Updated: Jan 9, 2020
Legalised, Needless Mutilation of Boys #circumcision
By Austin Jordan.
When circumcision is performed without clear medical necessity, it is mutilation - categorically. It's a glaring human rights violation, an act of grievous bodily harm which escapes punishment under law.
Removing the foreskin of the penis is, medically speaking, almost always an entirely unnecessary procedure. A procedure that objectively damages the boy in multiple, lasting ways. It results in significant loss of sensation, scarring and permanent loss of a multitude of important different functions. Further to this, there are risks of lasting, sometimes devastating psychological trauma. All of this, of course, is in addition to the inherent risks of operating on such a delicate piece of anatomy.
Why is it performed?
Proponents of male genital mutilation (MGM) cite religious requirement or supposed health and cleanliness benefits to removing the foreskin. The US is the only nation to routinely practice infant circumcision for non-religious reasons, with up to 75% of American males having had the cut.
Supposed advantages to removing the foreskin, regarding cleanliness and sexual health can be remedied by basic hygiene and practising safe sex. European men actually have lower rates of STIs and penile cancer than that of their American counterparts, yet European men are not generally circumcised, with some European nations recording circumcision rates as little as 1%. This alone should be enough to raise an eyebrow at outlandish claims from the pro-lobby; such as a 60% lower risk of HIV infection in circumcised males, compared to their intact counterparts. This 60% figure comes from research in the third world and is obtained by a sleight of hand with the data involving relative and absolute risk figures. What the research actually showed, was a 1.8% less chance of contracting HIV during intercourse in that of circumcised males.
Even if their claims added up, one does have to ask; what mandate does this give them for mutilating newborns and young children? The sexual health benefits should only be seen during adulthood (or close to), so there is surely no reason why men can’t opt for the procedure when they’re old enough to make the decision entirely by themselves.
Religion is, by far, the number one reason for childhood circumcision worldwide, with the overwhelming majority of Muslim and Jewish boys having the practice forced upon them. According to the Bible, Jesus himself was circumcised (Luke 2:21; Colossians 2:11-12), but one of the earliest debates in Christianity was whether to require converts to have the procedure themselves – opting against the requirement, instead, early Church Orders asked for devotion from the heart and not the ritual sacrificing of flesh, from which circumcision has its roots.
Religion and tradition should be respected, but within reason. Religious freedom should never entitle one to harm others. Grownup, liberal democracies which emphasise the empirical method should not continue to suspend their collective rationality when it comes to dealing with the interests of religious groups. If we value equality under the law and fairness for all, we can’t simultaneously hold one set of values to judge one section of society and an entirely different set for another.
Many victims of genital mutilation report lasting, even lifelong psychological trauma from what was done to them as an infant.
Studies have found some men have suffered post-traumatic stress symptoms as well as problems with intimacy, depressive states and anger issues that they directly link with their feelings on their circumcision. There is also research to suggest that circumcision on infants can produce symptoms akin to that of childhood sexual abuse, such as dissociation.
Many of those pushing circumcision perpetuate the myth that a boy's intact body is somehow 'ugly' or 'unclean' and that a bit of him must be mutilated in order to remedy this - in what is some of the most obscene and sexist body shaming that exists in the world today.
The idea that a prospective partner might find a part of your body unattractive, unless it's had a sizeable chunk of it completely severed, is utterly ridiculous and only exists because of a backwards cultural norm reinforced over many generations.
It is a welcome surprise to see the BBC covering male circumcision with a sympathetic theme in recent months, with hard-hitting and heart-wrenching stories of suffering and suicide of young men who couldn't live with what was done to them.
In the US, there is a growing opposition movement, with a compelling new documentary released in 2018, titled American Circumcision – exploring the roots of MGM and the 'Intactivists' campaigning for change. Even in Israel, the anti-circumcision movement is gaining strength, with established newspapers platforming Intactivist voices.
Elsewhere in the world, there are many places where the fight for male bodily integrity may be a much longer battle, with little in the way of organised resistance to what is a deeply ingrained cultural practice.
Consistency under the law
Arguing from a British perspective, an immediate change to the law is required; prohibiting the practice of circumcision, except when clear medical necessity can be shown. Alternatively, immediate enforcement of existing laws regarding grievous bodily harm.
One shouldn’t mince their words when it comes to protecting the helpless. In other circumstances the actions required to perform circumcision would result in serious criminal charges being brought. It is a bizarre ethical double-standard which allows those involved in inflicting this brutality to go unpunished.
To be consistent at all, the law should view those who advocate for hacking bits off children for no clear medical necessity - as inciting violence and the individuals which perform the procedure as committing the most serious forms of assault.
Victims of genital mutilation should be awarded appropriate compensation and offered clinical treatment funded by the state, as it is the state which has failed to protect them.
The fight against infant circumcision reminds me of similar obstacles faced by the vegan movement. Tradition and culture offer roadblocks to ending the cruelty. Bogus health claims are thrown around in an attempt to stop you dropping animal products from your diet, or to stop you dropping the knife that cuts your son. Equally, both movements call out cruel practices for what they literally are, laying bare the barbarism.
To be vegan, is to end to unnecessary harm of all animals - humans included.
Disappointment from Iceland
Lobbying from religious interests the world over appears to have stopped a proposed ban on non-therapeutic infant male circumcision from progressing into Icelandic law in 2018, which would have seen those guilty of involvement facing up to 6 years in prison.
A key piece of opposition came in the form of a letter to Iceland's parliament, from US-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which amongst other things, argued a ban would cause Iceland to be associated with Nazism, leading to a drop in the country's tourism. An extract is included below, the full document can be viewed on the Icelandic Parliament's website.
