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Like FGM, cut foreskins should be a feminist issue

Making a comparison between male and female genital cutting is usually dismissed or condemned. When, for example, the Council of Europe recently passed a motion declaring both female genital cutting (FGC…

His right as well as hers. Elvert Barnes

Making a comparison between male and female genital cutting is usually dismissed or condemned. When, for example, the Council of Europe recently passed a motion declaring both female genital cutting (FGC) and the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons “a violation of the physical integrity” of children, Tanya Gold, writing in The Guardian, called it:

A revolting … juxtaposition of female genital mutilation, which is always torture, and often murder, with ritual male circumcision, which is neither, and, incidentally, is practised by most Muslims, and all Jews.

Gold’s reaction is understandable. The horrifying damage caused by amputation of a girl’s external genitalia and infibulation (closing up of the vagina) – the most invasive forms of FGC – are incomparable to the harm caused by male genital cutting (MGC). Other less invasive forms of FGC, such as clitoral “nicks”, can also cause severe bleeding, infections and infertility.

But both FGC and MGC, where the erogenous foreskin is removed, can cause serious physical, mental and sexual harm. In 2011, 11 boys under the age of one were treated in Birmingham for life threatening hemorrhage, shock or sepsis relating to circumcision. In the US it’s estimated that 100 boys die as a result of circumcisions every year. MGC is also far more common globally: 13m boys to 2m girls annually.

It isn’t a ‘harm competition’

But this isn’t a harm competition. It’s about how FGC, often referred to as female genital mutilation because it’s widely seen as a violation of women’s rights and a form of oppression and sexual control, is easily accepted when that girl is a boy.

FGC has been banned in the UK since 1985 (despite no convictions ) and since 2003, it has been illegal to carry out the procedure on British nationals abroad.

But, as bioethicist Dena Davis put it: “When one begins to question the normative status of the male newborn alteration in the West, and when one thinks of female alteration as including even a hygienically administered "nick,” one begins to see that these two practices, dramatically separated in the public imagination, actually have significant areas of overlap."

Overriding concerns

Although FGC is practised because of religious beliefs and seen as an important part of cultural identity (imparting a sense of pride, a coming of age or a feeling of community membership), aversion to it overrides concerns about protecting these religious or cultural freedoms – a view also held by some community leaders.

For Jews, the ritual is a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham. Cheskel Dovid

But when it comes to Male Genital Cutting (MGC) it’s neither explicitly illegal nor compulsorily regulated. Instead it’s perceived as a relatively innocuous procedure, a “routine neonatal circumcision”, or brit milah for Jews and khitan for Muslims.

The reasons for male circumcision also vary: for Muslims it’s sunnah, a practice instituted by the Prophet Muhammad; for Jews it’s a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham. It’s also cultural: it marks an entrance into manhood and is also carried out because of perceived social or health advantages (reduced HIV transmission among adults in Africa is a specific case, unrelated to most others or children). And in the case of MGC, religious and cultural freedoms are generally respected.

Given these contrasting public perceptions, drawing parallels is controversial. Some feminists interpret comparison as an offensive trivialisation of the harm done to women, while many Jews and Muslims see it as an attempt to restrict their religious and cultural freedom, with some going as far as to liken the threat to the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany.

Consent and control

My research suggests it’s more complex. Leading medical ethicists, historians, and legal scholars think that FGC and MGC overlap in ways that question the distinct labels and laws applied to them.

Along with the serious harm that both FGC and MGC can cause, both occur without the consent of the child, and irreversibly violate the child’s human right to physical integrity. In so doing, FGC and MGC both prioritise the cultural or religious beliefs of parents over their child’s right to self-determination and an open future.

Both have also sought to shape bodies and control sexual desire. FGC seeks to contain women’s sexuality within marriage and reproduction by aiming to reduce sexual pleasure, while the Jewish sage Maimonides and the Victorians advocated MGC to reduce lust and masturbation. Legal scholars Marie Fox and Michael Thomson have argued that MGC is “a gendering practice tied to masculinity and the management of male sexuality” that “parallels the ways in which feminist scholars have argued that female genital cutting serves to fix gender in women”.

Double standards

Given these overlaps, why have the two been treated differently? Alongside the difference in harm and misperceptions about the contrasting settings and ages at which the procedures take place, the double standard stems from two further factors: sexism and ethnocentrism.

Male bodies are constructed as resistant to harm or even in need of being tested by painful ordeals, whereas female bodies are seen as highly vulnerable and in need of protection. In other words, vulnerability is gendered. And little girls are more readily seen as victims than little boys.

Circumcision in central Asia in the 1800s. Library of Congress
The consequence of this, say Fox and Thomson, is that patriarchy often allows men’s experiences to remain unquestioned.

Familiarity also creates comfort, and since MGC has been practised in the West for millennia and been routine in English-speaking countries for a century, we’re desensitised. By contrast, since FGC is geographically or culturally remote, it’s more liable to be seen as barbaric.

Gender assumptions

It’s time to re-examine our gender and cultural assumptions about genital cutting, and take a non-discriminatory, intellectually consistent approach. We either accept that the loss of some individual rights of both boys and girls is the price of societal diversity – an approach rooted in a respect for pluralism and multiculturalism – or we respect the rights of all children, both girls and boys, equally.

