Saturday, 16 June 2012

Christians and Muslims join forces to fight circumcision ban

Religious lobbyists are joining forces in to oppose calls to ban Unnecessary Male Circumcision made by the Norwegian Center Party, the junior member of the country's coalition government.

According to a report in Norway's largest newspaper The Evening Post (Aftenposten), religious opponents cite five key arguments for allowing the procedure to continue whilst maintaining the ban the on unnecessary female circumcision (also known as Female Genital Mutilation). They are: 

1. Unnecessary Male Circumcision has health benefits
2. It is a minor operation in no way comparable to FGM 
3. Banning the procedure is prejudicial and intolerant
4. A ban is totalitarian and would suppress religious freedom
5. It is a parents' "human right" to choose to circumcise their sons

The arguments are made by by Espen Ottosen, Information Director of Misjonssambandet (Federation of Christian Missionaries), and a Muslim Norwegian pysician Mohammad Usman Rana in a newspaper article entitled "Circumcision: Those who will forbid circumcision of young boys in reality invite a totalitarian guardian-state.”

Here we present and counter the five arguments for Unnecessary Male Circumcision in Norway: 

1. Unnecessary Male Circumcision has health benefits

They Say: "To circumcize boys is a minor operation. Internationally there is a plethora of medical studies which report few complications. We know that the procedure actually provides health benefits.  Urinary tract infections for example are far less common among circumcized boys.  The risk of HIV contamination is also reduced."

We Say: All the reported health benefits have either been disproven, contradicted or considered too insignificant to justify the agreed risks and complications which include bleeding, infections, meatus stenosis (narrowing of the urethra) and panic attacks. There isn't a single medical association in the world that supports the procedure. 

The British Medical Association, for example, stated in 2003 that “the medical benefits previously claimed have not been convincingly proven” and “that the evidence concerning health benefits from non-therapeutic circumcision is insufficient for this alone to be a justification for doing it".

2. It is a minor operation in no way comparable to FGM 

They Say: "The Center Party would forbid circumcision of young boys, calling the operation a violation, paralleling it with the circumcision of girls.  The latter is entirely unreasonable."

We Say: Ritual Male Circumcision is different and in many cases worse than some Female Circumcision practices - such as nicking the clitoral hood - that are outlawed in the Norway and other countries. Unnecessary Male Circumcision is a painful procedure that can and does cause death, disability, discomfort and disease (see our posts of on circumcision deaths and circumcision complications)

There is growing concern amongst campaigners that the unequal legal protection from unnecessary genital surgery given to girls and boys could jeopardize the international drive to protect women and girls who are at risk from Female Genital Mutilation in all its forms, some of which are more severe than Unnecessary Male Circumcision. Treating girls and boys differently in this mater is entirely unreasonable. 

3. Banning the procedure is prejudicial and intolerant

They Say: "[As] many men wish to see their sons becomes entirely unresonable - indeed completely prejudicial - to talk of this as being some sort of physical violation or destruction of limb."
"Much must be at stake before a state intervenes in the life of a family.  Our position is trust in the parents’ wish to do the best for their children. It may well be frustrating to see your child take on entirely different values than those we embrace ourselves, but the alternative is a totalitarian state in which the State determines what we are allowed to believe and think and do." 
We Say: "Female Circumcision in all its forms - even those forms that are less invasive and less dangerous than the average Unnecessary Male Circumcision - is illegal in Norway. It is is hypocritical, inconsistent and sexist to protect the genital integrity of girls and not boys - particularly in a country that takes great pride in being seen as a "haven for gender equality". 

4. A ban is totalitarian and would suppress religious freedom

They Say: "With a possible ban Norway would be the first country in the world which did not tolerate common Jewish or Muslim practice. The message to the believing Muslims and Jews would be that they are not welcome in Norway because they are mean to children.  It is not possible to talk of cultural plurality and tolerance and at the same time use force to stop people from living in accordance with their beliefs."

