Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On Circumcision, the Saint, and other animals

I remember this article by Hitchens, in which he writes sneeringly about the Jewish custom of circumcision with all the confidence of someone who knows and understands all (like the Spanish Inquisition, there is no doubt in his mind about his own righteousness and the stupid perfidious aim at which it is directed):

In more recent times, some pseudosecular arguments have been adduced for male circumcision. It has been argued that the process is more hygienic for the male and thus more healthy for females in helping them avoid, for example, cervical cancer. Medicine has exploded these claims or else revealed them as problems which can just as easily be solved by a “loosening” of the foreskin. Full excision, originally ordered by god as the blood price for the promised future massacre of the Canaanites, is now exposed for what it is — a mutilation of a powerless infant with the aim of ruining its future sex life.

For my sins, I took his information about the savage gratuitousness of the custom at face value. I was misled by his robust tone to think that he was really knowledgeable about how medical research had debunked the myth of hygiene and better health associated with circumcision.

And now I read this:

Sir Roger Moore, the British-born star of seven James Bond films, will donate the fee he earns from appearing at the fourth International Eilat Chamber Music Festival to a UNICEF program where Israeli expertise is used in training doctors to perform male circumcision as a way of reducing AIDS transmission in Africa.
Sir Roger Moore, who will...
Since 1991, Moore has been a UNICEF "goodwill ambassador" promoting women's and children's health. He was inspired to work for UNICEF by the late actress Audrey Hepburn, herself a "goodwill ambassador," after being deeply moved by India's poverty while filming a movie there.
In a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post, Moore said he had a growing interest in the importance of health and disease prevention, and said his visit was meant to promote HIV awareness and education.
"Prevention is the best cure of disease," he added.
He disclosed that he himself had been circumcised at the initiative of his parents when he was eight.
"It was the unkindest cut of all," he joked. "But really, it was for hygienic reasons. My two sons [now 42 and 35] have been circumcised as well. They have never complained."
In the spring of 2007, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and UNICEF recognized "compelling evidence" that adult male circumcision was an "additional important intervention" that could reduce the risk of HIV transmission. [-]
Together with experts from UN organizations, they say that male circumcision should always be considered part of a comprehensive HIV prevention package that includes HIV testing and counselling services, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, the promotion of safer sex practices, and the provision of condoms and diaphragms, with instruction as to their correct and consistent use.

I've always had a soft spot for Roger Moore. He didn't make such a memorable James Bond, but he was a great Saint.

Tangentially relevant:

In this video, Max Blumenthal is seen, trying to shame hapless New York Jews who rally for Israel, into admitting that Jewish circumcision is no different than female genitalia mutilation in Arab-Muslim societies.

In this video
stand-up comedian and journalist Aaron Freeman, an Chicago African-American who converted to Judaism, is regaling his audience with horror stories from his conversion process, including circumcision, at Betzavata theatre in Tel Aviv.


Update: Mark Lyndon, in the comments, promotes a different position. He has a webpage, here,
Physicians for Genital Integrity, devoted to activism against circumcision. And it seems they are mainly focused on male circumcision:
"We believe that male children are entitled to the same, equal protection as females receive under international law, U.S. national law, and the laws of other nations."


At 11:18 AM EST, Blogger Mark Lyndon said...

You might want to check out the following:

Canadian Paediatric Society
"Recommendation: Circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed."
"Circumcision is a 'non-therapeutic' procedure, which means it is not medically necessary."
"After reviewing the scientific evidence for and against circumcision, the CPS does not recommend routine circumcision for newborn boys. Many paediatricians no longer perform circumcisions.

RACP Policy Statement on Circumcision
"After extensive review of the literature the Royal Australasian College of Physicians reaffirms that there is no medical indication for routine neonatal circumcision."
(those last nine words are in bold on their website, and almost all the men responsible for this statement will be circumcised themselves, as the male circumcision rate in Australia in 1950 was about 90%. "Routine" circumcision is now *banned* in public hospitals in Australia in all states except one.)

British Medical Association: The law and ethics of male circumcision - guidance for doctors
"to circumcise for therapeutic reasons where medical research has shown other techniques to be at least as effective and less invasive would be unethical and inappropriate."

National Health Service (UK)
"Many people have strong views about whether circumcision should be carried out or not. It is not routinely performed in the UK because there is no clear clinical evidence to suggest it has any medical benefit."

The College of Physicians & Surgeons of British Columbia
"Circumcision is painful, and puts the patient at risk for complications ranging from minor, as in mild local infections, to more serious such as injury to the penis, meatal stenosis, urinary retention, urinary tract infection and, rarely, even haemorrhage leading to death. The benefits of infant male circumcision that have been promoted over time include the prevention of urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted diseases, and the reduction in risk of penile and cervical cancer. Current consensus of medical opinion, including that of the Canadian and American Paediatric Societies and the American Urological Society, is that there is insufficient evidence that these benefits outweigh the potential risks. That is, routine infant male circumcision, i.e. routine removal of normal tissue in a healthy infant, is not recommended."

