My Take: Jews and Muslims should unite against Germany circumcision ban
Arsalan Iftikhar says the debate on circumcision is really about religious freedom.
July 17th, 2012
07:41 AM ET

My Take: Jews and Muslims should unite against Germany circumcision ban

Editor's note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and author of the book "Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era."

By Arsalan Iftikhar, Special to CNN

(CNN)–According to recent reports, a German court's ban on circumcising baby boys has provoked a rare show of unity between Jews, Muslims and Christians who see it as a threat to religious freedom, while doctors warn it could increase health risks by forcing the practice underground. This recent ruling has global media commentators on all sides of the political aisle debating whether this issue is an affront to religious freedom or a victory to protect the foreskins of young male babies around the world.

Several prominent writers, including Michael Gerson of the Washington Post, rightfully challenged this recent legal decision by a local German court in Cologne, which would effectively criminalize ritual circumcision for infant males as an exercise of religious freedom for minority religious communities in the country.

Gerson and others have been highlighting this most recent issue vis-à-vis Europe’s infamous history of anti-Semitism, which has long been a sociopolitical stain of xenophobia across European lands.

However, it is quite interesting to note that most of these same commentators are not even adequately addressing the fact that the German case in question actually involved a Muslim family, not a Jewish one.

Basically, many of these commentators are citing a legal ruling against a Muslim family in Germany to fashion entire columns devoted to prejudice vis-a-vis the Jewish community, with barely a reference to the original case involving Muslims or rising tide of Islamophobia in Europe, which exists alongside anti-Semitism on the spectrum of xenophobia and must be eradicated.

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Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel ignored the Muslim origins of this controversy when she recently told her party members that Germany risked becoming a "laughingstock" and that her country should not be "the only country in the world in which Jews cannot practice their [religious] rites".

This entire meta-narrative is even more perplexing since most estimates find that Germany is home to approximately 120,000 Jews and more than 4 million Muslims.

On the other side of the Germany circumcision debate, noted journalist Andrew Sullivan recently wrote about the topic and asked, "[Can] parents permanently mutilate a child's genitals to pursue their own religious goals?"

Although Sullivan clearly states that he "veers on the side of permissiveness" in this case in Germany, he does anchor his position on the belief that the religious practice of infant circumcision is tantamount to male genital mutilation. "At some point, one can only hope this barbarism disappears," writes Sullivan. "And it will have nothing to do with anti-Semitism or Islamophobia; it will be about defending the religious liberty of Jewish and Muslim male [babies] to choose their religion, and not have it permanently marked as scar tissue on their [genitals]."

Although I usually agree with much of his writing on most subjects, I would be curious to see if  Sullivan would also consider parents who pierce the ears of their baby daughters to be committing "earlobe mutilation"?

Probably not.

Having said that, this is yet another instance of a "teachable moment" where Jews, Muslims and people of all faiths (or no faith) can unite to promote religious freedom for all people around the world. Since we tend to live in tribalistic circles where Muslim people tend to focus only on Islamophobia and Jewish people tend to focus only on anti-Semitism, we need to instill a new culture where Jewish people speak against Islamophobia and Muslim people speak against anti-Semitism across the globe.

Similarly, as an international human rights lawyer, it would behoove me to highlight the importance for the global community to protect the legal and political rights of all religious minorities in every part of the world.

In the case of the German circumcision ban, people of conscience should stand with both Muslim and Jewish communities in Germany to help ensure that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are equally challenged, especially since we are seeing right-wing xenophobic political parties continue to rise to prominence in many part of the European Union.

Similarly, we should also speak up for disenfranchised religious minorities in other parts of the world, whether it is Coptic Christians in Egypt, the Baha'i community in Iran, the Rohingya Muslims in Burma (now known as Myanmar) or the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan.

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Even though we do not yet live in a world where many Jewish and Muslim people agree on many geopolitical matters, the concept of  religious freedom should be something that people of all faiths (or no faith) should be able to agree upon wholesale.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that, "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

Basically, at a time where the world seems to become even more polarized on a daily basis, this latest Germany circumcision debate should be used by Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities to stand in solidarity and unite in an essence of true Abrahamic camaraderie, regardless of whether we are circumcised or not.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Arsalan Iftikhar.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Church and state • Germany • Islam • Judaism

soundoff (1,235 Responses)
  1. Mass Debater

    If God is so infallible, why would he create us with extra skin that he then demands his people cut off their bodies?

    July 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • sam

      Oh, he's infallible. It's just that he's also a jerk, apparently.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      God doesn't demand it, honey. Someone more powerful than god does. The woman. At least women with good taste do.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      we don't just like women with good taste, we like women that taste good.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No woman I know is going to deal with a turtleneck dick. They're too much trouble, and nasty looking, to boot.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  2. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    I for one am fed up with all these little g ay boys carrying on about both their and everyone else's foreskins. Their constant whimpering that It feels better, it's abuse, it's not my child. Bullsh1t. It's all just bullsh1t. They're pushing their little g ay boy agenda. Oh, it's soooo sensitive. More bullsh1t. F uck the Intactivists. Go mind your own dick and your own children, and keep your little liberal progressive Nazi hands off me.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • sam

      Nice try, fake Tom.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I can not make sense of any of this.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      F uck fake. I just like the name.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  3. Supertramp

    Give a little bit
    give a little bit of my dick for you....