We Say: If this is the case then why are the authors not campaigning for a lifting of the ban on Female Genital Mutilation in Norway? Why is it okay to be intolerant to the Somalian women who want to perform rituals on their daughters' genitals but not okay to be intolerant to the 

This argument only holds any water if you make the false claim that Female Circumcision is always worse than Male Circumcision. It isn't. Unnecessary Male Circumcision is a painful procedure that can and does cause death, disability, discomfort and disease. It is different and in many cases worse than some Female Circumcision practices.

5. It is a parents' "human right" to choose to circumcise their sons

They Say: "This is about the freedom of religion - and about parents’ rights to make choices on behalf of their children.  The latter is a basic human right. It is an illusion that we can bring up our children so that they freely can choose what to believe or think when they grow up."

We Say: What about a child's human right to choose? Unnecessary Male Circumcision breaches the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child. His Body His Right!

We are grateful to John Geisheker, Director of Doctors Opposing Circumcision, for making us aware of this debate in Norway and providing us with a translation of the original article. 


  1. We give ourselves an uphill task by focusing too closely on the parallels between FGC and MGC - even though they are close.

    Their #2 is irrelevant. ALL non-consented non-therapeutic genital cutting is a human rights violation. All surgery has risks, but we guage them carefully against the proved benefits.

    #3. We already intervene to protect children from all kinds of abuse - and so we should. We protect animals from comparable cruelty to male circumcision, such as ear-lopping (and circumcision). Age-restricting circumcision is not just about sons looking like fathers, but those same sons growing up to be men looking like what THEY want to look like.

    #4 We don't allow any other religions to cut any other part off children, or to diminish children in any way. This does not restrict religious beliefe only religious practice, which is already restricted in many comparable ways.

    #5 This is not like any other "choice that parents make on behalf of their children" because it is 1) irrevocable 2) lifelong 3) not a forced decision at all, between competing alternatives - the alternative to circumcising is leaving a baby's body alone. It is certainly not an illusion that we can bring up our children so that they freely choose what to believe or think when they grow up. We may fall short of that ideal, but it is certainly something to strive for.

  2. Hi Hugh

    Thank for the additional points - really useful

    This is a key point for me:

    "We give ourselves an uphill task by focusing too closely on the parallels between FGC and MGC"

    In my experience trying to avoid the comparison causes the struggle

    If there's a hill climb on this issue then we can only get to the top by dealing with the comparison


    a) Because the majority of campaigners FOR male circumcision make binary comparisons (male circumcision good/female circumcision bad) - because they know public opinion generally is against female circumcision and they don't want their 'good' practice to be linked in people's minds with a 'bad' practice

    b) Because the majority of anti-genital-mutilation campaigners make binary comparisons too (female circumcision intolerable/male circumcision tolerable) - because they know people are way more tolerant of violence against men and boys and that women and girls make better victims than men and boys and they don't want the public perception that all female circumcision is 'intolerable' diluted with comparisons to 'male circumcision' which most people still find 'tolerable'

    So what we have is an unwitting collusion between pro-male-circumcision campaigners and anti-female-circumcision campaigners who between them are communicating to the world the message that:

    Female circumcision is 'intolerable' and 'bad'
    While Male circumcision is 'tolerable' even 'good'

    If we want to get to the top of the hill Hugh we need the majority of people who can make a difference to change the old ways of thinking and be open to new ideas and agree with us that Male Circumcision is comparable to Female Circumcision in one simple way:

    They are are both intolerable

    How do we get there? We work to influence and change the views of everyone who can make a difference including the pro-male-circ lobby AND the anti-fgm lobby - who unwittingly collude to spread the belief that one is intolerable and the other isn't

    Thanks for your comments



  3. Excellent blog post. V interesting debate on a little discussed topic.

    Another dimension is cultural. Female circumcision, as far as I'm aware, is rooted in fear/disgust of female sexuality whereas male circumcision is a rite of passage and part of a 'fine tradition' dating back to Abraham.