"Should Iceland ban male circumcision, making it impossible for Jews and Muslims to raise families in your country, we guarantee that Iceland will be celebrated by neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other extremists.
ADL has studied the pervasiveness of anti-Semitic content on social media, and we know that a relatively small number of extremists are able to amplify their message quickly and broadly through social media. ADL regularly reports on such phenomena, and we will report on extremist praise for Iceland. We urge you to consider the significant media attention, in the U.S, and internationally, paid to ADL reports on extremism. In the past six months alone, our research and experts have been featured on CNN and other cable TV channels, NBC and other broadcast TV, on 60 Minutes, the most watched TV news magazine in America, and in leading newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. Given that 28% of Iceland’s tourists came from North America in 2016, Iceland’s standing in the U.S. should be of great concern from an economic perspective, We are confident that the vast majority of American tourists will avoid a country whose reputation is associated with Nazism, even if that association is not justified."
- Jonathan A. Greenblatt CEO and National Director, ADL
Full Document: https://www.althingi.is/altext/erindi/148/148-787.pdf
Iceland would have become the first nation in the world to recognise non-therapeutic infant male circumcision as a crime.
As with so many entrenched practices of cruelty, cries of 'religious freedom' and 'it's our tradition' are used as shields, to block any attempt to free helpless victims from needless harm.
UK based charity 15Square offers information and advice for those suffering because of circumcision, with links to support forums on its website and related news and facts on the issue. 15square.org.uk
Circumcision victims give their thoughts
Ethican reached out to circumcision victims for their description of how being cut as an infant has affected their lives, their relationship with their parents and how they view society's attitude to male genital mutilation.
Most responses we received were from the United States, the only country to practice routine male circumcision for non-religious reasons.
A sense of violation and helplessness was present in each story.
Some names have been changed to respect the person's anonymity. Photos are purely for illustrative purposes.
"Before I knew what circumcision was, I grew up thinking I was deformed. As a child I suffered from a severe speech impediment. I feel confident that this was due to brain damage neonatal genital cutting causes, by flooding the developing brain with cortisol. As a young child I would have panic attacks or dissociative episodes. I cannot prove the source of this, but the only trauma in my early life was my genital cutting. When I would be with a girl and things started to get intimate, I would pull back, the girl would feel hurt and the relationship would end."
Miguel Louis Monis
"Society's attitude is appalling. I hear loads in the media about FGM and rightfully so, but because 'circumcision' is a legal procedure and normal, it's dismissed. NOBODY has the right under any circumstance to cut healthy, functional tissue off any minor! I started to do so much research on the functions of the foreskin and realised how keratinised and desensitised my glans was and started to view my scar as something broken and was ashamed of it. I feel less of a man. I don't feel normal. I don't feel whole. I do feel a sense of betrayal by my parents, the doctor and the medical system."
"Like all circumcised men, I am reminded of what happened to me on a daily basis whenever I stand in front of a toilet, shower and get dressed and undressed. For a long time, my circumcision was something that was "done" to me and that created a large degree of resentment, grief and a feeling of utter powerlessness. I think that male circumcision is often derided as being a 'trivial' matter and only a 'little operation'. We don't allow FGM, so why is MGM permitted?"
"It's led me to hate my parents because they robbed me of my natural body, and all that comes with it, for life. It has also negatively interfered with every sexual interaction I’ve ever had or could have. Sex often feels sensationless. No matter how much I truly hate it, I still have to wake up and deal with what was stolen from me by inconsiderate and ignorant actions of my parents. Non-therapeutic infant circ is evil. I feel so hurt by it and I have no way out of this hell."
"It's very insensitive, quite dried-out and unappealing for me to look at. It has a horrible scarline as well. I talked to my dad, who admitted it was mutilation, but didn't enjoy talking to me about it."
My exposed sensitive tissue rubbing against my underwear is a daily problem and I need to constantly readjust myself to make walking comfortable. If the government had services providing for victims of MGM, they would have to acknowledge the possible mental negatives done by it. "I feel extremely violated. Every time I look at my penis I feel uncomfortable and angry. I'm embarrassed about being cut and hate that it happened to me. I don't think I will ever be able to forgive my parents."
"I was circumcised as an infant, in the hospital I was born in.
This revelation of the truth emotionally destroyed me. I feel like the world is crazy and sadistic to let such a practice exist in a modern and enlightened era. I realized what exactly I was missing and I was angry that people were so quick to brush it off as a useless thing. I have even had suicidal thoughts over how gas-lighted I feel. I forgive them for not knowing, but I will not forgive them for their continued mistakes on the future generation. I feel broken. Every day I will wake up to the same reality of mutilation disguised as tradition.
There is so much I have said, and some of it I draw tears remembering. This act has stripped me of hope in the ideals of the world, and the only reason I continue living is because I'm still alive to continue. Why die, why live. It's funny how human I feel reacting to mutilation as I do, while others dare say I'm not acting normal.
I have spoken to my parents on many occasions, and I have made it clear to them that I am never letting this issue slide. An irreversible atrocity is exactly how I see it, and they know that. I do not think we should punish those who support circumcision, but at the very least prevent them from inflicting it on others.
The 'help' I have gotten has mostly been based on "fixing" my thinking, so I would not be so 'sad.' It's completely backwards and only gets me into arguments. Nobody cares about what I have to say. I don't want a fight, I want a discussion. I don't want angry, spiteful, or blowing off of opinions, I want questions and answers. There's no hatred. There's only the next generation, and the censorship that challenges their well being. The only support I have been given is the ability to speak my mind.
If I want to get anything across, it's that inflicting genital mutilation is not tolerable, no matter the race, religion, tradition, or otherwise. Bodily integrity should be amended to the constitution with how essential it is as a human right"
We'll be publishing the full interviews on circumcision early in January.
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