Should male circumcision be banned? A socialist view

This article appears in the current issue of Solidarity and is a response to this article by Camilla Bassi.

Camilla Bassi’s “basic socialist demands” regarding male circumcision have no foundation in Marxist tradition, give legitimacy to racist and anti-Semitic arguments, and are wrong.

Bassi admits to learning only recently about the calls for a ban on male circumcision from an article by Frank Furedi. Furedi refers to a debate in the Nordic countries and Solidarity chose to headline the article with a reference to the “Scandinavian debate”.

This softens the blow, because Scandinavians, after all, are modern, progressive people. Though there’s been a rise in the far Right in some Nordic countries, it’s not like the “ban circumcision” stuff started in Germany. I mean, that would have more than a whiff of anti-Semitism.

But the debate did start in Germany. Not in Scandinavia.

In June 2012 a German court banned male circumcision, and though the court decision was eventually overturned, it made headlines at the time.

Not only did Jewish and Muslim leaders across Europe condemn that ban, but they were joined (according to a piece in the Guardian) by women’s leaders. They opposed the linking of male circumcision to female genital mutilation, which is already banned in some European countries.

The campaigns across Europe for a ban on circumcision are closely linked to calls for a ban on Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter, which are seen by some as being cruel to animals.

These campaigns, like the calls for a ban on the building of minarets, are rightly seen by Jews and Muslims as racist attacks on their communities.

The one positive thing about these attacks is that in some places, including the UK, they have led to rare displays of unity between Jews and Muslims. (Just Google the phrase “Jews and Muslims unite”.)

Bassi writes that the correct socialist position would place the Left in opposition to those communities.

She calls for “the right of children to bodily integrity; the right of children to the sexual autonomy of their adult life; non-therapeutic, ritual circumcision only be carried out when the person to be circumcised is mature, informed, and able to consent to the procedure.”

Almost as an afterthought, she adds opposition to racism, support for socialism, whatever.

Using the same reasoning, why not also support the ban on kosher and halal slaughter? After all, socialists like all right-thinking people oppose cruelty to animals, right?

And while we’re busy banning these things, why not close down all faith schools, because after all, they’re not teaching children what we’d like them to be taught, and they’re forcing children to accept their parents’ religion? Shouldn’t that decision be reserved for adults who are “mature, informed and able to consent”?

These views – banning male circumcision, banning ritual slaughter of animals, closing down faith schools and so on – have nothing to do with socialist views.

Socialists have always defined religion as a private matter. Socialists defend the freedom of religion, and of course the right of people to have no religion.

But that’s all on the level of theory.

In practice, the European far Right is on the upswing, and Jewish and Muslim communities feel threatened with a new wave of anti-Semitism and racism. Is this really a good time to take a stand against the Jewish and Muslim communities of Europe?

The task of socialists in a debate like this one is clear: defend religious and ethnic minorities from racist attack, and fight anti-Semitism and Islamophobia across Europe.

9 Comments on "Should male circumcision be banned? A socialist view"

  1. Vincent | 12/03/2014 at 21:01 |

    The only thing banning circumcision of minors does is let them make the decision if they want. There is NOTHING wrong with that, no racism, no antisemitism. In fact it would be antisemitic to say Jewish MEN don’t get that right. Banning circumcision would also go a long way towards equality of the sexes as well.

    Circumcision has done me no favors! I have had bleeding abrasions from intercourse that a foreskin would have prevented. These abrasions have made me leery of having sex with my wife. Without the mechanical lubrication provided by a foreskin, I have to use artificial lubricant or sex would be painful for my wife and I. My parent’s chose this painful and unsatisfactory sex life for me and my wife and I simply cannot fathom why. I would never have chosen to have my foreskin removed. Only 1/16,667 intact males will have a problem with their foreskin, 99% of which can be treated with medicine not surgery. 117 babies die from circumcision a year in the US that is 9/100,000 babies that die each year from a cosmetic surgery. Men have lost their penis, glans, and suffered from deformity caused by the operation. It isn’t right that these children pay the price for a decision their parents made, a decision that should be left up to the owner of the penis. Even those who survive still have problems like mine, though they are seldom discussed.

