Banning circumcision in Germany

After district court bans circumcision Chancellor Merkel warns against becoming "only country in the world where Jews cannot practise their rituals"

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German Jews in shock
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Saba Farzan
On 18 July 2012 07:51

For a little more than two weeks I have been in a state of shock. Since the Cologne verdict banning male circumcision at the end of June I have sat numerous times in front of my computer and looked at an empty page that remained empty.

I couldn’t find the right words to describe how hurt I felt about the court’s decision. And I experienced the worst nightmare that can happen to a journalist: writer’s block.

So, when a friend asked me a few days ago when I was planning to write a piece about this topic my answer was: I honestly don’t know. I still don’t know if my writer’s block on this issue is entirely gone, but what I know now is that I must raise my voice about  it – no matter whether I find the right words or not.

This situation bears some resemblance to another shock I experienced this year -- in Spring, when Günter Grass felt the need to attack Israeli on behalf of Iran in a now notorious poem.

At that time I said and wrote that I couldn’t have imagined waking up one day to such an anti-Semitic attack and now I have to say that never in my life could I have imagined, six decades after the crimes of the Holocaust, witnessing such an attack on Jewish life in my country.

For me, there is a very personal dimension to this matter: I am a secular German–Iranian who can identify with the issue of male circumcision. I have a variety of serious difficulties with my own religion, starting with the lack of gender equality through homophobia and anti- Semitism, and ending with a belief in an urgently required era of enlightenment.

But the tradition of circumcision shows me that once a world religion like the Jewish one is enlightened and brought into modernity certain well-established traditions can and should remain. Circumcision is just such a tradition. Carried out under safe conditions, when a boy is still a baby or very young the healing process is a matter of a day or so.

Not to mention of course that a variety of anesthetics can be used to ensure a painless experience. This is all well known. So what is it that the German public is so enraged about? What is it that has locked this country in to a heated and often hurtful debate day in day out  the past two weeks?

There are many possible answers. In a society in which people, when asked on the street what exactly they celebrate on Christmas Day, they answer: the birthday of the Weihnachtsmann – our equivalent of Santa Claus – one has to ask whether such a society is likely to show any sensitivity to traditions like circumcision that are at the core of the Jewish and Islamic religion?

Apparently not. In a country that wants everything organised and structured by the state does such a society want to accept that within our constitutional framework religious and ethnic groups carry out their traditions in accordance with the law in diverse ways? Again, apparently not. And finally, can a society that has changed so much also finally accept that diversity is part of the Germany of today and that it enriches all of our lives? I hope so.  

There are now moves from our government to protect the tradition of male circumcision among the Jewish and Muslim community in Germany. For a legal problem there will be a legal answer.

Fine, but what will remain – along with the feelings that have been hurt – is that for two weeks this country has been locked in a ridiculous debate while genocide is continuing in Syria, while Iran moves further towards obtaining nuclear weapons, while no one knows what will happen to women’s rights in Egypt and while not a single person in this country has stood up to call for an end to the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation.

How can I explain all of this to my friends abroad who look at my country and seriously wonder whether to laugh or cry? I know how they feel. 

Saba Farzan is a German-Iranian journalist. Her articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal Europe, Standpoint Magazine, The Australian, and Huffington Post Canada

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