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Friday, October 4, 2013

The European Council against Circumcision

2 days ago the European Council in Strasbourg has decided that the practice of Circumcision in both men and women is forbidden, until they have reached the age of 15 and can chose it for themselves. The Council called circumcision ''an injury upon the physical integrity of the children''.
This decision has sparked anger among religious groups, both Muslim and Jewish and even an angry response from the Israeli Foreign Ministry which said ''This decision is casting a heavy moral shadow on the entire council and is contributing to flaming the fires of hatred and racism in Europe''.



Circumcision is practiced in Jewish tradition for thousands of years - where the foreskin of the male child is removed at the age of 8 days. Circumcision for boys is also widely practiced in Islam, though the age of the recipient can vary from several days to 15 years. The positions of the world's major medical organizations range from considering neonatal circumcision as having a modest health benefit that outweighs small risks to viewing it as having no benefit and significant risks. No major medical organization recommends either universal circumcision for all infant males (aside from the recommendations of the World Health Organization for parts of Africa), or banning the procedure. Circumcision for girls has also been known to being practiced in some Islamic circles (though not in most) - where it varies from removal of a portion of the skin covering the clitoris to a complete removal of the clitoris. This last variation has of course raised a great Human Rights debate since it denies the women of the possibility to enjoy clitoral arousal in their adulthood and can be considered mutilation.

The decision of the European Council is barging into the delicate discussion around circumcision like a blind elephant in a porcelain shop.
A decision to out law female circumcision could be easily supported, since it includes obviously adverse effects and is not even accepted by most of the Islamic religious establishment.  But the current decision is ruling out all forms of circumcision, including male circumcision - which is universal in Jewdeism and near-universal in Islam, and apparently holds no adverse effects. With this step, the European Council is forbidding a fundamental cultural and religious practice which has existed for thousands of years. Is the European Council in the business of violating freedom of religion?
A part of the argumentation given by the European Council is that the child should be able to chose for himself - hence the decision that circumcision is forbidden UNTIL the age of 15 when the person can chose to go through with it. To refine this point into its principle issue - this implies that the parents are not entitled to chose for their own child before he enters an age where he can chose for himself. This is an interesting position and one worthy of debate. But the European Council seems to be interested in affirming this position only in the case of Circumcision (a cultural practice of 2 large minorities in Europe) and not at all in the many other instances where it presents itself: do parents have the right to enroll their child into a school of arts, or athletics - setting the child on a life course which he might have not chosen for himself? Do parents have the right to move to another country and take their child with them, altering in this way his options in life?

Is the European Council's decision not a violation of the religious freedoms of Jews and Muslims and their communities in Europe? Where do religious freedoms and individual freedoms clash? and how can such a conflict be resolves? Who should know better the best interests of the child - the parents or the state?
These questions deserve a much more open, deep and sensitive discussion.

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