The first means rethinking opposition to FGC, and perhaps even re-allowing it on the basis of parents' religious beliefs or cultural preferences. But this would be unconscionable. The better thing would be to recognise that little boys have the same rights as little girls to bodily integrity (as recently recognised in the Netherlands), an open future and freedom from harm – in spite of their parents’ views.

Recognising overlaps in the cultural and religious arguments used to defend both, and human rights violations in no way trivialises the horror of FGC. And from a strategic point of view, making foreskin cutting a feminist issue would strengthen efforts to eliminate FGC. How can activists expect to convince a mother to leave her daughter uncircumcised if her husband is able to continue circumcising his son?

Rights should apply to all.

Rather than criticising the Council of Europe’s motion, we should celebrate it as a move towards greater child protection and gender equality.

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  1. Norval Smith

    Guest researcher

    I really don't think the comparison is relevant. OK, male circumcision is done without consent. In my case religion had nothing to do with it - I don't know why it was done exactly. It was quite frequent at the time - maybe for some physical reason, like a tight foreskin.
    It's certainly more hygenic - no smelly smegma.
    I don't blame anyone, and have certainly not suffered for a single second. No mental agony, physical pain or anything else. Not even mild jealousy of the uncircumcised.
    I think there is a danger in equating male and female circumcision. That is that female circumcision becomes more acceptable, especially in the eyes of men. And off course, various kinds of political correctness also loom large.

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    1. Laura MacDonald

      fundraiser

      In reply to Norval Smith

      "It's certainly more hygienic - no smelly smegma"

      Norval, smelly smegma (biological name: mycobacterium smegmatis) is 10 TIMES more common in the labial folds than on the penis (see http://www.cirp.org/library/anatomy/cold-taylor/). So if forced cutting of genital flesh is a good way to prevent smelly smegma, then logic would suggest that excision of labial folds should become routine in female infants, perhaps before they leave hospital. Never mind that the labia minora, like foreskin, are packed with pleasure sensors.. What she's never had she won't remember, huh?

      There isn't a danger in equating male and female circumcision, there is a danger in NOT equating male and female circumcision. When one group in society is subjected to a forced amputation on the assumption that their DNA has programmed them to be filthy and stupid, and we don't speak up for that group, we are ALL less safe as a result....

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    2. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Laura MacDonald

      Sorry, Laura, Tanya Gold is right. Equating circumcision and FGM trivialises the damage done to girls and is offensive for that and racial reasons. Norval Smith is mistaken, but you are more mistaken.

      The real scandal here is that there have been no UK prosecutions for FGM!

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    3. Laura MacDonald

      fundraiser

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Chris your responses here are long on outrage and short on facts, and logic. FGM exists on a wide spectrum which includes among the commonest forms the slitting of the female foreskin - her clitoral hood (ref Interagency Statement on FGM 2008). This cut has twice been proposed for introduction by American doctors, most recently in 2010 on the grounds that (they claim) it has no risks. This I think backs up my point that allowing tradition hatred of the prepuce to go unchallenged is a dangerous position…

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    4. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Laura MacDonald

      Colourful language, Laura. Outrage? Fervour? Hardly! Mark Lyndon's intervention below is very informative. I admit that I was not aware of the very nasty aspects of foreskin removal - I readily agree that these are just as bad as FGM.

      On bias, everyone has "bias" - they are called "opinions"! I am a Christian so I have no particular axe to grind (Christians explicitly reject the religious requirement of circumcision), but it seems clear to me that Tanya Gold is correct when she says that attacking circumcision is anti-Semitic. Note that the Jews are rather careful medically (I think).

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    5. Laura MacDonald

      fundraiser

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Chris, it's not unreasonable for me to ask if you have something personal vested in the institution that is male circumcision. You've piled in here to decry any attempt to present male circ as a significant harm, yet you appear to know very little of those harms ...

      This is classic Emperor's New C*ck stuff. In your attempt to see 'strong philosophical justifications' in forced male circ while presenting forced female cutting as barbarism, you are simply defending white Western culture - which…

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    6. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Laura MacDonald

      Well, there you are Laura. Everyone can be mistaken. You are right to pull me up on my "I think" remark. Actually, I wrote the sentence, then considered how well I could prove it. I put the "I think" in hoping that you (or someone) would elaborate. Which, embarrassingly, you have done. I did believe that the Jewish community had sorted this out to modern standards, but it seems not ...

      However, you hastily accuse me of an "our cutting good, their cutting bad" attitude. And of accusing…

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    7. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Infant genital cutting without medical indication is a human rights abuse. To outlaw it but make a special exemption for one group would imply that that babies born into that group has fewer human rights than other babies. Where have we heard that before?

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    8. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      That there have been no prosecutions for UK FGC is a scandal, but just another scandal, no more real than the scandal that MGC is legal. Both scandals arise from the same source - exaggerated respect for cultural traditions, at the expense of human rights.

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    9. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Laura MacDonald

      Isn't it telling that the AAP's "bioethics committee" described its proposed token ritual nick to girls in 2010 as "much less extensive than neonatal male genital cutting" (their exact words), yet public outrage (led, I am proud to say, by Intactivists) made them withdraw it within a month. A double standard indeed.

