There has been a lot of debate recently as Iceland has caused a stir, considering a bill to ban male circumcision and providing penalties similar to those doled out for female genital mutilation. The bill was initially triumphed by Iceland’s centre-right party MP Silja Gunnarsdottir who likened male circumcision to female genital mutilation. Essentially they are proposing to modify current FGM law to include male circumcision with no distinction between the two practices.
I was listening to a debate on Radio 4’s moral maze regarding this topic, which was joined by the head of the national secular society Keith Wood. The feeling was so deep in his comments that they felt distorted and unreal. Not only was male circumcision equated to FGM, which is often hugely disfiguring and will vastly decrease sexual pleasure amongst it’s victims, but also against the Hindu practice of sati, which is where a widow will burn herself to death.
So is there an argument here?
Pro criminalisation of male circumcision campaigners argue from a number of standpoints;
- It is the right of the child to determine what happens to their body – I agree to a certain extent here but I would have to point out that it is not an offence to have a baby’s ears pierced. Though this is slightly less invasive it also carries with it a small number of risks.
- We ban religious practices in this country where they are seen to infringe upon human rights. (This is where the comparison to sati came in on the moral maze). – To be honest I don’t even feel I need to argue with this one – I’m not sure this constitutes an infringement of human rights, and if it does then human rights have become so far reaching since their first basic inception that I wonder what will be included under the umbrella term in the next 50 years.
- We have banned FGM, male circumcision is essentially the same. – I have to scoff at this one. Female Genital mutilation is an extreme procedure which completely removes the clitoris thus vastly decreasing female sexual pleasure at it’s best, and at it’s worse can involve pure mutilation and sewing up of the vagina. To equate male circumcision to this is to decrease the horror that FGM is. There is no evidence that men who have been circumcised have decreased sexual pleasure.
- As an unnecessary procedure the risks do not outweigh the benefits. – A soft argument I feel when talking about taking away an ancient religious practice that is likely to alienate a religious minority within a country. Especially given that the risks are essentially very small and some studies have shown that there are significant benefits (though these are widely debated.) NICE (national Institute for Clinical Excellence, a body designed to evaluate evidence for treatments and procedures in the UK,) states that the risk is small and as such the decision should be left up to parents.
So can a ban be justified?
Given the regard with which male circumcision is held within both Jewish and Islamic communities, the little harm and risk that is associated and the fact that a third of the male population of the world is estimated to be circumcised (and they still wish to circumcise their own children) do I think that banning this religious practice would benefit society or harm it?
I think that given recent allegations of institutional antisemitism within the labour party in the UK, and islamophobia rife amongst much of the west, this is a foolhardy exercise. It just goes to strengthen the belief held in these communities that as a minority they are demonised. And they may well be right to think so.