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. God help you, Mr. Iftikhar!

    This fellow can't be seriously drawing a comparison between pierced ears and hacked genitalia? I'm sorry, Arsalan, but you make it difficult for me to take you even remotely seriously. But I'll try.

    Only religion can make otherwise sane and level human beings consider mutilating a baby boy's penis a jolly and dandy deed, and such disturbing rituals are protected under the malleable and self-righteous hollerings of religious freedom, religious freedom, religious freedom! Whether it be barbaric rites or the implementation of pseudo-science into education, the hordes of the ever-righteous believers can always fall back on that same boring cry.
    Does Arsalan also speak out in support of the practice of cutting up those bits of little girls which certain believers consider a wee bit too excessive? Hell, it isn't about Islamophobia or anti-Semitism, right? It's about the universal freedom and lawful right to go to your newborns with glinting scissors whilst mumbling prayers to whatever God you believe is staring approvingly down from the heavens.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  2. Willie

    I'm sorry, God made me perfect to start. Why would he need me to mutilate myself in order to please Him? Did the Maker get it so wrong that it needed a custom job?

    July 17, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Dave

      Trust me Willie, you're not perfect.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      What? Using logic in a religious argument? Sacrilege!

      July 17, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Lucy

      Willie, you are NOT perfect. Nobody is. The disobedience of our generation has been prophecied and all will pay the price. Repent while you have a chance! God is the potter and we are the pot - HE can smush us in a second if He wants. Be happy He loves you that much to restrain Himself, you gnat.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • PunchInTheFace

      See, Willy– Lucy's response is the price you pay for asking questions that conflict with the "logic" of a religion... mostly a lot of "HOW DARE YOU question why God does what he does and YOU SHOULD BE THANKFUL he doesn't smite you with a bolt of lightning up the butt!!"......... but no actual answering of the query posed. Lucy is perfectly happy being in her manufactured fairy world and questioning things is a threat to her very perceived existence.

      July 17, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  3. Lee Yu

    I think most people are confused about this issue. Even the reporter Arsalan Iftikhar missed it. It is not about religious freedom. Jews and Muslims can do what they like to their own body, but not to the body of another person, a body that is not your own. You simply don't have the right to mutilate any person, in this case a baby or a child. Let the baby or child decide when he reaches 18 or 21. It is that simple.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  4. sancho

    Bizarre country to care so much about the baby shortly after birth and care so little about it shortly before birth.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      define shortly before......

      July 17, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • bob

      Then there are those countries and religions that don't care at all about the kid beyond the "shortly after born" time until its grave. Oh, unless it's to preclude dying with dignity.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Just Claims, No Truth

      Bizarre religion that is worried about a fetus' rights but not about a baby's.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  5. MarkinFL

    All other arguments aside, comparing male circu.mcision to the mutilation done to some little girls is asinine.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Chopping off a hand isn't comparable to chopping off a whole arm, either. Does that make either action appropriate?

      July 17, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • John

      So a little genital mutilation is ok, but a lot isn't?

      July 17, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • twind091971

      Why is that? How are you making this measurement? This entire article supposes that it is defensible to make an argument about public policy based on what the writers invisible sky god said to him. Can you make a logical argument for why chopping flesh of a male baby is less barbaric than chopping flesh of a female baby that doesn't refer to your invisible friend?

      July 17, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Simple. Removal of a bit of foreskin compared to cl.itoral and frequently labia removal IS vastly less damaging to a persons se.xual response.

      BTW, I am not pro-circu.mcision and I am a thorough atheist. And for the same reasons of objectivity that cause me to recognize that male circ.umcision is not comparable to female "circ.umcision"

      July 17, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      p.s. And I never said male circ.umcision was appropriate. Its people treating the two as if they are equivalent that bugs me. They are not even close. Yes they are both unnecessary procedure performed upon a baby's genitalia, but the final results are vastly different. No patriarchal society would allow its males to have there se.xual responses reduced. Females on the other hand....