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    10. Roland Day

      logged in via email @ymail.com

      In reply to Norval Smith

      Actually, the foreskin has immunological functions that protect against infection. Clearly you have not done your research.

      http://www.cirp.org/library/disease/STD/fleiss3/

      Non-therapeutic circumcision of male children is totally unacceptable under international human rights law. Human rights are universal so males and females have the same rights.

      How can equating male and female circumcision make female circumcision more acceptable when male circumcision is totally unacceptable?

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    11. Roland Day

      logged in via email @ymail.com

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Male circumcision is NOT a trivial matter. It is the amputation of human tissues from a non-consenting minor in violation of his human rights. It leads to lifelong sexual and emotional issues.

      I don't see how equating male and female circumcision can do anything to trivialize female circumcision. Both are bad, both violate human rights and both are wrong.

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    12. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      200 male babies die in the US every year due to this imported victorian recycled stone age 'cultural' practice. Male babies have their penises amputated all the time. It just happened last week in Memphis Tennessee.

      Culture can go suck a bag of circumcised dicks. People with a brain and a heart have always rejected their 'culture' not matter what age they were born into.

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    13. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Laura MacDonald

      I'm not weighing into the ''foreskin wars'', but Ms McDonald is incorrect about smegma.

      Smegma is accumulated cells and secretion - not a mycobacterial infection.

      Certainly it is produced by both men and women, but in circumcised men and in women it is washed away with normal bathing, so doesn't collect.

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    14. Mark Lyndon

      undisclosed

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Smegma usually contains mycobacterium smegmatis, but you're right that they're not the same thing.

      Smegma is washed away with normal bathing in intact men too though. It's easier to keep intact male genitals clean than intact female genitals, but we don't cut parts off baby girls to make it easier.

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    15. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Mark Lyndon

      No, Mark, smegma does not usually contain Mycobacterium smegmatis.

      When smegma becomes colonised with bacteria, the most common organisms are the ordinary urinary/bowel organisms like E Coli or skin organisms like staphylococci.

      M smegmatis is an organism that is related to Mycobacterium tuberculosis - the infective organism causing TB. It is a generally non-pathogenic organism (except rarely in the immunosuppressed), that is used experimentally as a model for TB treatments because of its relationship to this other organism.

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    16. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sorry, Sue, but when you say "in circumcised men and in women it is washed away with normal bathing, so doesn't collect" you ARE weighing into the foreskin wars. Normal bathing for intact men involves as little unfolding as, or less than, for women. In women it certainly can collect.

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  2. Chris Jeynes

    Senior researcher at University of Surrey

    "Given these overlaps, why have the two been treated differently?" I recognise no overlaps. They are treated differently because they are as different as chalk and cheese. FGM is unequivocal mutilation where (male) circumcision is trivial in the proper sense of the word. Moreover, FGM has no coherent philosophical justification (no religion demands it, certainly not Islam), where circumcision not only has a strong philosophical justification (which you hold yourself if you are Jewish or Muslim, and which you recognise if you are Christian) but indeed is a mark of identity which has been used as such in the most extreme way through the centuries. Starting with Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century BC, still remembered today in the festival of Hanukah

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    1. Mark Lyndon

      undisclosed

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      You recognise no overlaps between cutting male genitals, and cutting female genitals? How curious. Could that be because you're used to one, but not the other?

      This is one form of female circumcision:
      https://web.archive.org/web/20130307104149/http://aandes.blogspot.com/2010/04/circumcision.html

      Why would the procedure in that link be "mutilation" and illegal in most western countries, yet this is legal:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXVFFI76ff0

      Which is the chalk and which is the cheese? If I had to choose one as being "trivial" and one as "unequivocal mutilation", the male circumcision would be the mutilation.

      Plenty of people would claim that FGM is a religious requirement, including the mother in the first link.

      Why shouldn't everyone be able to decide for themselves whether or not they have parts cut off their genitals? It's *their* body after all.

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    2. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Mark Lyndon

      I appreciated your intervention below, Mark, as I said to Laura (above). You are right about familiarity. I was not familiar with the worst practices of MGM (clearly not "trivial" at all!), nor the more minor application of FGM that you draw attention to (for which, thanks).

      I am aware that FGM is claimed to be a "religious requirement" but I have never seen this supported by any sort of reasonable argument. Circumcision on the other hand is (or, at least, was) central to Jewish identity, with a coherent theological argument.

      The health argument (for either FGM or MGM) has the appearance of reasonableness, but I am not at all convinced by it, just as you are not.

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    3. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      "Those who advocate for FGM from an Islamic perspective commonly quote the following hadith to argue that it is required as part of the Sunnah or Tradition of the Prophet:

      'Um Atiyyat al-Ansariyyah said:
      A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina.
      The Prophet (pbuh) said to her:
      Do not cut too severely
      as that is better for a woman
      and more desirable for a husband'." 1,8
      - www.religioustolerance.org

      Chris Jeynes and I may not think that is "any sort of reasonable argument" but that…

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    4. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      'The health argument (for either FGM or MGM) has the appearance of reasonableness, but I am not at all convinced by it, just as you are not.'