    So the cultural argument here trumps the medical/sexual one.

    Bottom line removing the foreskin reduces sensitivity and diminishes male sexuality. Removing that unique part of the anatomy should be a personal not religious decision.

    1. Is "intention" what defines abuse? Because for better or for worse, just like parents who circumcise their boys, parents who circumcise their daughters have the best of intentions.

      This post speaks to the general ignorance of this issue.

      Upon closer inspection, one would find, if they bothered, that both male and female circumcision have the same exact roots.

      Male circumcision in the West is too, rooted in fear/disgust of male sexuality. If one bothered to look at the history of how circumcision came to be widespread in the West, one would find that it was spread by the Victorians who wanted to eliminate masturbation.

      Americans are unwittingly reminded every morning of one of the men that helped spread circumcision as a solution to masturbation, John Harvey Kellogg, as his name is a household brand name that lives on in our breakfast cereals.

      Even if you look at the "fine tradition" of male infant circumcision, Rabbi Maimonides explains that the true reason for circumcision is to keep the male organ in as quiet state as possible, so that he can focus on the things of god, etc.

      "So the cultural argument here trumps the medical/sexual one."

      IF we accept, for the sake of argument, that the cultural/medical/sexual contexts are what you believe, and what many others believe they are.

      I'm afraid the West suffers a bit of intentional cultural amnesia when it comes to this subject.

      If one inspects closely, one will realize that what is true for male circumcision is true of female circumcision also.

      The arguments of "sexual control" exist for both. Both are also considered a "rite of passage" in the cultures in which they are practiced. Both are carried out on willing and unwilling adults, and on unwitting children. Practitioners of both claim there to be "medical benefits" and are quick to produce the "plethora of research" to back them up.

      Both can be performed in the raw environment of the bush, or in the pristine conditions of the hospital. Both can be performed "with as little complication as possible," and both can result, if conducted "by the wrong people," in catastrophe.

      Our cultural blinders will only allow to see the "bad" in female circumcision, however, and excuse male circumcision for the perceived (or outright contrived) "good."

      I have always asked, and will continue to ask, is there a number of "benefits" that would ever change our minds on female circumcision?

      People keep talking about the "mountain of research" that is supposed to excuse male circumcision. How many mountains of research would it take for the WHO to "recommend" female circumcision?

      Would there ever be enough "research" for medical organizations in the world to at least adopt a "neutral stance?"

      Something tells me that no matter how hard we tried, no matter how much "research" there was, no matter how "quick and painless" the procedure were made, the answer would always be a resounding "no."

      Genital mutilation, whether it be wrapped in culture, religion or "research" is still genital mutilation.

      It is mistaken, the belief that the right amount of "science" can be used to legitimize the deliberate violation of basic human rights.

    2. I think we broadly agree on this subject, though I can't agree that female circumcision is an acceptable rite of passage in the same way that the male variant is.

      I think both are abhorent but I've been aware of campaigns against female genital mutilation since the 80s. I've never come across a similar campaign about male genital mutilation.

      Don't understand why liberals have to take such a contrary point-of-view, even against people who agree with them. Small wonder so many conservative and reactionary governments get elected.

    3. That is because you believe that the "male variant is acceptable," and you've been conditioned to think that way.

      Step back and really look at both types of genital mutilation, analyze the "reasons" too. The people where female circumcision is performed don't see the "big deal" people in the west make it out to be.

      Often, people who wish to belittle intactivists say that the circumcised men complaining are only doing so because others told them that they should feel victimized and mutilated. The same can be argued about female circumcision.

      Why do you believe female circumcision is not an "acceptable rite of passage in the same way that the male variant is?"

      Do you know how many types of female circumcision there are? How many types of male circumcision? Which are the most common? Etc.? Look more closely, and you'll realize that male and female circumcision are about the same; some are more "severe" than others.

