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Ban On Mutilation A Bad Thing?

A court in Cologne has recently ruled that circumcising boys for purely religious reasons is an assault and violation of that child’s (that person’s) right to self determination and control over what happens to their own body.

The response from the religious groups that practice this has been predictably savage. The Jewish groups in Germany have been making comparisons to the holocaust; a subject understandably of extreme sensitivity in Germany.

In contrast medical and secular groups have welcomed the ruling.

The head of the UK secular medical council, in an open letter (PDF) to Chancellor Merkel has said:

Despite calls for condemnation of the ruling, especially from Jewish and Muslim organisations, we, and the Royal Dutch Medical Association believe the practice to be potentially harmful. More importantly, this ruling correctly places the welfare of vulnerable children above the unrestrained expression of adult beliefs.

Not all Jews are opposed to this (from Reuters):

“The majority of the world does not circumcise because of an instinctive awareness of the harm, analogous to cutting off any other healthy body part,” it said in a statement entitled “The German Circumcision Ruling: What about the harm to the child?”

“It” in this case being U.S.-based Jewish Circumcision Resource Centre.

Yet,  according to Merkel though, it “makes Germany a laughing stock”.

I disagree, it makes Germany a leader.

As someone who, as an adult, has been circumcised for purely medical reasons I can speak from a level of experience that is denied all those boys of religious parents. It’s painful (very) and while I can confirm that there’s no impairment and that I can function perfectly well without my foreskin, there is a difference and it’s one that I notice.

There are perfectly valid medical reasons for doing a circumcision, for example Phimosis or, in those countries where AIDS is rampant, to reduce chances of infection.

If a new religious group were to come about, and as part of it’s rituals, just as circumcision is part of Jewish ritual, they required all infants to have an ear cut off, would  we object?

I’d like to think that most people would disagree. You don’t need your ears, you can function perfectly well without them. There will be a slight decrease in functionality, but no more so than for a circumcision. Of course there might be some more cosmetic issues, but just as circumcision is out of sight in your pants, your missing ear can be hidden by long hair; and why not wear it with pride as it’s the symbol of your faith?

You’re not allowed to beat your child, to cause it physical harm, even if (like infant circumcision) they won’t remember the pain when they are older. Unlike a beating, where the black eyes heal and the broken arms mend, circumcision is permanent. Why is it that society objects (strongly) to parents beating their children even just once, but yet has no objection to circumcising them? If you did to an adult, without his consent, what Jewish parents do to their infant boys, without their consent, they’d be looking at assault charges and prison sentences.

If you have trouble seeing that comparison (and I’m disappointed if you don’t see it), then consider that there is a reason most parents don’t allow their kids to get tattoos, earrings and piercings until they reach a certain age; if I remember correctly my sister was somewhere around 10 before she was allowed to have her ears pierced. These are changes that permanently affect their body and they are decisions that need to be made with care and conscious choice. Why can’t we just let religious circumcision join that group?

Judaism already has it’s coming of age ceremony for boys, the Bar Mitzvah, generally at age 13. Why not make circumcision a part of that? He can do his reading from the Torah, have his party, then get circumcised to show his allegiance to his faith. Wouldn’t that make it more meaningful as well, a conscious choice to join the faith, instead of being forced into it at birth without a choice?

It seems that at least one German paediatrician seems to think this is the better approach. Circumcision has always been an ethical problem for conscientious doctors who are required, by their Hippocratic oath to, “first do no harm”.

For me it’s a simple case of justice. There is no justice in imposing your views, especially forcefully as with an operation, on those who are incapable of defending themselves and raising objections. Given their claim to be the moral champions of society, I find it rather ironic that it’s the religious groups that are fighting to retain the rights to what is fundamentally a highly immoral ritual.

Britain and the EU

It’s all come to a head in the last couple of days. I’m personally calling it “Cameron’s EU Fiasco” in my own head.