      So both are medically unnecessary, but MGM is ok because it is justified by religion whereas FGM is not ok because it is just a cultural practice? Are you aware that all traditions evolve, including that of circumcision as practiced by the Jews?

      Originally it was just the removal of the very tip of the foreskin. In the 2nd century it was made more radical by their priests in order to make foreskin restoration more difficult. Too many Jewish men were trying to assimilate into Greek(and later) Roman society.

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  3. Marwan Daar

    PhD Candidate, Center for Vision Research, York University

    Excellent article. I think it is fundamentally wrong to remove sexual tissue from a non consenting human, male OR female, unless absolutely medically necessary.

    Those who trivialize male genital cutting (and therefore cannot recognize the overlap with female genital cutting) would do well to educate themselves on the neurophysiology of the male prepuce, which is the most highly innervated structure of the male anatomy.

    So, I offer a challenge to dissenters:

    Answer the following two questions…

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    1. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Marwan Daar

      So then Mr. Daar, why should the discussion be "restricted to the biological domain"? This makes no sense when discussing practices that are always done for cultural reasons. Humans are defined by their societies and cannot be excised from them.

      Many types of mutilation are practised in various societies, some positively baleful, like foot binding in China (or FGM), some relatively benign, like earlobe extending in Polynesia (or circumcision). And all societies practise coercion at some level - look at our prison populations! Your atomistic approach is neither realistic nor sensible. The issue is much wider than that.

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    2. Marwan Daar

      PhD Candidate, Center for Vision Research, York University

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      It should be restricted to the biological domain because that is the domain upon which we base our judgments of female genital cutting.

      I trust you are not implying that female genital cutting is OK simply because a culture endorses it?

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    3. Marwan Daar

      PhD Candidate, Center for Vision Research, York University

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      In other words, upon what basis are you differentiating "benign" from "baleful". Please elaborate.

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    4. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Marwan Daar

      "Unjustifiable harm". Mutilation is harm, and severe mutilation is unjustifiable harm. FGM is unjustifiable despite its cultural endorsement.

      You can prove anything you like provided you ignore all the parts of the evidence you don't like. Why don't you comment on Antiochus Epiphanes - still remembered in some communities like yesterday?

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    5. Marwan Daar

      PhD Candidate, Center for Vision Research, York University

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      You still have avoided my question. Why, exactly, is female genital cutting mutilation? What about it, "despite its cultural endorsement", qualifies it as a mutilation?

      Please be as specific as you are capable of.

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    6. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Marwan Daar

      I haven't avoided the question. I repeat: it is mutilation where it causes unjustifiable harm, All cutting is harm at some level, and there are shocking examples of grievous harm by both female and male circumcision. Grievous harm is always unjustifiable. Personally, I have absolutely no memory of any harm of circumcision (although I do remember the occasion), and this has obviously coloured my perception of male circumcision.

      You haven't commented on Antiochus Epiphanes. The issue is not only physical but also has a cultural aspect. (But no cultural considerations can justify GBH!)

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    7. Marwan Daar

      PhD Candidate, Center for Vision Research, York University

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      So if I am understanding you correctly, you are claiming that male circumcision does not constitute grievous bodily harm, and you are making this claim on the basis that you have no memory of such harm.

      As I said in my original post, I would hope that you would not apply the same criteria to a judgment of female genital cutting, as there are many girls who are cut at a young age who do not have any perception of harm of their experience. In fact, many of them consider it a blessing. Yet you and…

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    8. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      This article by a rabbi puts the story of Antiochus into some context. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Hanukkah/History/Antiochus_Madman.shtml?p=2

      The big difference between then and now is that while Greeks and Romans did many other mean, nasty, ugly things (like keeping slaves and subjugating women), only Jews circumcised, so outlawing it WAS antisemitic - then. That is no longer the case and we are allowed to see it in the broader human rights context where its continuation is utterly anomalous.

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    9. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Marwan Daar

      Aristotle said mutilation was when the part cut off did not grow back. So by that definition, both male and female cutting are.

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    10. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Hugh Young

      Antiochus' outlawing of circumcision also was clearly antisemtic because it was in the context of setting up an altar to Zeus in the Temple, sacrificing pigs on the altar, and outlawing other Jewish practices.

      You cannot say it is antisemitic to age-restrict male genital cutting until the male can give informed consent, when it is in the context of age-restricting female genital cutting and intersex assignment surgery.

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    11. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Marwan Daar

      Marwan: You pay no attention to my careful reply. Moreover, you carelessly claim that you "don't know anything about Antiochus Epiphanes", when you only have to look cursorily on Wikipedia which explains in detail, and even gives chapter and verse (2 Maccabees 6:1–11) for why I bring it up.

      I didn't say that either "FGM" or "MGM" necessarily caused GBH. I thought that FGM always did but it appeared I was mistaken. I also thought MGM never did, but I was mistaken there too. GBH is never justifiable. (Wikipedia on GBH is also good.)

      "Harm" on the other hand is nowhere defined in English law, and is to some extent a matter of opinion.

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    12. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      '"Harm" on the other hand is nowhere defined in English law, and is to some extent a matter of opinion.'

      You are very clever with words.

