Friday, 13 July 2012

Wading into controversy

A judge in a Landes court in Köln has made some big waves recently in religious and national circles here in Germany. The lady judge has handed down a ruling which bans the practice of circumcision, describing it as 'mutilation' under legislation which actually deals with 'causing bodily harm.' This has huge ramifications for the Jewish community, who, by religious laws going back at least 4,000 years, circumcise all male children eight days after birth. It impacts on the Muslim community as well, because they circumcise all boys at the age of 6 years. I have no doubt whatsoever that it impacts a wide range of other people with cultural, religious or health reasons for this practice.

The Judge has made her stand, primarily she sees all forms of circumcision as 'bodily harm,' and I would certainly agree with her when it comes to the African Muslim practice of mutilating girls, which is not at all the same thing as circumcising a boy. She has certainly provoked a religious backlash and I must admit there is a certain irony to seeing the Jewish and Muslim Leaders arguing jointly that this is an unwarranted interference in their religious rights.

As you would expect, the Secularists want it rigidly enforced as a way of imposing restrictions on religious practice in all forms and beliefs, and there is a great deal of noise about the whole thing in the media, and political circles. Even the legal community seems divided on it.

Circumcision is practiced in many societies, not just the Jewish and Muslim ones. Most African tribes have a 'rite of passage' in which circumcision of boys plays a large part. It is no accident that it is so widely practiced in areas where the climate is hot, personal hygiene often difficult and transmission of infection made far more likely by the presence of this small piece of the anatomy. Like the vermiform appendix it is a hang-over from our very early ancestors.

Medical studies have identified in recent years that circumcised males are far less likely to transfer certain infective agents to their partners than uncircumcised males. Woman with a circumcised partner are less likely to suffer from cervical cancer or risk sterility through infection. Men are less likely to suffer from fungal infections, simply because there is no convenient place for an infection to develop. No, circumcision won't prevent AIDS/HIV, but it does reduce the risk of a whole range of other infections.

Many of these 'religious' practices have their origins in perfectly sound medical reasoning. Somewhere down the line someone in the distant past realised that circumcision made hygiene in a hot climate a lot easier. Possibly later it found its way into religious observance as a way of making sure it was done. In other societies it became a cultural thing. Certainly all the Bantu tribes Josephus mentioned yesterday practice it, and that is nothing to do with 'religion.'

No, I do believe the lady Judge has allowed her personal opinion to lead her into an area she should have stayed away from. Now she's created a legal minefield, and the politicians are going to have to walk into it to try and find a solution. It's going to be very interesting and I suspect more than a few political careers could be wrecked on it.


  1. I whole heartedly agree with your views. If the mainstream (i.e. NY & LA) US press get wind there will an international storm of biblical proportions as a very high percentage of US males are circumcised, more for cultural that religious reasons.

    The US also seem to believe that any woman who doesn't shave her legs and body is "unclean" and beards are considered an ethnic oddity, very few Caucasian men apart from the poor and the rural risk sporting facial hair.

    As you know, I am always willing to fight for the right of anyone to believe what they believe, but I will always fight against the imposition of those beliefs on others.

    All the same, does the Lady Judge shave her armpits...?

  2. What led to this judicial/political intervention? You do not give us the origins, and I suspect that her ladyship didn't just wake up one morning and decide to issue a ruling. I agree with you and Josephus about personal beliefs, but I suspect there will be many more arguments about banning things which fall into the 'belief' category. For example, I would wholeheartedly support a ban on bhurkas (or facemasks to give them their real name), yet am I being selective in condemning the right to circumcision? No doubt those who support this move also support the removal of a living baby from its Mother's womb...

    Slim Jim

  3. The case itself has a complex history and was brought by a mother who opposed circumcision. The reports here don't specify her background or religion, but I gather the father insisted and the deed was done. There are other aspects to this whole storm which are 'interesting' primarily because the legislation being quoted is that generally used for "grievous bodily harm" inflicted in assaults. It does seem likely that if Berlin doesn't come up with some new legislative solution or the Federal Constitutional Court rules that this ruling is "unconstitutional" and therefore unlawful, there will be appeals to the ECHR under the "freedom of religion" and "restrictions of religious practice" clauses - which are currently being tested over the French ban on the wearing of the Jijab in schools.

    As Josephus suggests, shaving certain areas of the body can also be considered a cultural or religious practice and any 'enforcement' could be considered "bodily harm" under this ruling.

  4. To answer Josephus' question, I suspect that her ladyship does not shave her armpits as those continentals are wont to do. However, I bet she shaves her pudendum and labia. For hygienic reasons of course...

    Slim Jim

  5. It is interesting that this judicial intervention occured at all. I wonder what the 'spirit and intent' of the original statute was? I doubt if it were ever intended to cover circumcision. Is there a chance that halal/kosher slaughter is outlawed? I doubt it! There is also the interesting dimension that a German court is using the law to inhibit Jewish & Muslim practices! A veritable minefield as the Monk points out.

    Slim Jim