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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. Common Sense

    The only reason it is performed in the US isn't because of hygene like certain doctors of a certain ethnic group say it's so a certian ethnic group can hide in plain sight

    July 17, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      speculative argument for one who calls himself common sense... anything to back up yoour theory?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Hemyola

      Human rights should only include that which does not harm another. People have the right to their spiritual experiences of themselves only – not rights to hurt another.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  2. MYOB

    LMAO to those people that really think its about religion and not looks and cleanliness reasons.. HAHAHA..

    July 17, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • David Smiths

      You are just an idiot !

      July 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Hemyola

      It is NOT about cleanliness. Nature didn't create it the "wrong" way. The foreskin is there for a good purpose and can be kept clean. Should we cut off our noses because it is hard to keep them clean???

      July 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • MYOB

      It is for cleanliness, i am not saying it causes more disease, but it is definitly more dirty, more smelly and helmetless, lol.. I dont care if you agree, but dont tell other what to do.. it isnt your buisness, you can keep the turtleneck and watch the ladies laugh

      July 17, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • MYOB

      I read on what to expect website that about 20% of children end up needed this proceedure done at a later age due to complications such as the tearing of the skin. its very very painful when done at that age i imagine,

      July 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  3. Hemyola

    Should freedom of religion include a right to mutilate? Absolutely not! The rights of the baby to keep his full body must be defended. Thank you, Germany for daring to be the first. The myth of health benefits has been debunked plenty, enough of it and enough of violence justified in the name of "religious freedom." Human rights should only include that which does not harm another. People have the right to their spiritual experiences of themselves only – not rights to hurt another. Making holes in baby girls ears should be banned too, but it is by far not as permanent or traumatic and the author joking around it makes his writing even more primitive.
    Barbaric ceremonies must stop and if needed, through the courage of governments' banns. Congratulation to Germany.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • MYOB

      Its not mutilation, its a tiny snip that makes the unit look really good with a nice helmet.. Get over yourself.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • David Smiths

      >Barbaric ceremonies must stop !!

      Absolutely!! We are living in 21st century !

      July 17, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  4. stop the madness

    Circ*mcision is Mutilation! WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO FIGHT THE BAN? Letting parents mutilate their children because of their faith is WRONG. If they want to try to say that cutting off the f0re skin is beneficial to the victim's health then they are also implying that their god made an error when he gave males f0re skin!

    July 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • rh

      There is no God, but if you believe that tripe, why did we get an appendix and tonsils?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Hemyola

      HERE HERE!!!! Human rights should only include that which does not harm another. People have the right to their spiritual experiences of themselves only – not rights to hurt another.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  5. jgnewman

    This should not be a government issue.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Should it be a government issue when parents withhold necessary medical care from their children? Where is the line drawn exactly?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  6. usnatheist

    What better way for someone to acknowledge their faith in their god but by waiting until they are of an age of consent and understanding and letting the individual decide if it is right for him.

    Test of faith? Damn skippy it would be. It would make for more non-theists I believe.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • David Smiths

      > in their god

      There is no god on earth! Only tons of idiots living on earth!

      July 17, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  7. Babak from LA

    This is not a religious thing, it is about hygene. Yes we have soap and running water but can you wash up each time you use the facilities? The forskin beomes an ideal place for bacteria. It is dark, warm and damp ....

    July 17, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      The same goes for many other areas of the body...remove all of them as well? Poor argument.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • MYOB

      You have a large uneeded flap of skin over where you urinate waste? Fascinating, i say yes snip it all off if that is the case.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • IrishInNJ

      Dumbest argument ever.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  8. Greg

    A child should only have any rights their parents want them to until they turn 18 and have a job. Laws like this only make things worse for future generations.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Children have many other legal protection from their parents, so this is not outside of reasonable in that regard.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • David Smiths

      MYOB > This has nothing to do with religion, i dont know anyone that did this for that purpose. its just ugly dirty looking without the cut.

      This idiot was cut by other idiots!