      Lets keep it simple for the little people Chris. How about we take the first step of defining harm as anything that permanently alters the body. We don't have to run it through a committee or the judicial system. Lets just keep it as a personal principal so that us less scholarly can make sense out of the world for ourselves.

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    13. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Michael Huebner

      Sorry to have got up your nose, Michael. You call me a "cultural marxist, and an ideological equivocator" (and something else offensive), and then you comment on my statement 'Humans are defined by their societies and cannot be excised from them' with: "except of course when such societies contradict the expert opinions of people such as himself. In other words, consensus truth is great, provided it is the 'correct' consensus truth."

      This is all ad hominem, as well as being besides the point. Then you call me "clever with words" and "scholarly". Excuse me, I thought The Conversation was for people who wanted to engage with issues intelligently, and who were open to adjust (or even change!) their opinions appropriately?

      You want to "define" 'harm' as "anything that permanently alters the body"? So growing up is "harm"? And divorce has no chance of harming the children (by definition!)? Just two counter-examples of your "definition" at random.

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    14. Mark Lyndon

      undisclosed

      In reply to Michael Huebner

      I'm against circumcision of children, but "harm" definitely isn't as simple as that. All sorts of medical procedures would count as harm using that definition and of course supporters of both female and male circumcision claim medical benefits in order to justify them.

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    15. Mark Lyndon

      undisclosed

      In reply to Mark Lyndon

      The Spanner case found that hammering a nail through the foreskin of a consenting adult was assault occasioning actual bodily harm btw, which makes It seem strange that no-one gets prosecuted for cutting off the foreskin of a non-consenting minor.

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    16. Marwan Daar

      PhD Candidate, Center for Vision Research, York University

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Yes, harm is clearly a matter of opinion, but you're being asked here to unpack your opinion.

      When does FGM not constitute GBH, and when does MGM constitute GBH? You don't have to be precise, but at least provide a ballpark criteria.

      Is it the amount of tissue removed? The quality of the tissue removed?

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    17. Marwan Daar

      PhD Candidate, Center for Vision Research, York University

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      As for Antiochus, if you have a specific question, I would ask that in the interest of clear and efficient communication, you ask it directly. I'm going out on a limb here and assuming you are referring to the antisemitic element of discouraging male genital cutting.

      So I'm still not sure what exactly your question is.

      Let's play a game here. In each exchange, we each can ask each other a question, and we each answer the other's question as directly and with as much intellectual honesty as we can.

      So go ahead, ask me any question you wish. And please answer mine.

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    18. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      ""Harm" on the other hand is nowhere defined in English law, and is to some extent a matter of opinion."

      James Chegwidden may have something to say about that.He recently gave a very interesting presentation on this very topic, which completely contradicts the above. It is now online at http://vimeo.com/78999394
      The relevant part begins at 13:20.

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    19. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      'So growing up is "harm"?' Really? How does one inflict 'growing up' on another human being? Divorce can harm children, but it inflicts no physical permanent change. This is so obvious I can feel my face melting.

      I guess the reason I come off as argumentative is I have no faith in your sincerity at all. You are obviously smart, and well versed in making arguments. But that seems all you are interested in doing. I would say you come off as 'all sound and fury', but there is no content to what you say. You are just splitting hairs of minutiae. I feel like I am in some dusty law library or an old folks home.

      We get it. You are smart. You are super duper smart. Why don't you just get to the point and lay it out all on the table for us. You don't have to beat us over the head with a world view but just state what your purpose is. As of now we are just arguing semantics.

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    20. Mark Lyndon

      undisclosed

      In reply to Michael Huebner

      He was using those as counterexamples of your definition of harm
      as "anything that permanently alters the body". The first one permanently alters the body but doesn't cause harm, and the second causes harm but doesn't alter the body.

      Another counterexample would be things like dental braces or laser eye surgery or even having your appendix out, which all alter the body, but would in normal circumstances not be viewed as harm.

      Chris definitely seems sincere to me, though we have very different views on male circumcision.

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    21. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Lyndon

      But you can not inflict 'growing up' on someone else, even if it is a permanent alteration of the body. That is my point.

      Yes amputating necrotic flesh in a sense does cause harm as it permanently alters the body, but it is done to preserve the life of the individual.

      Removing healthy tissue permanently alters the body for no reason. It is mutilation.

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    1. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to James Chegwidden

      Respect to Soraya Mire, a hero. Nevertheless we do many things (actually, everything) to babies without their consent, and the psychological things we do are if anything more important than the physical things we do. Freud was certainly right about that. Just because they are both physical, and just because they are both applied to the genitals, makes no sort of equivalence between FGM and (male) circumcision.

      And unfortunately Abbie Chessler's "argument" suggesting that ignoring circumcision "makes the concept of human rights meaningless" is no more than (rather offensive) hyperbole. Where is your sense of proportion?

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    2. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      "Nevertheless we do many things (actually, everything) to babies without their consent, and the psychological things we do are if anything more important than the physical things we do."

      True, which is why we should be very careful about what we do to babies. But infant genital cutting is fundamentally different from other things we do to babies, in that it directly affects the functioning of their genitals, which is of interest only to them, and only when they are adults.

      Therefore, much more weight should be given to what they may think about it as adults than is now given. And the default option should be to nothing irreversible to the genitals of babies (and hence adults) without pressing medical need.