      July 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Just Claims, No Truth


      I understand your point but the question is more in reference to where is mutilation ever acceptable and why? Even if you successfully agree it is not the same ( and I don't agree you have) on what basis should ANY of it be allowed to continue?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  6. greg wells

    This is a terrible argument in that it presents nothing to support it. I expect better from someone who went to law school.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  7. Dan

    It's barbaric and unnecessary. If someone wants it done when they are older, that's their choice then.

    Ban it.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • LostinSLC

      Oh please, there is no long term effects from it and honestly it is almost natural to get it done now. It needs to remain as it is.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      how is it "natural" to have a knife cut off part of my body? Strange view you have of nature

      July 17, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • anon

      Dan do you have a daughter, and were her ears pierced as a child? If not then never mind, but if so, then SHUT IT.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • absolutely

      Who invted you, have you had yours done? It looks wierd when it's not. Just saying.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Yes I was circ umcised, but I wasn't asked if it was what I wanted. Also the way it looks is only relative...if none were ever circ umcised, then you would never know how it looks differently, and would appear normal.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  8. Logic

    I would unite FOR it, not against it.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  9. mommytwice

    how is this one bit different than the people who want the government monitoring every pregancy in America and want a woman's right to choose removed and want her reproductive rights limited to what the government says is okay? I see no difference, yet there are millions right here at home who would take total control over a woman's body, even over whether she can take contraceptives.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Okay, so you want parents to have the right to cut on various body parts of their children. Got it.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Willie

      It's also such a pain the government won't allow me to put my 10 year old to work for 16 hours a day in a sweat shop either.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  10. Babak from LA

    It is cleaner and safer ... I our family it is not a religious thing ... It is a health issue.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Babak from LA

      "In" our family

      July 17, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • John

      No, it's not. You mutilated your child's penis because you don't want to teach him to wash himself....how enlightened.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Rob

      So I guess chopping off one's mouth, the ears, and maybe the armpits would be cleaner too....

      July 17, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Ralf

      The often-cited excuse that it 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 7:42 pm |
  11. This Guy

    Human Rights Lawyer.

    Doesn't believe infant males have Human Rights.


    July 17, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  12. mizzprincess98

    Asalaam Alaikum
    I have a friend who is one of the nicest brothers someone can know. He and his wife is in property. he just came into islam and loving the deen. Please PLEASE FOR ALLAHS SAKE donate to him and read his blogs he will happily help you with advice.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • .

      you and allah can go fuck yourselves

      July 17, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Heywood

      whats he going to do, fly and airplane into your house or detonate himself on your bus?

      Not every muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a muslim, just watch the news.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Just Claims, No Truth

      "but every terrorist is a muslim"

      Really, are you this ignorant on purpose? Here are just 2 of the top of my head that are christian,

      Anders Behring Breivik = Olso Terrorist

      Timothy McVey = Oklahoma Federal Building bomber.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  13. Johnny America

    An atheist opinion is worth about as much as the skin thats being cut off.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      lol says the religious zealot who is ok with child abuse.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Way to love thy neighbor christian!!!

      July 17, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Tallulah13

      Not at all surprised to hear an anti-free speech comment from someone with "America" in his screen name. It's always those who claim the loudest to be patriots who respect this country the least.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  14. Dennis

    The ban should stand, its mutilation, they wouldn't advocate for female mutilation I bet.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Johnny America

      Technically getting your tonsils removed is mutilation. You need to think more clearly.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Just Claims, No Truth


      Tonsils are not taken out because some bronze age book of myths says it is a good idea. They are not taken out unless there is a medical need to do so. Your 'logic' is a joke.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Logic

      Ok so cut the foreskin when it gets diseased and threatens the rest of the body. Not when it is pink and healthy.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • owl96

      Its not mutilation. Its a tiny piece of skin being removed. Not a big deal either way. Mine's gone and no one cares.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Rumpledforeskin

      it is mutilation...by defintion.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Ralf

      To "logic":
      The often-cited excuse that it 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 7:45 pm |
  15. Miguel Caron

    Here's a better idea – Jews and Muslims should stop chopping baby bits off.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • rampant


      July 17, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • anon

      Yeah, well pregnant women shouldn't be allowed the right to chop their babies INTO little bits.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  16. Rainer Braendlein

    The Jews should further be allowed to mutilate their member, but should also get to know the meaning of that ritual.

