A gross violation

This article originally appeared in the November edition of Standpoint Magazine, 2013

Throughout history, the Jewish people have been told to stop the tradition of circumcision. The Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV ordered the Jews to end the ritual or be killed. During the Spanish Inquisition, those found to be circumcised were assumed to be secretly Jewish, tortured and often killed. The Nazis inspected male genitalia to identify Jews and then execute them.

Despite this record, a court in Cologne ruled last year that circumcision amounted to actual bodily harm. Aware of the potential embarrassment, German Chancellor Angela Merkel swiftly enacted legislation to overturn the judgment.

However, the movement campaigning for circumcision to be banned in Europe continues. In May, the Norwegian daily Dagbladet published a cartoon portraying a classic caricature of a Jewish man stabbing a baby boy in the head with a devil’s pitchfork, while a bloodied wrench slices the child’s body. The mother, holding a bloodstained Torah, says: “Mistreatment? No, this is a tradition, an important part of our belief.” The cartoonist, Tomas Drefvelin, told Standpoint it was intended to be “a parody of religious people, with beards and ritual hats, not Jews alone” and denied any anti-Semitic intent.

Last month the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe — an organisation whose resolutions are non-binding but influence EU member states — declared that circumcision is a “violation of the physical integrity of children”. Seventy-eight delegates voted in favour, while only 13 opposed it. The assembly recommended allowing circumcision, but only once a boy has reached the age of 15, since at that age the “child is old enough to be consulted”. While not legally binding, the resolution calls for the EU’s 28 member states to “adopt specific legal provisions to ensure that certain operations and practices will not be carried out before a child is old enough to be consulted”.

The council described the ruling as a method of protecting children “against violations of their physical integrity according to human rights standards”. By evoking the notion that male circumcision is a human rights violation, it has deliberately obfuscated its attempt to restrict the religious liberty of Jews, as well as Muslims.

Circumcision has been maintained by both these faiths for thousands of years. It is a vital part of their belief systems. For the Jews, it originates from Genesis, when God states: “And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you.” In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad declared in the Sunnah that circumcision is a “law for men and a preservation of honour for women”.

The freedom of parents to raise children in their religious faith has been grossly violated by the council’s resolution. Some 1.43 million Jews and 19 million Muslims live within the EU. Why should they be stopped from bringing up their children within their religious tradition if no harm exists from such a procedure? Indeed, millions of non-Jewish and non-Muslim boys are circumcised for health reasons. The council’s resolution has echoes of a dark and bloody history.

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