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    3. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Okay, "Condemning and outlawing female genital cutting as a human rights violation while ignoring male genital cutting makes a mockery of your concern for human rights." Fixed.

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    4. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      The right to freedom of movement is defined as a 'human right' by the UN Declaration of Human Rights in the same way that the right to be free from torture is. Torture may be more traumatizing than restricting someone's freedom to move, but they are still both human rights.

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  4. James Chegwidden

    Barrister

    See also the comment of feminist scholar Abbie Chessler ("Justifying the Unjustifiable: Rite vs. Wrong", 45 Buff. L. Rev. 555, 559, (1997)) who argues that the double standard which accepts and condones male circumcision but condemns female circumcision makes the concept of human rights meaningless...

    The strikingly hypocritical treatment of male and female child genital cutting in the Western World is shameful and deserves to be decried as such. We now look upon as ridiculously hypocritical those who promoted the "All men are created equal" doctrines of the US Declaration of Independence, but who also held slaves. The same applies to genital cutting in our day - a wilful denial of the same human right to all.

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  5. Mark Lyndon

    undisclosed

    No-one complained when female circumcision was made illegal in western countries, even though some people regard it as their religious right or duty to cut their daughters.

    It's illegal to cut off a girl's prepuce, or to make any incision on a girl's genitals, even if no tissue is removed. Even a pinprick is banned. Why don't boys get the same protection? Everyone should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want parts of their genitals cut off. It's *their* body.

    Even if some…

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  6. Chris Colenso-Dunne

    logged in via email @hushmail.com

    Few women, that is adult human females, who can choose to give their informed consent or not as the case may be, are forced to undergo female genital cutting (FGC).

    Few men, that is adult human males, who can choose to give their informed consent or not as the case may be, are forced to undergo male genital cutting (MGC).

    In almost all cases, it is human males under the age of consent, aka 'boys', and human females under the age of consent, aka 'girls', who are forced, coerced, required, 'made…

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  7. Roland Day

    logged in via email @ymail.com

    Perhaps the most pertinent point of international human rights law is its universality. Everyone, without any exceptions for gender, race, religion, nationality, or birth has the same human rights. Given this universality, no exceptions can be made. Males and females have the same human rights.

    The most important human right is the right to life. The second most important human right is the right of security of one's person. This includes the right to physical integrity.

    Operations on the…

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  8. Juan Andres Alzate

    logged in via Facebook

    This is an excellent article, thank you Rebecca for your thoughtful writing.

    Personally, I don't see [F]GM as a women's issue or [M]GM as a men's issue. I see both, along with the mutilation of intersex minors, as GM, genital mutilation, and as a children's issue.

    Adults are in power. A child, faced with an adult with a scalpel, a knife, a blade, a piece of glass or a circumcision clamp, has no power to remove himself or herself from the situation. A child, no matter the gender, does not want…

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  9. Benjamin Selfridge

    logged in via Facebook

    Awesome article, very clear and well-reasoned.

    I think that anybody who says "male circumcision and female genital mutilation are incomparable" need to seriously question their attitudes towards the vulnerability of male bodies vs. female bodies.

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  10. max max max

    DERP

    The most common form of male genital mutilation involves massive tissue removal and is more severe than the majority of types of female genital mutilation. The male prepuce is much larger, more innervated and more important sexually than the female prepuce. The damage from male prepuce removal is comparable to female clitoridectomy and potentially even worse.

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  11. Gary Harryman

    logged in via Facebook

    Perhaps a little Human Genital Anatomy #101 will clarify the issues: Neurologically, the most specialized pressure-sensitive cells in the human body are Meissner’s corpuscles for localized light touch and fast touch, Merkel’s disc cells for light pressure and tactile form and texture, Ruffini’s corpuscles for slow sustained pressure, deep skin tension, stretch, flutter and slip, and Pacinian corpuscles for deep touch and detection of rapid external vibrations. They are found only in the tongue…

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  12. Gary Harryman

    logged in via Facebook

    Did we have this male versus female argument when we outlawed slavery?

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    1. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Gary Harryman

      No, but we had a black versus white argument: We outlawed white slavery long before we outlawed black slavery.

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    2. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Hugh Young

      ... in fact some of the sexist defence of MGC can be mapped on to the old racist defences of black slavery*.

      - "Girls are sugar and spice..." while boys are "Snips and snails..." (who can't be trusted to keep their intact genitals clean)
      / "Whites are civilized, intelligent, etc, while blacks are brutish and low etc." (who deserve nothing better than slavery)
      - They don't feel pain so much
      - It''s good for them
      - They've never known anything else
      - My child/slave, my choice!
      - Don't anyone tell ME what to do with MY child/slave!

      *The 20th-century term "white slavery" is now more accurately called sex slavery.

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  13. Ron Low

    Foreskin Restorer

    Hundreds of boys and hundreds of girls die annually from forced genital cutting. Dead is dead.

    The main difference between the male and female version is 94% of the planet says that it is illegal to even poke a girl with a pin, while males are protected from haphazard amputations nowhere.