      July 17, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Larry S. Klein

      What a load of bull. So, if parents want their children to have no rights at all I suppose that is fine with you?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      F'n tool. Shoot 'em when they are disobedient. THAT is the stupidest thing anyone has EVER said here.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      Lock 'em in the closet.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  9. GodlessPoutine

    Have you considered the babies who are about to have part of their penis irrevocably altered – sliced off – to satisfy the religious beliefs of their parents? This is not the religion of the baby – it's not his religion. Wait until he's an adult and then he can mutilate his body any way he wishes or not. Don't take this freedom away from him.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • MYOB

      This has nothing to do with religion, i dont know anyone that did this for that purpose. its just ugly dirty looking without the cut.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Babak from LA

      It is a hygene issue not religion. We make kids eat vegatables too, are we taking their freedom away and should wait till they are adults?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Boytjie

      @MYOB: what is so beautiful about a circ scar?

      July 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  10. Ryan

    Comparing the piercing of ears, which can close and return completely to normal, to surgically removing the skin from a baby boy's penis? Are you kidding me?! Your opinion is now completely invalid.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  11. David Smiths

    There are still tons of idiot people live on earth!

    July 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • David Smiths

      Dads got a cut before...so they are just idiots and want their kids got cut the same! Just idiots they are!

      July 17, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  12. K-switch

    We would never do that in the USA, not when hospitals make billions of dollars performing the procedure.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Its the only thing keeping our economy afloat! Gimme a break.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Babak from LA

      Yes we do!

      July 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  13. scoto

    Leave the darn children alone, both in terms of mutilating their genitals (or any other part of them ) and just as importantly damaging their minds with this religious nonsense. They can make up their own minds as adults later in life. Give us a a couple of generations free of this brain washing and watch religion disappear from this world

    July 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Haskeli

      So you are suggesting that we brainwash children with atheism?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  14. Mike C.

    Germany has every right to impose laws as they see fit for Germany. There is no inherant right of foreigners to migrate illegal practices of their homeland (religious or otherwise) to a sovereign nation. The state department even warns all citizens that all laws applicable in a sovereign nation must be observed when living and travelling to the host country. No one is forcing Muslims and Jews to live in a country that doesn't want to tolerate their outdated practices.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  15. opwernby

    OK: Let's unite to prevent Germany from disallowing people to mutilate the genitals of infants because their imaginary friend, an animal in the sky, might get upset if they don't slice off the ends of their children's penises. Wow – that makes sense, I must say. I also wonder when people like the author of this article will begin to emerge from the stone age and establish some type of connection to reality, tenuous though it will undoubtedly be.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Rob- Texas

      You are so smart, not.
      1. Its not mutilation, as the author said, its equal to ear piercing.
      2. Why not contiue to do it for health reasons.
      3. The is a purpose driven to be anti semetic.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      Fool. Ears grow back. The health *conditions* may not apply here. The "purpose" is not necessarily "antisemitic". The Jew may just be a particular. The article was from a Muslim. Idiot.

      July 17, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Ralf

      To "Rob-Texas":
      In answer to "1": ANY mutilation to a child should be banned. Where do you draw the line otherwise?
      In answer to "2:
      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.
      In answer to "3":
      Religious custom is no excuse at all. Any “custom” (religious or otherwise), that physically mutilates a child should be banned. When the child reaches adulthood, they should be able to make that choice for themselves.

      July 17, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  16. Mark

    I think people should have the right to choose things related to traditions, should pope not wear cross and should children not baptized?

    July 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Vladimir

      Wearing a cross or being baptized is not cutting part of your body before you're even in a state to make it your personal decision ... and it's for life my friend.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  17. Steve

    Straw man article.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  18. Bootyfunk

    circ.umcision is genital mutilation. we condemn the middle east and africa for female genital mutilation, but don't blink an eye at cutting off a piece of a male human baby. it's completely unnecessary and a disgusting religious practice. in a 100 years, people will look back with horror that this kind of mutilation went on so long in a 'civilized' society.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • IrishInNJ

      Well said.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  19. J. T. Sonberg

    "the concept of religious freedom should be something that people of all faiths (or no faith) should be able to agree upon wholesale." - tsk, tsk, such an American idea! Unheard of before 1776. More American imperialism?

    July 17, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  20. eltroyo

    Do we have the right to stone people to death in the town square because they violated some ancient goat herders religious laws.
    Keep your perverse, grubby paws off the boys genitals. If they adopt your nutty views they can choose to cut of part of the penis when they're 18.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • All ears

      Which Moses did when God told him to. So many people will be sorry that that did not listen to the word of God when it is too late.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:26 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.