    How to properly care for a natural Penis.

    They didn’t tell you the functions of the foreskin, but they did lie to you and said it had health benefits. Did they also tell you it pays for their house, their cars, and their children’s college? FYI It is illegal to sell an organ taken from a patient but they still do it.

    Foreskin for sale: $155/500µg = $310,000/g = $8,788,345/oz.

    My numbers and claims are supported by these studies: 
    Dutch Medical society and their stance on RIC

    Meta-analysis of circumcision research

    This document outlines the deaths caused by circumcision in the US.

    All the myths about circumcision and how they are dispelled.

    Boy wants to be a girl after botched circumcision

    Cost benefit analysis of circumcision.

    US Navy Study that shows circumcision has no effect on HIV or STI infection rates.

    Doctors around the world critique AAP’s circumcision opinion.

    All the statements made by medical organizations about circumcision, and they are cited.

    Men complaining about being circumcised against their will.

    Three Videos of Circumcisions they are very graphic.

  2. It’s absurd to compare FGM with male circumcision. The two are as different in effect as anything imaginable.

    Any moves toward a ban on male circumcision will only provide fuel for genuine Islamaphobes, and more grievance mongering for Islamists. There’s more than enough of that going around as it is.

  3. This isn’t a Jewish or a Muslim issue. This is an issue of protection against bodily harm. I don’t see why the right for boys and ultimately men to keep their penises intact should be infringed upon because of their parents’ religion. Some religions call for women to be stoned to death if caught being promiscuous, but there are laws in place in most societies to prevent the stoning from happening because of the woman’s right to protection from harm. The ethics of circumcision are framed in the same window. Period, end of story.

  4. Also, there is nothing anti-semitic about her calling for “the right of children to bodily integrity; the right of children to the sexual autonomy of their adult life; non-therapeutic, ritual circumcision only be carried out when the person to be circumcised is mature, informed, and able to consent to the procedure.”

    Absolutely nothing.

  5. You’re missing a very important distinction. You can’t realistically compare animal slaughter and teaching religion in school to REMOVING part of somebody’s sexual organ without his or her consent. Freedom of religion should stop at the point where it is physically and permanently harming the bodily integrity of the individual.

    As you note, there are already laws on the books banning FGM. If a particular religion indicated that all females should have their clitoral hood pricked, would you defend this? Current laws allow no harm whatsoever to females, whether or not the procedure causes actual lasting harm.

    If I am brought up to believe in a particular religion, I can change that. If I am circumcised, that’s not so easy to change. If circumcision is so important to the religion, have the individual consent to it when they are of legal age. Both sexes deserve the right to bodily integrity. Parents and religious leaders should be protecting that, not being so selfish as seeing such a ban as an attack on their religion.

  6. When you compare apples with apples, tribal with tribal, surgical with surgical, male and female genital cutting are very comparable. Scores of boys die or lose their penises from tribal circumcision every year in one province of South Africa alone. Read this loving Malaysian mother’s account of her baby’s surgical circumcision: What sex is it?

  7. mona berman | 13/03/2014 at 20:34 |

    I have never heard such utter rot! Is Camilla really serious about this being a Socialist view? What literature does she read? By putting the word Socialist in front of a racist and anti-Semitic statement does she, and those who agree with her, think they can say whatever they want? They should put their energies in banning violence against women and children!

  8. Bilfus | 13/03/2014 at 22:36 |

    “The campaigns across Europe for a ban on circumcision are closely linked to calls for a ban on Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter, which are seen by some as being cruel to animals.” Please provide some evidence of this. That is quite a sweeping statement to make without anything backing it up.

    Efforts to stop ritual and/or routine genital cutting on boys have been around for decades, and while I can’t speak to or vouch for the motivations of everyone against this practice, virtually all the people I know who are against it are against it based on basic human rights and basic human dignity. These are in fact socialist causes.

  9. Here’s my response piece: “Ritual circumcision of male minors, and the political befuddlement of Eric Lee”

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