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  14. Rebecca Steinfeld

    Visiting Scholar, Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS, University of London

    Thank you all for your thoughtful reflections on my article. I'm glad my piece has sparked such engaging debate. I notice that the question of where to draw the limits on parents' religious freedoms has come up quite a bit in the comment thread, and wanted to direct you to a recent talk I gave on BBC Radio 3 that includes some discussion of this topic. It's called 'Cutting Tradition' and you can listen here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03g2yj1 or read the transcript here http://www.rebeccasteinfeld.com/2013/11/cutting-tradition-bbc-radio-3.html. I hope it helps to clarify some of the murkiness - or at least opens up even more debate! I welcome feedback. Also, FYI, I intend to publish an article very soon directly addressing the issue of anti-Semitism (including Antiochus Epiphanes!). Please follow me on Twitter @beccasteinfeld if you'd like to be one of the first to read it.

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    1. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Rebecca Steinfeld

      And thanks Rebecca for the interesting and pretty balanced article you linked to.

      My feeling is that it is just not good enough to focus exclusively on the physical, which you do not in the link: although GBH is always to be forbidden, these practices are largely far short of GBH, and cultural practices have to be judged on wider grounds.

      I understand Jewish circumcision (as a Christian, not as a Jew), but I still fail to understand female circumcision. Neither is addressed on this thread. I look forward to your new article.

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    2. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      "I understand Jewish circumcision ...but I still fail to understand female circumcision. Neither is addressed on this thread."

      Excuse me? I addressed both, giving you a link to Jewish reasons for doing MGC, and the exact text of the hadith under which Muslims do FGC. You will find further reasons/excuses/circumstitions for FGC with references at http://www.circumstitions.com/FGC-stitions.html They are mindbogglingly varied are irrational as those for MGC.

      I'm not sure what you mean by "understand". Since both practices are irrational, they are nor to be understood rationally.

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    3. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      'these practices are largely far short of GBH'. How does removal of one of the most sensitive parts of the genitals not count as grievous bodily harm? It is the perfect example of it.

      'cultural practices have to be judged on wider grounds.' This means what exactly? Are you saying the purported ends of a 'culture' justify the means by which it perpetuates itself? Are you saying you can justify something on its historical context or mandate?

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    4. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Hugh Young

      Sorry, Hugh. My comment was cryptic. You gave the links, but your comment that all the reasons you link to are irrational. On FGM I agree. On the one hand the hadith are a) not binding and b) highly debatable, and on the other many Islamic commentators disavow FGM in strong terms. I have seen no even potentially persuasive (given whatever assumptions) reasons for FGM.

      On the other hand, God's instruction to Abraham for circumcision something like four millennia ago was explicitly to make a tangible symbol of holiness - that is, setting apart for his service. And this is elaborated by the prophets (including Moses and Jeremiah explicitly) when they say that it is really the heart that needs (metaphorical) "circumcision" since it is from the heart that all evil proceeds (as Jesus also said). Circumcision is a symbol of "heart-circumcision", which is the moral determination to avoid evil. This is not at all irrational, contrary to many such assertions on this thread.

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    5. Benjamin Selfridge

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      'Circumcision is a symbol of "heart-circumcision", which is the moral determination to avoid evil. This is not at all irrational...'

      How is genital cutting a rational way to symbolize a moral obligation? In reality, the circumcision itself is not a symbol of anything; it's simply genital harm enacted on an unwilling participant.

      The cutting may come to be meaningful for the recipient, but that works the same way for female cutting; African societies where the women engage in a cutting ceremony think of their cut genitals as being highly symbolic and meaningful.

      Being so used to male cutting (in contrast with female cutting) has made you irrationally biased; none of the arguments I've seen you make have any logical backbone. Can you explain, logically, why cutting a boy's genitals is not as bad as cutting a girl's?

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    6. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      This takes the debate in a whole other direction.

      You mean that if it could be proved that Mohammed really did tell a woman not to cut too much, that FGC would no longer be a human rights abuse?

      More and more Jewish commentators - such as Rebecca, above - disavow MGC in strong terms.

      (As a highly qualified lecturer in materials science, you seem to be using a different part of your brain to think about religion. But I risk committing ad hominem.)

      The proposition that the immaterial…

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    7. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Hugh Young

      Sorry (again) Hugh, but you are being silly. I was trying to introduce some philosophy into the discussion. You don't agree with any of the presuppositions of my argument - OK, that's fair enough. But that shouldn't inhibit you seeing the force of the argument! Or can you understand only those people you agree with?

      My day job is materials science. Why should that stop me considering the meaning of life etc etc? And why should we think differently because the subject is immaterial? Schrödinger's…

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    8. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      My censored comment is more legitimate and relevant now than ever.

      'And in any case, whether or not you believe Abraham existed (another interesting debate!), you should be able to appreciate that for the very many that do these texts are normative.' - Obfuscation

      'I am not trying to persuade anyone of anything, except that this sort of argument determines the approach of very large groups of people to the question of circumcision.' - Redirection

      'If you cannot engage with it then you simply fail to see why those people get so upset.' - Projection

      bla..bla..bla...

      Chris Jeynes is a clever apologist that has no ideas of his own. I don't know why everyone is entertaining his ego.

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    9. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Excuse me? You suddenly put the proposition on the table that the non-material (as I should have more exactly have said), omnipotent, omnibenign, Creator of the Universe really DID order the head of a desert tribe to literally cut off his own foreskin and those of all his descendents, and you say I'M being silly?