      If you compare circumcising a baby in a hospital to mutilating a woman in the African bush, you're going to get a contrast that works conveniently to belittle the baby.

      But are you aware that baby girls are circumcised in hospitals by trained professionals in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and other South East Asian countries?

      Were you aware that, as in African women, African men too are circumcised in raw conditions? With dirty utensils? Were you aware that every year, scores of men in African die at "initiation schools," and yet more lose their penises to gangrene?

      People have a convenient way to block out what is inconvenient and only see what is convenient to their case.

      I don't understand why anyone against you has to be a "liberal," and why this has to be turned into an "us and them" political conversation.

      Instead of balking at me, please do consider my ideas.

      The intactivist movement is getting to be huge, and there are already differences in approaches and ways of thinking. This is just mine.

      People want to place an intentional wedge between male and female circumcision in their minds, and I believe this is arbitrary and artificial. If people were to step back, they'd find out that they're both one and the same, and that the divide they have in their minds is nothing more than special pleading; an attempt to separate themselves from barbarism. We're no better than people in Africa, and people don't like that idea.

  4. It's ridiculous the way religious zealots manage to get away with grasping at strings and straws.

    My take on it:

    1. These are RELIGIOUS lobbyists. Their grounds are already in jeopardy, as they're trying to argue both that it is their "religious right," AND that circumcision has "benefits." They seem to imply that, would that circumcision were proven to have "no benefit," than they'd stop. Would they? As religious zealots, they're not interested in medicine or science, they're interested in magic ritual.

    But let's consider female circumcision; the other implication for this grope for "health benefits" is that, would that female circumcision were proven "beneficial," then they'd change their minds about whether it's "mutilation" or not. Would they? There *is* actually data that suggests female circumcision might have a "protective effect" against disease. Somehow, I'm not sure these people are interested.

    "Plethora of evidence?" More like a "plethora" of bullshit. Everybody knows the "studies" we're all written by self-serving circumcision advocates who have a stake in circumcision one way or the other.

    What's more, why do people pretend like something is justified if you can write some paper that says it has "benefits?"

    Would there ever be a "plethora" big enough to legitimize female circumcision? What if it can be "proven" that it has "benefits?" Would we honestly change our minds?

    There are somethings that are so wrong it doesn't matter how much "science" and "research" you throw at it.

    Interesting they try to appeal to the masses and authority, as if they were actually in their favor; The trend of opinion on routine male circumcision is overwhelmingly negative in industrialized nations. No respected medical board in the world recommends circumcision for infants, not even in the name of HIV prevention. They must all point to the risks, and they must all state that there is no convincing evidence that the benefits outweigh these risks. To do otherwise would be to take an unfounded position against the best medical authorities of the West.

    2. The makers of this statement hope their listeners would take it at face value; "minor?" "No way comparable?" What is their basis for comparison?

    Two years ago the AAP tried to endorse a "ritual nick," and admitted that it would dwarf in comparison to male infant circumcision. What are they comparing?

    If one were to sit down and actually compare, no, it is not entirely "unreasonable." Again, they hope they're counting on their listeners being isolated from the internet.

    What's unreasonable is comparing the lesser of two evils for your own benefit.

    Sunat, as practiced in South East Asia, is described by the natives as more severe in boys than it is in girls.

    3. It's interesting how they both defend male infant circumcision on "religious grounds" but condemn female circumcision in any way, shape or form, but then argue that it's those against infant male circumcision who are being "prejudicial and intolerant."

    Forget the women who wish to see their daughters circumcised. But of course, it is not unreasonable or "indeed completely prejudicial" to talk of this as being some sort of physical violation or the destruction of some limb.

    Trust the parent's wish, except when it's female circumcision, right? Banning female circumcision isn't at all like forcing "different values" than the ones others embrace upon their children, is it? Not entirely totalitarian to completely ban female circumcision, or forcing others what they will think an do.

