'Thanks Dad...' A Personal Reflection On Germany's New Circumcision Ban
Essay: With a recent ban on religious circumcisions, Germany finds itself caught up in a debate on parental freedom v. protecting children. Die Welt's Alan Posener quips that Jews and Muslim show rare "commonality when it comes to hurtin
BERLIN - For weeks, the talk in Germany has been about foreskins. It's easier to talk about foreskins than the euro crisis because with circumcision any opinion goes even if you don't know what you're talking about. Here's my excuse for writing about the topic: it nearly happened to me.
In 1961, my father, a Jew who fled Nazi Germany and ended up in London, was offered a professorship in Israel. He recounts what happened then in his memoirs – how shortly before we were scheduled to move, we went to the Zionist Office in London where a friendly staffer asked my parents about us, their sons.
Were we circumcised? No? Then that should be a first priority once we reached Israel, otherwise other kids at school might make fun of them – in the gym shower, that sort of thing. And something else: the eldest, Alan, was just the right age for the youth movement. Another priority on arrival should be signing him up for that.
We thanked the friendly man. On the same day, my father decided to accept another job offer he'd received in Berlin.
The discussion about the recent Cologne court ruling that circumcision on purely religious grounds constitutes bodily harm and is punishable by law, usually centers on the legal aspects – if the parents' fundamentally guaranteed right to religious freedom should take precedence over a child's fundamental right of physical integrity.
It is of course an extremely interesting question. For example: if I were to found a religion whose gods required that children be tattooed all over with a message that the tattoo was a sign of eternal unity with Alan and his descendants, would I have a right to do that? And if not, why not?
Rarely does anybody deal with the psychological question at hand: whether parents put under pressure by an imam or rabbi to conform for reasons of family, neighbors, tradition – or for that matter, supposed suffering of uncircumcised boys in public showers – are really exercising their religious freedom when they allow their child to be genitally mutilated.
If you weren't pressured into it, would you have your son circumcised? If you could really decide freely? My father in any case decided against it, and for that I am very thankful. Not because of the foreskin -- I haven't got a clue what it would be like to be without one -- but because of the example of courage he gave me. Needless to say, his decision to turn down the Israeli job offer was not greeted warmly there, and he himself had very mixed feelings about returning to Germany. But he was not about to bow to group pressure -- especially not at his kids' expense.
Some people who argue for the right to circumcise take a stand againstheadscarves and burqas. Wearers of such apparel are not covering themselves up voluntarily, these people argue; rather, the women are under pressure from a patriarchal society to do so. And that may be. However, a woman can decide not to wear a headscarf or a burqa: it just requires courage. There's nothing for a circumcised male to decide about a foreskin, however -- he no longer has one.
Monotheistic religions, which are otherwise antagonistic to each other, find such notable commonality when it comes to hurting little boys' penises. But it actually points to a fundamental problem: these religions have ways to ensure their continuity by indoctrinating children at a very young age. "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains," said 18th century writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. And the worst chains are the psychological ones forged during childhood.
Religions may have their merits -- but freedom is more important. And for as long as children are turned into Jews, Muslims, Christians, and so on, with or without foreskins and headscarves, the religious freedom that enemies of the foreskin and friends of the burqa use to back up their positions is being trampled on.
Read the original article in German.
Photo - jondejong