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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. Donna

    When I was teaching middle school about five years ago, I had a student who had been beaten at home. She was so fearful of going back home, and I naively told her that Child Protective Services wouldn't force her to go home if they knew she would be physically abused. When I made the abuse report, the CPS worker explained to me that because the girl's family were Russian, she did not have the same protection from abuse as other children have. CPS was working with their church to change the method of discipline, but they had an agreement with the church that they would not intervene with the families in the meanwhile.

    The girl was shattered when we explained this to her. Abuse is abuse regardless of why it's done- and the same goes for physical mutilation. It's not okay just because we can point to a cultural cause.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • ME II

      "...the CPS worker explained to me that because the girl's family were Russian, she did not have the same protection from abuse as other children have."
      The would appear to violate numerous laws, what are you sources for this?

      July 17, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  2. WASP

    ok read a lot of these posts.
    1) no medical procedure should be carried out by anyone other than a trained medical professional. ie. jewish mitspha..........which i found is a disgusting ceremony in another articule.
    2) if a parent so chooses to have their child circ, then it is done in a hospital after birth. mine was done and i had my son circ as well. i'm atheists i just thought it would be easier during bathing for him, just as it is for me.
    3) by definition it is mutilation, however just like piercings the pain is only temperary; i don't even remember having it done or the pain as-soci-ated with it. now having it done as an adult, i have heard is truly painful and take longer to heal.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Kevin

      Can we please stop comparing this to piercing your ears? This does permanent damage to a boy's genitals and results in the most sensitive parts being cut away. Simply piercing ears does no such thing.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Mickey1313

      Wasp, you neglect that the fernium, the nerve mass at the base of the head is removed, which is over 75% of feeling, is removed. It is child abuse. And for the record pearcing is also child suisse

      July 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • WASP

      @kevin and mickey: i said "like piercings the pain is only temperary". i didn't say it was just like piercings, i said the pain is. mine was done (mind you by a medical professional) and i don't mind it. i don't have to lift a piece of skin to clean under it. and mine wasn't done for religious reasons, just hygenic i guess. never asked my folks why.

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

      Why don't you chop the whole thing off? Then it'll be even easier to clean.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Boytjie

      I would like to know why you think cleaning an intact penis would be so difficult?

      July 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  3. ME II

    There does seem to be some health benefits and few, if any, health issues (http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/circuREMOVEmcision.htm).

    Leaving the decision up to the parents seems like a reasonable approach, as long as it is done in a safe manner (A bris seems fine, but no blood-sucking rituals should be allowed, http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/07/07/circuREMOVEmcision-ritual-under-fire-in-new-york-due-to-risk-of-herpes-infection/)

    July 17, 2012 at 2:16 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 8:08 pm |
  4. John

    Religious debate aside, routinely cutting off a body part, especially when no consideration is given to what kind of emotional scarring this leaves (I've personally been trying to deal with mine for years now) based on it being "cleaner" is barbaric. Washing your penis is what keeps it clean. Armpits smell too when they are not washed, but I don't see anybody proposing we cut off babies arms so they don't grow up with smelly armpits.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Mary

      Well said. But Arsalan may propose that stupidity in his next "article."

      July 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • That guy

      you sir are a pathetic man and should of been aborted.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • ME II

      @John,
      "I've personally been trying to deal with mine for years now"
      You have emotional issues with circu.mcision? I'd be interested to know what kind of issues.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Tanker

      Do you spend a lot of time mourning the penis you could have had?

      July 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Mark

      I was put under the blade as a child and I can tell you there's no emotional scarring. I'd like to thank my parents for not being hippies about it so as to avoid complications brought on by foreskin constriction later in life.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Kevin

      The emotional issues I'm sure relate to coping with someone he trusted to care for him allowing an intimate part of his body, his manhood, to be cut without his consent. He also has to deal with the impact of this on his s e xual encounters. He feels violated in a very personal way that is easy to cope with once the extent of the damage is fully realized as an adult.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • That guy

      Kevin sadly you should of been aborted to.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Mark

      Next on Dr. Phil: Dealing with foreskin separation anxiety.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • John

      Well put, Kevin. Thank you. And yes, how is it that those who were supposed to protect me as in infant decided that the most sensitive part of my most personal body part should be irreversibly removed? I have a lot of intact friends, all of whom thank their parents for leaving their penises intact. I can see how guys who have been cut would not be able to understand the functionality and usefulness of a foreskin if they've never had one.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • skin stretches

      It takes a while but you can be restored, really.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • That guy

      John i'm not mad at you, i'm mad at your parent for having you.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • John

      I know – I've been restoring for a year. 2-3 years to partially recover what was cut off in 2-3 minutes.
      Crap deal if you ask me!

      July 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Mark

      Do you and your friends sit around talking about your pieces? Also, you don't "understand the functionality and usefulness of a foreskin" either (as you were heinously mutilated as a child) so stop lamenting over your lack of one.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • John

      Does it not seem more than coincidence that there is so much anger and rage coming from the posters above who have been cut themselves and who refuse to accept that this is an invasive act? I think you guys have a lot of healing to do. Much love to you all, brothers.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • ME II

      I guess everyone has different reactions, although, I do have difficulty understanding the impact of something that can't be remembered, unless this was done later in life, I guess.