    Let us pray that the Jews, the earthly Israel, will join us soon, the heavenly Israel of fatih, through faith. That faith would be exactly the faith of their ancestor and archfather Abraham. Only the object of faith has changed, former it was the promise of a descent, today it is the promise that we become righteous through Jesus Christ.

    The circu-mcision should be kept at any rate. Damned German judges, such morons. I say this although I am a Christian.

    Hello, according to my descent I am a German, but I have joined the Israel of faith through Abraham's faith.

    Got it?

    What is Abraham's faith?

    Abraham believed God's promise that he would give him descendants and a country to dwell. Abraham kept this faith for decades up to a very high age, when his body became very old and he could no more conceive children by natural male strength. Also Abraham's wife had become very old an could no more bear children. Furthermore Abraham lived in the very godless country Canaan (today Palestine) and was seduced persistently to forsake the Lord, the eternal God, which has made heaven and earth.

    Despite all hostility of the pagans of Canaan and athough he saw no fulfillment of God's promise for decades, Abraham kept the faith and finally got a son by a divine miracle, called Isaac.

    The circu-mcision is a sign, which should remember the Jews that they should more appreciate Abraham's faith than their descent from Abraham. The male member represents the descent of man. Reducing it by circu-mcision simply means to reduce the trust in the natural descent, but increase the appreciation of the faith, which causes the circu-mcision of the heart.

    Hence, circu-mcison should not be abolished, because the Jews still need it as a sign of remembrance of Abraham's faith. It is merely a pity that the Jews don't understand that. Let us hope and pray that God will open the eyes of the Jews that their member tells them: YOU NEED ABRAHAM"S FAITH.

    The modern promise of God is the Gospel, which we have to believe in a world, which totally rejects Christ. But one day he will return and the Christian Church will get revealed and glorified as God's new mankind.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Just Claims, No Truth

      If you can't answer the question as to whither female circ.umcision should be allowed you should quit posting your drivel.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Chris Zafiridis

      OMG !!!!!

      July 17, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Jeff B.

      A wonderful sentiment.
      So, tell us: WHY do you Christians believe it is your DUTY to convert Jews to Christianity ? If you had your way, ALL Jews would take Jesus as their Lord and become Christians; thus, what you really seek, is to destroy the Jewish people...just as the Muslim does – you just want to kill Jews with kindness, instead of bombs. In other words, while your methodology differs, you share the same end goal as the Muslims.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • K-switch

      "The male member represents the descent of man." Exactly how can it represent descent, when that is how it was originally created? Well, maybe if you cut and paste it a dozen more times we'll all get it.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Kevin

      What a ridiculous fairy tale!

      July 17, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Learn to think for yourself.

      Got it? Got what??? It is a sick and disgusting ritual that should be banned world-wide. If you want to remember the name of some fictional character, then write on a piece of paper and staple it to your wall, but don't cut off your defenseless infant's body part because your imaginary supreme being thinks you should. That is so wrong on so many levels.

      Maybe the parents should eat the foreskin as part of the ritual. That would really prove their faith. It fits right in with Drink my blood, eat my flesh...... otherwise known as cannibalism.

      It is time that the world rejects religion. The trend away from it is already under way. There is no supreme being that created the universe. The earth is not 6000 years old. Man didn't walk with dinosaurs. Read a science book and find out the truth.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Isaard Davton

      Funny broze-age fairy tale thanks for the amusing story

      July 17, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  17. Tom

    So Muslims can force foreign women in Riyadh to wear a burka and be accompanied by a male everywhere they go but they can't stand it when they have to abide by a law in a foreign country that they have come to as guests.The same applies for jews.This is called reverse anti-semitism.