Cameron looks like a diplomatic incompetent. Nick Clegg looks like marginalised, out-of-the-loop hanger on (although he has finally started to get a backbone), and Britain looks like a self-serving jerk that puts the economic interests of the fat-cat bankers that caused the entire mess ahead of the welfare of an entire continent. Only the UK’s finance industry and businesses  aren’t too happy either. Even the FT and the Economist, hardly bastions of pro-Europeans and left of centre liberals aren’t impressed with Cameron.

I’m disappointed all round and angry at almost everyone. I have to say, I’m most disappointed though with the LibDems and Nick Clegg. It’s been building for a while, but this is almost the final straw. The coalition was there for us to save the country from the self-destructive excesses of the loony Tory right. We’re not doing too well.

As to the situation with Britain and the EU, well here’s my take on the situation (reprinted from a comment I left elsewhere)

The founding members of the EU created their vision on the premise that they wanted to stop the self-destructive cycle that most recently devastated the continent barely a decade earlier. Britain, still dreaming forlornly of rebuilding its empire at the time, thought it was doomed to fail. Eventually economics and pressure from business forced the politicians to join, despite never really approving of the whole concept.

Der Spiegel called Britain’s membership of the EU a misunderstanding. Europe was in it for security, safety and peace. The economic benefits were a much appreciated bonus. The UK, it seems to me is the implication, was just in it for the money.

It’s no surprise then that eventually Britain would be cut out, as it was never really in, and never really subscribed to the vision. It’s no wonder then that the tone of almost all German newspapers this weekend has been one, almost, of relief that the “Störenfried” (troublemaker) and “Bremser” (brakesman) of Europe has finally been sidelined and the EU can get on with shaping its vision.

Coupled with what’s seen by many on the continent as the UK’s favouring of American low-tax, cut-throat style capitalism instead of European high-tax social welfare; and breaking ranks with Europe to have it’s love-in conspiracy with Bush to illegally invade Iraq, it isn’t that surprising that the head of the German conservative (CSU) delegation to the European parliament, Markus Ferber, was quoted in the Stern as saying:

«Großbritannien muss sich entscheiden, ob es weiterhin als 27. Mitgliedstaat der Europäischen Union seine Zukunft selbst gestalten, oder lieber als 51. Bundesstaat der USA Befehle aus Washington empfangen will.» 

“Great Britain must decide if it wants, as 27th member state of the EU, to continue to shape its own future, or would prefer to be the 51st state of the US and take it’s orders from Washington.”

Britain wants the economic benefits that are a side-effect of the political dream. It’s no wonder then that Britain is seen as nothing but a troublemaker by those chasing their vision. In turn those with the vision are seen as dangerous, misguided and foolish by a country that cares only for its economic self-interest. It’s the clash of the idealists and dreamers with the pragmatists and profiteerers.

Much as the EU is good for Britain, the question that’s been bothering me more of late is whether Britain is good for the EU.

Die Zeit, seems to be thinking along these lines as well and is running a two part opinion piece.

The first part makes the point that the UK is nothing but a troublemaker and Europe can happily do without them. Noting that Britain’s deficit is worse than that of the Greeks and that instead of closer ties to its equally afflicted compatriots in Europe it’s actually distancing itself. The EU doesn’t need the permanent nay-sayers.

The second part suggests that actually, the UK is what Europe needs. It needs the quarrelsome and troublemaking Brits to keep Europe from becoming complacent and full of itself. The Euro-crisis has removed all the political issues that have been bothering Europe for ages and brought it all down to one thing: Money. Despite the recent trend to demonise the City, the British know a lot about money. It argues that Britain is very burdensome /troublesome, but it wants a Europe that’s free and open to the world and that’s the ideal Europe and worth every effort.

I’m not sure that’s right; it’s not worth every effort. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move on. I’d love the UK to be a big part of Europe, an active and supportive member. Until though the British establishment, and its voters, decide to be more constructive and conciliatory instead of simply negative and troublesome, Europe might well be better of without the UK to hold it back.