews might no longer be able to live in Germany. The case highlights the problems of multiculturalism in Europe. Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped in to say that the ruling made Germany a “laughing stock.”

So is the ban – which actually has no legal force in influencing other German courts – an affront to religious rights, or is it a step forward in protecting children? Commentators are divided: some say that it’s akin to Islamophobia or antisemitism (or both); others that the right of the child is paramount.

Ali Demir, chairman of the Religious Community of Islam in Germany, said: “I find the ruling adversarial to the cause of integration and discriminatory against all the parties concerned, quoted on The Guardian.

For the ruling

Heinz Oberhummer, of the Austrian organisation Religion is a Private Matter, said it was “an important and long overdue change of direction. Bodily harm is bodily harm and children cannot be excluded from benefitting from basic rights, and certainly not for religious reasons.” Holm Putke, a professor of penology (the study of the punishment of crime) said, quoted in the same article, “After the knee-jerk indignation has subsided, hopefully a discussion will kick off about how much religiously motivated violence against children a society is ready to tolerate.” Both were quoted on The Guardian

Against the ruling

The Reverend Giles Fraser, who has Jewish ancestry and is himself circumcised, but did not circumcise his son, said on The Guardian‘s Comment is Free that faith isn’t just a private matter – it means you’re part of a community. You can be non-practising, even an atheist, and still consider yourself Jewish; and circumcision is “the way Jewish and Muslim men are marked out as being involved in a reality greater than themselves.” But the liberals find this “anathema”. The Cologne court has “little sense of history”, ignoring the Holocaust and the commands of the Jews to not let Hitler win even after he’s been defeated. This is a “ridiculous and offensive decision.”

Those for the ruling smack of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

The Guardian’s editorial said that the courts had received “support from the strident right and left” – some see it as “barbaric”; there are doctors who say it’s “unnecesary for hygienic reasons”, and those who say parents don’t “have the right to label their children.” There are hints of “Islamophobia and antisemitism” in some of the reactions. Aside from the fact that Germany, where Jews have fought to rebuild themselves, is the wrong place to have this discussion, putting “circumcision into the same category as child-beating” in “insensitive.”

The ruling isn’t that important, but it highlights the problems of multi-culturalism

The fact is, said Anastasiya Pershkina in Eurasia Review, this is a specific case. The Chairman of the Cologne Land Court, Dr Dirk Esser, has said that the judgment is unlikely to be repeated. “Since it is the decision of the land court, and not the decision of the Supreme Court, for example, it cannot influence other courts’ judgments. And another court can interpret the issue of whether parents’ activities based on religious reasons are lawful from a different standpoint. If another similar case is brought before the court, the judgment may be the same as the Cologne Land Court’s judgement, and it may be the opposite, because religious will of parents has a greater influence, and circumcision does not contradict the law. In this case, the judge decided that the law was violated.”

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