    The self-serving double-speak is infuriating.

  5. 4. This is mere repetition. Again, arguing "totalitarian suppression of religious freedom" for one practice, but not the other. In short, special pleading.

    Banning female circumcision isn't sending the message that people who circumcise their daughters aren't welcome in Norway, and that they hate their children and are mean to them, but banning male circumcision, is.

    Arguing "cultural plurality" and "tolerance" only for one group of believers but not others is convenient and self-serving.

    5. An interesting mantra that people keep repeating, but again, special pleading.

    A "human right" for parents to choose to circumcise their sons, but not their daughters? Why?

    Why, banning female circumcision, and calling it "mutilation" is not "religious oppression" and shoving values down people's throats at all!

    This posts hits it on the nail; what about the rights of the child?

    Why "rights of the children" in the instance of girls, but "rights for parents" in the instance of boys?

    Self-serving double-speak.

    And the sad thing?

    Like every other time people try to highlight this injustice, the governments are going to play it safe and kowtow to those arguing "religious oppression."

    This battle is not going to be won until church, synagogue, mosque and state are actually separate, and people decide they're not going to look the other way and offer special privileges to practitioners of any one religion.

    May one day the words "equal rights" actually stand for themselves.

  6. Hi, Glen! Meet me there:

    A free book and 43 articles against sexual mutilation

  7. Are you, like me, a fan of Carly Bryant?
    Go and see her galery of images:

    she adopted my fight and I'm so proud of it. See the two articles I wrote about her.

  8. I write more extensively about this here:

  9. Thanks for all your posts, knowledge and information Joseph

    Michel-Herve I hadn't heard of Carly and now I have and will look our for her next performing in Brighton - thanks for telling me about that and well done!


  10. Let us hope that the good people of Norway support their elected goverment, and baby boys there can grow up intact.

  11. You are quite simply an anti-semite, However you dress your concerns up. Your well meaning intentions are as equally prohibitive and repressive as the religious people you slate.
    To a Jew it is not an "Unnecessary Circumcision" but a completely required one for the continuation of the faith and identity. The only possible argument I have heard for the cessation of the practice that holds water is to have a blessing that supercedes the act similar to the ones that have replaced animal sacrifices since the destruction of the temple.
    Now excuse my ignorance but i do not know of any religious texts that prescribe or advocate female circumcision to my limited knowledge this is merely a cultural question based on peoples concepts of modesty and proprietary behaviour hence it is quite acceptable to be dualistic on this question
    For your information the removal of the foreskin does not diminish sexuality but rather enhances it in terms of lasting and pleasuring ones partner more therefore.
    To close I recognize you right to dislike and try to convince against these practices the same as I do the Pro-life proponents however i do not beleive that you or they have the right to dictate choices.

  12. Little paul B is either very young and has not experienced the loss of sensitivity which comes with advancing age, or lost it early in life and does not know what he is missing. Have you not learned that some 800 years ago Moses Maimonides admitted that circumcision did in fact reduce sexual pleasure, he may even have lost all sexual feelings himself. It is a common feature that many Jews adopt when they call anyone who defends the right of all baby boys to remain intact, Anti-Semitic. But most people couldn't care less that you spend time by the Wailing Wall, or recite ancient texts in the hope of eternal life. But they do care that child cruelty happens to defenceless boys at the hands of mohelim. All of the 'excuses' the author quotes above are exactly that, excuses to continue your Neolithic genital mutilation habit, a habit which should have been left in the Stone Age.

  13. I am a circumcised 42 year old man and I feel robbed. It has made me angry at my parents for doing this to me. I can't understand how anyone could think it's OK to lop off a part of a child's body without their consent. It is a basic human rights issue. If a parent wanted a doctor to lop off their son's pinky finger when he was born this would be considered barbaric. I'd gladly lose a pinky finger to get my foreskin back.