The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Merkel Bashes Circumcision Ruling, Vows To Protect Freedom in Germany

Defying the wrath of Andrew Sullivan and the might of the Foreskin Lobby, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has attacked the cockamamie Cologne court ruling that banned an essential rite of Islam and Judaism. Religious freedom and the rights of the family must be defended against the zealots of secular modernity.

Merkel is of course correct. For thousands of years, the circumcision of male babies has stood at the heart of Jewish ritual and belief, and the circumcision of boys is mandated under Islam. For a court to prohibit this religious rite is a direct assault on the most cherished beliefs of these two faiths and a tyrannical usurpation of government power over the family.

Communist governments banned the religious education of minor children on the same grounds that the Foreskin Lobby sought to ban circumcision. “Brainwashing” young children by bringing them up in their parents’ religion was held by the Communist secularists to be an assault on children who should be allowed to make up their own minds before having their minds stuffed and deformed with “myth” and “superstition.”

Chancellor Merkel grew up under the rule of these enlightened secularists and her father was a Protestant pastor living under Communist rule. She very well understands that the exaltation of the state over the family and over faith is tyranny. There are cases (the sexual mutilation of girls is clearly one), where the state must step in, but those cases are rare and the grounds must be extreme. Some people approve of male circumcision and some people don’t, but given its centrality in Jewish and also Muslim faith and practice, it cannot be banned by a democratic, rights-based society.

Chancellor Merkel gets religious freedom and gets the importance of minority rights. Muslims must be allowed to follow a core requirement of their faith and, given the facts of German history, Jews especially must be allowed to be fully Jewish in Germany without breaking the law of the land.

Well done.

 

Published on July 14, 2012 10:47 am
  • Jeremy

    Mr Mead, your defense of Merkel’s own defense of religious rights is lacking one important point that was fairly alluded to in your mentioning of female “circumcision”: i.e. the question of physical mutilation/the medical questions surrounding male circumcision. The jury is certainly out on this, but it’s nigh-on disingenuous of you not to mention this matter at all. In the event that it is deemed a health hazard by an overwhelming majority of physicians worldwide – and things seem to be trending this direction – what then? Should the Germans then allow female circumsion as well? Your desire to see religious freedoms protected is understandable, but the real question is not one of religious descrimination, but rather of societies amending previously-held beliefs that, upon informed reconsideration, are no longer seen as tenable activities.

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    Nice to see at least a glimmer of hope that Germany may return to its senses. In other words, good to know there are still some living vestiges in Berlin of what WRM (in my view quite accurately) has styled the Fourth Reich (1949-1990) amid all the quavering pseudo-pieties and naked geopolitical ambitions of the Fifth.

  • Walter Sobchak

    “German Chancellor Angela Merkel has attacked the cockamamie Cologne court ruling”

    The adjective is a little uncomfortable.

  • Jules

    Chancellor Merkel grew up under the rule of these enlightened secularists and her father was a Protestant pastor living under Communist rule. She very well understands that the exaltation of the state over the family and over faith is tyranny

    How do you know that? I think it has more to do with German political correctness. Standing up to minorities causes all kinds of angst in Germany.

  • Cicero

    It takes a special mind to be unable to distinguish male and female circumcision. The latter is a hideously cruel means of ensuring “female virtue” by denying a woman the only bodily part solely designed for human pleasure. Foreskin, is, well, just skin. The fact that this minute the Sullivan crowd can hustle up some studies that THE SCIENCE IS SETTLED that, say, uncircumcised men have less chance at catching an STD cannot supercede thousands of years of religious practice and belief.

    But then again, the Sullivans of the world don’t think much of bulldozing venerable, time-tested institutions. You know, like marriage.

  • Walter Sobchak

    “societies amending previously-held beliefs that, upon informed reconsideration, are no longer seen as tenable activities”

    The word society is an abstraction denoting an indefinite number of individual human beings who are alive over some stretch of time at some place.

    It is a reification of that term to write of a society amending, reconsidering, or seeing. All of those verbs refer to actions of individual human beings and are not things that an abstraction is capable of.

    The relevance of this explanation is in understanding the meaning of the concept of religious freedom. A religion is a community of individual human beings who share certain core beliefs and practice certain rituals at times and places and on occasions specified by those beliefs.

    The core of religious freedom is that the only individuals who have the power amend, reconsider, or see the beliefs and rituals of a religious community are members of that community.