      July 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  5. Mike

    Time to put the religious child abuser where they belong, in jail.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  6. bob searcy

    jews and muslims ought to unite and get out of germany. never mind, they will eventually..

    July 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  7. Tanker

    Its nice to see that since we have solved all the world's big problems we can spend time on the little problems.

    Really?

    July 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • mc

      Your problem may be small, but mine is at least 12 inches!

      July 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  8. Jo

    Arsalan, you are a repugnant person. Hopefully you develop gangrene and lose a body part, like you are wishing on innocent children.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  9. That guy

    WOW you people on these post are always so ridiculous, lol worry about your own issues idiots. If it was not for the internet I would of never realize how many stupid people really exist.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  10. Labs

    I agree with mutilation of genitals for cosmetic purposes. But I wish they'd begin cutting back that roast beef curtain that girls have. It's gross and gets caked in cheese. Thanks in advance.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • That guy

      I agree, damn meat curtains !

      July 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  11. azael

    People got on this band wagon because they equate this a long the lines of female mutilation. Which it really is not(if we're talking castration removal of the scrotum or testicles then I can see a proper argument but where not). For males there is a clear and defined medical benefit for having it done. And by proxy a benefit for female health as well. So I really don't see the fuse other then religion haters.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • xmxm

      LOL! Can you please point to a study that confirms your claims?

      July 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • lisada

      actually those have been proven not true. Through proper hygiene males will not get infections and the whole HIV protection has been proven not to be true. Its a cosmetic procedure and this is why you have to pay for it. Even pediatricians are advising against it now adays and calling it a useless procedures. Even a lot of Rabbis are speaking up against it.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • ME II

      Don't know if it's correct but: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/circuREMOVEmcision.htm.

      "Lack of male circu[.]mcision has also been as[.]sociated with se[.]xually transmitted genital ulcer disease and chlamydia, infant urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and cervical cancer in female partners of uncircu[.]mcised men [1]. "

      July 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Ralf

      "...For males there is a clear and defined medical benefit for having it done..."

      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 8:09 pm |
  12. Mickey1313

    Circu msision is child abuse. There needs to be a ban on this barbaric practice. In addition to mutilating a child you force them into a cult. Religious indoctrination if a minor should also be illegal.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Hammer Head

      I'm so grateful my parents circ.ed me as a baby...the one kid (ONE!) on my football team in High School who wasn't was ridiculed everyday in the locker room....

      July 17, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  13. J

    I support religious freedom, but it crosses the line of human rights when it involves an irreversible surgical procedure on a minor who is not old enough to voice his own desires for his own body. This is not a step backwards for religious freedom, it's a step forward for the rights of newborns to be allowed to have a fully intact body until he grows up and can make that decision on is own.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  14. B

    Why did they pick this body part? Oh, God must have told them. This is so sick.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Al

      This baby had it's ear lobes removed for God.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Bob

      Religious elders needed an excuse to touch...

      July 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  15. Your Panties in Texas

    My penis has been mutilated. And, I hate it.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  16. jimmer

    Hey while were at it, let's ensure that muslims retain the right to perform cli tor al mutilation, honor killings and child marriages.

    I mean, these are all religious rights aren't they. We surely would not want to impede on their religious freedom to r ape torture and mutilate their young.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Andy

      Good post. I suspect that most right-minded people would agree with you. Unfortunately religion trumps everything.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Bob

      No, no, you dont get , if youre christian or jewish, you go ahead and do what you please – we only object to the rituals of the *evil* religions (....and, for all you dimwits out there, this is sarchasm).

      July 17, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  17. achepotler

    Time tp start rounding up religious child abusers.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  18. cedar rapids

    well all they need to do is make a law that says only licenced doctors, who are able to practice with local hospitals, are allowed to perform the procedure.
    Apparently the GOP like those kind of laws to erm, 'protect the patient'

    July 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  19. mhill1234

    So the govt should make this decision?
    No thanks, that's what we have parents for.
    Up to the parents, too bad, so sad.

    July 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Kevin

      If we prevent parents from mutilating their female child's genitals, why don't we do the same for male children?

      July 17, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • jimmer

      I agree. It really infuriates me when the big bad government insists that I not put out my cigarettes on my kids forehead.

      I say no thanks, that's what we have parents for. If I want to snuff out a cig on Johnny's forehead, it's my business.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Mickey1313

      Wrong, it is not a parents right to abuse and mutalate there kids. I've been mutilated, and I will never forgive my parents.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  20. Fiona

    So the mutilation (usually done without numbing) of a helpless infant is fine as long as YOUR religious or cultural traditions ("freedoms") are honored? Do you understand anything about personal choice? How selfish and abusive can you be? To h ell with you, Arsalan, and all those who share your arrogant worldview!

    July 17, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • mat

      You just should say "I hate jews".

      July 17, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Tom's Sun

      Right on Fiona !!!

      Selfish little scared men.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Vesstair

      Arguably far more harm is caused to children through the guilt and anguish of labeling natural behaviors as 'sinful' and 'evil' than by a sterile procedure someone will never remember performed before they have the mental capacity of a dog.

      It may not be right, but the very nature of freedom requires that you not dictate how others may live their lives and worship.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Kevin

      A little boy may not remember, but he will never forget that his genitals have a permanent scar and do not work as nature intended.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • bill

      but its ok to have an abortion? embryos have no say so either.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:21 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.