    July 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  4. James Taylor

    Arsalan Iftikhar sir, you are a hypocrite. Mutilation in the name of religion, just like the Inca's pulled beating hearts from chests? Or why not also allow the amputation of the hands of a thief? Or stoning to death of women? Or the sowing up of women to make them 'whole' again? Or the binding up of chinese girls feet? All those procedures have one thing in common, they can be called mutilation, and under the Human Rights convention that is illegal. There should be NO exceptions

    July 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • M83

      Agreed and well said James!! I can’t even believe these are current issues in a world so full of information.. I guess it’s the lack of access to information that keeps these cultures committed to these disgusting acts against children. That and they seem to blatantly shun the idea of adapting new ideas and behaviours based on evidence, research, and modern science.. at least ideas that are not linked to holy scripture.
      One day I hope we’ll have no religion, no concept of god. Generations will look at these times with utter embarrassment at how we treated each other in the name of fantasy and wishful thinking.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  5. Chuck-E-Jesus

    Deos your deity have a penis?

    July 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Mass Debater

      God made man in his image, so not only must God have a penis but it must have also come with extra skin that he had to surgically remove, likely with some spirit scissors...

      July 17, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Mass Debater

      Oh, and God also must have a belly button...right?

      July 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Only on Sundays when Mary comes for her weekly freaky session.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Chuck-E-Jesus

      Why else would we refer to god as male?

      July 17, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  6. sallen75

    How anyone can support mutilation of a child, I will never understand. What if they grow up and decide not to be Jewish, or would have liked to have had what was taken back? Its not the parent's body its the child's.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  7. mteksolution

    If you believe that we are God's creation, then do not change what he has made. God does not create garbage. There is a reason for everything that he has created.

    If you do not believe in the above, then grow up and have it done by your choice. See how you like it.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  8. J.W

    Wonder how the author was able to post this article without separating the cu m part of the word curcu mcistion.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  9. J.W

    What is the issue with circu,mcision? I thought everyone was circu,mcised these days.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  10. Love Rhino

    I knew a girl in Bridgeton who didnt care about the skin but she sure loved seeing what came out of that area.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  11. unk

    Feck no. Just say NO to religious mutilation.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  12. David L

    "Andrew Sullivan recently wrote about the topic and asked, "[Can] parents permanently mutilate a child's genitals to pursue their own religious goals?"
    I have a better question Sully, "Can mothers kill their unborn children to pursue their own physical desires?"

    July 17, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  13. HenryMiller

    So it's part of "religious freedom" to butcher babies? How odd...

    July 17, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  14. Adam Sandler

    My Rabbi used to make wallets out of foreskins & if you rubbed them quickly they'd turn into suitcases!

    July 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  15. pbernasc

    Arsalan Iftikha is a pedophile ... no other possible explanation.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  16. Heaven Sent

    Once we have enough frozen sp*erm stored, we can have a true sisterhood for the love of jesus, a true amazon society, never to be touched again by men, only the love of god and my lover JJJEEESSSUUUSSS.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Just Sayin'

      .. that and a turkey baster!!

      July 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  17. WH

    I disagree with the assertion that Muslims are only concerned with Islamophobia and Jews with Anti-Semitism. I know of many Jews who have stood up for the rights of Muslims, especially here in Tennessee where there have been vicious attacks against Muslims trying to build a new Mosque. As for Muslims' support of Jews, I've pretty much only seen the wish for complete annihilation.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • K-switch

      So your using a sample based on observations in your small nook of the world to insinuate that things are like that everywhere. Good for you.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  18. Lilith's brother

    My circmcision was done because it's what everyone did, not for any religious reason at all. This religious argument is just a way to fight change, even for the better.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • fatal42

      I agree , I'm thankful my parents did this for me. In my youth I recall friends with infections ,because not as easy to keep clean. Myself nor my brother never had this prblem !

      July 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  19. James

    Here is just another thing that has been around that we know of for about 6,000 years...And why all of a sudden is it considered cruel....? I don't remember the pain myself...!

    July 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • basketcase

      So, just for the record you're cool with slavery? Because if it's been around for thousands of years, it doesn't matter.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  20. Henry

    Can't believe the "hygiene" crowd. If your finger gets dirty, do you cut it out or clean it?

    July 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Jon

      The foreskin is useless, a finger is not. Can't believe the "no-way-its-hygenic-even-though-the-world-health-organization-says-so" crowd.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Henry

      "The foreskin is useless"

      Says who? You? Let's preemptively cut everybody's appendix, then, since it has been deemed useless and eventually it may get infected. Same reasoning?

      July 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • sam

      Hmmm...let's go ahead and remove Henry's brain, then. That seems to be useless too.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Mark

      Henry, I'm almost positive that if you asked an adult who's had appendicitis whether they would have preferred to have the thing removed preemptively as a child versus doing it as an adult....he/she would always prefer the former. Poor choice of analogy there friend of the foreskin.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Ralf

      The often-cited excuse that the procedure is a health benefit is overstated for the simple reason that there is a membrane between the foreskin and the head of the peni_s that prevents germs (bacteria) from collecting under the foreskin. This membrane is usually ruptured after first inter_course (or rough mastur_bation). So circu_mcision is not warranted for an infant, and is not worth the risk that ANY kind of surgery has – especially at such a tender age. When the child comes of age, then they can make the decision as to cut or not cut.

      July 17, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.