    In the case of the Jewish ritual of circumcising 8 day old boys, that is a core ritual of the religion of the Jews. Faithful Jews will not accept the opinion concerning Jewish rituals of “society”, the “bien-pensant”, “les hommes des gauche”, “scientists”, “physicians”, the law courts of the German Federal Republic, the legislature of the German Federal Republic, or Jeremy and his little friends.

    Nor are the Jews irrational in this matter. First, they have practiced the ritual for more than a hundred generations without any observable negative impact on the health or happiness of the men of the community or the ability of the community to reproduce and grow by birthing and rearing children.

    Second, they have observed that when they are being ruled by non-Jews who are not well disposed towards them (whether as minority community sojourning among the nations, or as a majority in their land when it has been ruled by conquering empires) one of the measures those rulers have employed to suppress the Jewish community and weaken the attachment of individual Jews to the beliefs and rituals of the Jewish community, is the banning of circumcision.

    The paradigmatic example occurred 22 centuries ago when the Seleucid dynasty ruled the Land Israel. The victory of the rebellious Jews over their Seleucid rulers is celebrated yet today by the feast of Hanukkah.

    Conclusion, banning the Jewish ritual of circumcision is prima facie a limitation of the freedom of a religious community to practice its rituals. That a governmental authority in Germany, the successor state to the most violent enemy the Jewish people have ever had, would do so is especially concerning to Jews and to those nations that shed so much blood and treasure to suppress that predecessor government.

    The claims that the motives of the German courts are humanitarian or are otherwise well motivated, bear a dismaying resemblance to the sorts of apologies that “intellectuals” made for the bloodiest tyrants of the 20th century. They will cut no ice with the faithful or the friends of liberty everywhere.

  • Jeremy

    @Cicero, nice ad hominem fallacy. Further fallacious reasoning is given in your equation that thousands of years of folk practice has anything to do with scientific reports. Of course, science is a discipline that demands rigorous and repeated testing of hypotheses, so the explanatory value of one report is indeed small. Still, thousands of years of belief that the sun revolved around the earth made no difference to a heliocentric reality. Whether infantile foreskin removal is harmful or not has everything to do with medicine, and nothing whatsoever with cultural traditions, however “venerable and time-tested” they may be. (By the way, I’m sure some conservative Egyptians would invoke the same venerablility argument in re female genital mutilation.)

  • Walter Sobchak

    Jeremy: What “scientists” think is stunningly irrelevant.

  • Kris

    So the German Chancellor stands up for male genital mutilation. What else would you expect from the land of the Nazis? And is anyone really surprised that this evil misandrous position comes from a woman?

    [/sarc]

  • dr kill

    Is it sweeps week again?

  • Kris

    dr@10: As the Man says: “Heh”.

  • Eta

    >>Jeremy: What “scientists” think is stunningly irrelevant.<>It takes a special mind to be unable to distinguish male and female circumcision.<<

    No sensible person would ever claim that the harm done by the former equals the harm by the latter. But male circumcision DOES unnecessarily make a decision on the child's body it should make for itself as an adult, and, even more importantly, studies of the hormonal stress response and other indicators indicate that it's painful, even if the child forgets about the pain later. (See http://www.cirp.org/library/psych/goldman1/, although some people hear will be inclined to dismiss it without any good reason.) Thus, there IS an issue with the child's basic rights, and that is the ONLY reason why people like me think the court had a point, and why it ruled this way in the first place. Even if people like Walter Sobchak (and a lot of others) have resolved that such claims could never be true. Apparently their evidence for this is… That they say so.

    The reason for advocating circumcision, on the other hand, can not be merely something like loyalty to cultural tradition, for that alone would not provide a reason to follow the Biblical commandment TO THE LETTER (i.e. not wait till the age of consent, and do it on the 8th day instead). It can only be some kind of belief that the Bible is inerrant and all its commandments must be obeyed in full detail. But such a belief can not be upheld in our modern time, anyway: It would require Jews and Christians to execute gay people, apostates from their respective faiths and "disobedient" children (all in the Thora, and relevant for Christians, too, as according to the sermon on the mount "one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled"). Since most of them are halfway decent persons, they mostly don't obey these religious laws. Similar things could be said about Islam.
    In such a case, it is absurd to make such an argument in the case of circumcision – which would not have been banned for adult Jews and Muslims, it just couldn't have been performed precisely according to Biblical scripture.