See also:
Canadian Children's Rights Council
"It is the position of the Canadian Children's Rights Council that "circumcision" of male or female children is genital mutilation of children.

Re Sir Roger Moore and promoting circumcision in Africa:

There are six African countries where men are more likely to be HIV+ if they've been circumcised: Rwanda, Cameroon, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, and Tanzania. If circumcision really worked against AIDS, this just wouldn't happen. We now have people calling circumcision a "vaccine" or "invisible condom", and viewing circumcision as an alternative to condoms.

ABC (Abstinence, Being faithful, Condoms) is the way forward. Promoting genital surgery will cost African lives, not save them.

It's not like we haven't already tried the things that do work. In Malawi for instance, only 57% know that condoms protect against HIV/AIDS, and only 68% know that limiting sexual partners protects against HIV/AIDS. There are people who haven't even heard of condoms. It just seems really misguided to be hailing male circumcision as the way forward. It would help if some of the aid donors didn't refuse to fund condom education, or work that involves talking to prostitutes. There are African prostitutes that sleep with 20-50 men a day, and some of them say that hardly any of the men use a condom. If anyone really cares about men, women, and children dying in Africa, surely they'd be focussing on education about safe sex rather than surgery that offers limited protection at best, and runs a high risk of risk compensatory behaviour.

At 8:22 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Noga, has little interest for me.

However the arguments for circumcision as male genital mutilation are right up the Lefts playbook...its just that males arent in the long list of people that are allowed to claim victimhood.

It also illuminates the idiocy of the "mysterious patriarchy" conspiracy, so treasured by certain psychologically disturbed political action groups.

Why would the Patriarchy impose such oppression and physical abuse on theirselves?

At 8:57 PM EST, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

It's rather funny how such a subject becomes a topic for Left/Right divide. Like global warming and the question of abortion, you would think these are universally acknowledged HUMAN issues which need to be fully understood and dealt with, in terms that should concern all of humanity.

Instead we have Leftists against global warming while conservatives deny that it even exists, Leftists protecting abortion even when it is already in the third term as a RIGHT, while conservatives want to deny abortion as murder even when it takes place in the first term.

We live in a demented political world.

At 10:56 AM EST, Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

"We live in a demented political world."

Yeah, but even in such world Elders don't look favorably on someone taking up their favorite subject. Nah, just joking.

Hitch is simply paranoid about the issue. We'll get to him with scissors eventually, even if it will take an old 007 to hold him still.

At 9:48 PM EDT, Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Apparently my friend Snoopy should not be trusted with scissors. . . but what remains is that comparing female genital mutilation with male circumcision, except to place the practices in the same and most uselessly broad category, is to mischievously diminish the cruelty of vaginal mutilation.

For levity, when I was a youngster I had no idea that it was a Jewish practice. I thought it was just some odd and exotic Protestant custom. Gave me the shivers thinking about it. Still does.

At 11:03 AM EDT, Blogger Mark Lyndon said...

Some forms of female circumcision do less damage than the usual form of male circumcision. Sometimes there's just an incision with nothing actually removed. One form just removes the clitoral hood (the female foreskin), so it's the exact equivalent of cutting off a boy's foreskin. In some countries, female circumcision is performed by doctors in operating theatres with anesthesia. Conversely, male circumcision is often performed as a tribal practice. 91 boys died of circumcision in just one province of South Africa last year.

Are you aware that the USA also used to practise female circumcision? Fortunately, it never caught on the same way as male circumcision, but there are middle-aged white US American women walking round today with no external clitoris because it was removed. Some of them don't even realise what has been done to them. There are frequent references to the practice in medical literature up until at least 1959. Most of them point out the similarity with male circumcision, and suggest that it should be performed for the same reasons. Blue Cross/Blue Shield had a code for clitoridectomy till 1977.

One victim wrote a book about it:
Robinett, Patricia (2006). "The rape of innocence: One woman's story of female genital mutilation in the USA."

Nowadays, it's illegal even to make an incision on a girl's genitals though, even if no tissue is removed. Why don't boys get the same protection?

Don't get me wrong. I'm totally against female circumcision, and I probably spend a lot more time and money trying to stop it than most people. If people are serious about stopping female circumcision though, they also have to be against male circumcision. Even if you see a fundamental difference, the people that cut girls don't (and they get furious if you call it "mutilation"). There are intelligent, educated, articulate women who will passionately defend it, and as well as using the exact same reasons that are used to defend male circumcision in the US, they will also point to male circumcision itself (as well as labiaplasty and breast operations), as evidence of western hypocrisy regarding female circumcision. The sooner boys are protected from genital mutilation in the west, the sooner those peoples that practice FGM will interpret western objections as something more than cultural imperialism.


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