    July 17, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Heywood

      It is NOT mutilation. It is a hygene and religious practice. It is not like the mutilation of a woman in any way. Educate yourself.

      I, for one, am kind of shocked that the germans would be so inconsiderate and mean spirited towards the Jews after such a long friendly history together.

      Am i to assume that the only Jew that the germans like is the dead one hanging in their church?

      July 17, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Mark

      It's not the German people doing this. It's the idiots that took over their country doing it in Germany's name.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • K-switch

      Apples to oranges dude.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Just Claims, No Truth

      "It is a hygene and religious practice."

      It is not longer agreed that it is a hygene issue by the medical community.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Thegoodman

      @Heywood jablowme

      "It is NOT mutilation. It is a hygene.." Find a man with a foreskin and ask him about it. Tell him you would like to cut off part of his penis and explain to him it is neither barbaric or mutilating. See if he agrees.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Jeff B.

      Heywood –
      Your quote "I, for one, am kind of shocked that the germans would be so inconsiderate and mean spirited towards the Jews after such a long friendly history together. "

      ...huh ?

      July 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Ian

      Therefore, if your parents decide to chop your hands off because you wont keep them clean, that is not considered a mutilation? Or extract your teeth for the same reason? Or if in the name of God your left testicle was to be removed, This would not be a mutilation?

      The removal of any bodily part is by definition a mutilation. The question is whether or not it is desirable and an acceptable mutilation such as if there was a cancer in our foot. It is a simple matter to keep a penis clean and so the hygiene issue flies out the window.

      We can also develop disease in any part of our body and far more serious diseases than will develop on and around a foreskin or pass on infection to another. Do we remove all parts of our body as a precaution? Do we have our little girl's breast tissue removed because they may develop cancer of the breast? Or even our son's for they too can develop a cancer in the breast.

      Infant genital mutilation, whether of boy or girl is mutilation. To remove any part of their body without their informed consent is an assault against the person and an infringement of their rights to decide for themselves what happens to their own bodies except in times of immediate and pressing medical need.

      To be able to make an informed decision we must first be aware of the issues and mature enough to rationalise for ourselves what they mean. To do otherwise is an infringement against the rights of the child and a removal of his or her own free will to determine his or her fate. It is a monstrous infliction upon a child of a mutilation scar in the name of a religion which that child may never practice or believe, for millions of us lose our religion, or change it. It is a parental, religious and cultural arrogance.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Rob

      "It is NOT mutilation. It is a hygene and religious practice. It is not like the mutilation of a woman in any way. Educate yourself."

      Yeah I've educated myself. Let me summarize what I've learned, if you believe in it then it's ok, if you don't believe in it then it's mutilation....Gotcha...

      July 17, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Heywood

      jeff b, that would be sarcasm. Same Nazis, different spots.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  18. palintwit

    Sarah and Bristol Palin... both of them experts on foreskins. Bristol is especially knowledgeable on black ones. What do they have to say about all of this ?

    July 17, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  19. ernest

    Red meat kills..ban it, Cars, bicycles, skateboards kill...ban them, stairs and swing doors injure and kill...ban them. Shaving, waxing and high heal shoes are torture ...ban them. Who decides what's good for us? We do. How about we decides for ourselves instead of being told what to do?

    July 17, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Just Claims, No Truth

      That is fine when deciding for yourself. That is not the case here. Would youe be for female circ.umcision too?

      July 17, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Let us all know when an infant is able to decide for himself that he doesn't want to be circu mcised.

      Miss the point, much?

      July 17, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • nihalsam, switzerland

      WE decide ??? You mean a seven-day-old baby boy is asked and he says "Yes !" to this mutilation ?

      July 17, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  20. cincywalsh

    How come no one has mentioned the practice of genital mutilation practiced on young women. Is it a religious practice that should be allowed? I think not.

    July 17, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • rwtconservative

      This practice should be against the law for women. This is not the same issue as for men.

      July 17, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Rob

      rwtconservative, typical hypocrisy of a conservative. Let me guess, you also believe in Jesus but don't believe in his socialist thinking?

      July 17, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
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