    As a sidenote, according to an estimate reported by a German radio station (http://gffstream-0.vo.llnwd.net/c1/m/1340980821/radio/eden/wdr5_diesseits_von_eden_20120701_0900.mp3, if you understand German), 80% of male German Jews ARE uncircumcised (and who knows what the number would be for Muslims?). That's, of course, due to most of them being from the former Soviet Union, but they apparently did not change their circumcision status when they came here. If you believe this estimate, this alleged Commie-Nazi-Secularist plot to forcibly assimilate Jews and take away all their culture (what??) would only concern 10% of German Jews (since around 50% should be female).

  • Jeremy

    Hear, hear, Eta.

    WS: the crux of the issue actually has everything to do with science/medicine. If it can be proven that physical damage is done by male circumcision, then it, like any other act of physically damaging another person (especially one with no volition), will be deemed illegal, and no amount of personal conviction has any bearing on that. For, as Eta pointed out, there are numerous other barbaric practices advocated for in the Bible (mostly in Leviticus), that are deemed illegal in this day and age and are consequently eschewed by even the most devout adherents. (When was the last time you saw a woman being stoned to death for violating purity laws?) Why should male circumcision, if it is proven to be physically harmful, be exempt?

    Besides, what do you care? You’re Polish Catholic.

  • Walter Sobchak

    Eta: Clearly you are utterly ignorant of Halakah and Jewish ritual. I won’t argue with you, nor will I try to educate Jeremy again, because he still does not understand the concept of freedom of religion.

    Mead: I leave them to you.

  • Kris

    Jeremy@13: “You’re Polish Catholic.”

    And that’s a reason to abandon three thousand years of beautiful tradition?!?!!!

  • Eta

    “Clearly you are utterly ignorant of Halakah and Jewish ritual.”

    I was not trying to argue fine points of Jewish legal tradition, on which I am indeed not an expert. Instead, I was trying to point out that this kind of argument from religious tradition is highly questionable under any circumstance, and also what of this tradition the ruling would NOT have taken away from Jews and Muslims.
    In practice, a legal ban may not be the best way to achieve anything here, and I personally dislike such measures (believe it or not), but there still is something to be learned from that court case and our conciousness of the problematic nature of such rituals to be raised. (Personally, I did not think anything of circumcision before reading about this story.)

    “nor will I try to educate Jeremy again, because he still does not understand the concept of freedom of religion.”

    It is interesting how proponents of secularism (not only in this debate) are always being lectured about “freedom of religion” and accused of not understanding the concept. In reality, they mostly understand it much better.

    I can not speak for Jeremy, but I fully recognize the freedom of anyone to believe in whatever they wish to, be it in the God of the Old Testament or the second coming of Steve Jobs, and to engage in any practice of their faith that involves consenting adults. Nobody has the right to interfere with any of that. I DON’T recognize what many other people seem to understand by religious freedom, namely the “freedom of people to do whatever the heck they want in the name of religion”. It is self-contradictory to defend any kind of freedom that infringes upon the freedom of another, sorry to say.
    This is also the _true_ take-away-home lesson from the example of female genital mutilation, and NOT any ridiculous assumption that male circumcision was just as bad as FGM. If someone like our host W.R. Mead regards one as an extreme case where the state must intervene, but not the other, doesn’t that beg the question where precisely to draw the line, and why?

  • Eta

    To add a point, since the term “Catholic” just popped up: The reason why the Catholic church does not wield and (mostly) does not claim any worldly power today is (again, mostly) that, since the age of enlightenment, it had to face external criticism and an increasingly secular state. This state – analogous to the case of circumcision and its violent suppression by some anti-Semitic dictators – has sometimes commited crimes of its own, including some in the name of secularism (French revolution etc.). But few people would use that reason to deny that it is a good thing we have separation of church and state. And we don’t just have it because, at some point, a pope scratched his head and said: “For all these centuries, we have regarded our claim to political power as essential to Catholicism and its survival. How wrong we were! Let’s reform that.” At some point, that more or less happened, too, but first came the pressure from outside.

    So Walter’s definition of freedom of religion:

    “The core of religious freedom is that the only individuals who have the power amend, reconsider, or see the beliefs and rituals of a religious community are members of that community.”,

    has long been superseded by history. It is only true to the extent permitted by individual human rights and practical considerations of the respective time (see my comment before).