      And I and others have shown that the subsequent explication and mitigation of the original claim, by metaphor piled on metaphor, is incoherent.

      I'm all too aware that some people fervertly…

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    10. Marwan Daar

      PhD Candidate, Center for Vision Research, York University

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Chris, suppose that in an alternate history, female genital cutting was an integral part of an entire people's religious and cultural identity for millennia, along with a counterpart to the story of Antiochus.

      If someone were to ask you whether you would support FGC in this alternate reality, I'm guessing you would say:

      "No, because culture cannot justify GBH".

      This conversation will go absolutely nowhere until you address why FGC constitutes GBH, and MGC does not constitute GBH.

      Clearly…

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    11. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Marwan Daar

      Marwan, I wish you would pay attention to what I say if you want to criticise me! I said previously on this subject, "I didn't say that either "FGM" or "MGM" necessarily caused GBH. I thought that FGM always did but it appeared I was mistaken. I also thought MGM never did, but I was mistaken there too. GBH is never justifiable."

      Do I need to underline this? It seems that circumcision (of whichever sex) can sometimes unarguably be GBH, and other times (arguably) fall short of GBH. GBH is never justifiable.

      In your alternate history FGC would be justifiable just as is MGC (provided it is not GBH). But your alternate history does not exist, so far as I know.

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    12. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Hugh Young

      On the contrary, Hugo, that is precisely the world in which we draft Declarations of human rights! Where do you think the drafters of the UDHR got their ideas from? Precisely from the philosophical ideas of the intrinsic worth of the human made in the image of God that they were brought up with!

      On Abraham, the text is the text. It has multiple attestation and an extraordinarily good provenance. It is probably the most reliable ancient text we have. It is, incidentally, significantly…

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    13. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Michael Huebner

      Just to point out, Michael, that your offensive post was removed, but I carefully reproduced the inoffensive parts (that is, most) of it in my reply. So "censorship" is not an issue here. TheConversation is supposed to be for rational debate, not trolling, right?

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    14. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Benjamin Selfridge

      I am merely airing the mainstream reading of an ancient and highly influential text. I am sorry that this is so alien to many participants on this thread, but it is an intrinsic part of this conversation.

      Circumcision was seen by Abraham as a symbol of moral covenant. This is a fact. The questions for us are a) what does it mean? and b) what does it imply for us?

      I am not contrasting male and female cutting, except that the one has an ancient sanction that the other (apparently) does not.

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    15. Juan Andres Alzate

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Chris, God apparently had no issue with David killing 200 Philistines to collect their foreskins as payment for Michal the daughter of Saul. Nice, isn't it?

      So, murder, sexual violence, forced marriage and selling daughters, all in 1 Samuel 18:27.

      Are those the values that shaped the UDHR?

      Also, you are a Christian. Christianity does not required circumcision. So why were you circumcised and why do you accept that? Why do you not care about having been injured by a doctor and had 30-50…

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    16. Juan Andres Alzate

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Perhaps you will say that my opinion about babies learning to not trust and learning not to feel empathy is far fetched.

      I'll give you a clear example of that though.

      We are talking of a procedure that no matter what, is painful for a baby and causes loss of part of the external genitalia. A procedure that even with the most optimistic rates of complications, 0.2%, which I don't even believe for one second, would still mean that at least 2,400 babies in the United States alone suffer complications every year (and that not counting long term complications that often are not detected, those that affect the adult).

      2,400 babies. That's almost 8 babies every day suffering complications. And we are concerned with philosophy, theology, and a covenant 4000 years ago between two characters whose historic existence is not even demonstrable.

      Where's the empathy?

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    17. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Juan Andres Alzate

      Juan, there are lots of very nasty things in the Old Testament. Much worse than the ones you mentioned. It is (or at least purports to be) an historical record, and nasty things happened in the past (and sadly continue today). These things happened, or at least, are thought to have happened by large groups of people, therefore continue to shape history, and consequently should be taken seriously. The book remains influential.

      I really have no idea why I was circumcised, but have no wish or need to criticise my parents. It is done, that's all. Moreover, although I can remember the occasion I can't remember anything bad about it, so this is first hand evidence that it is not a traumatic experience in at least some cases.

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    18. Juan Andres Alzate

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      I disagree that it's not traumatic. If you can't see the harm in causing this pain to babies and the sexual harm in removing part of their external genitalia, your brain was rewired by the experience that you do not remember.

      When I talk about circumcision of babies with Latin Americans, they immediately see it as barbaric. They are Catholics, most of them, and they can't believe, they would not subject a baby to this treatment. But you fail to see it wrong because you don't remember it. See my…

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    19. Marwan Daar

      PhD Candidate, Center for Vision Research, York University

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Chris, I appreciate the response.

      I did read what you wrote about this earlier, where you pointed out that you were previously unaware that MGM can sometimes cause harm.

      However, that still does not answer the question of WHY it causes harm. In other words, what were the conditions under which you judged MGM as harmful? Surely there must have been something about the description of the particular procedure that caused you to react with "ah, that does sound like it is harmful".

      What you have done is acknowledge that there are different degrees of MGC and FGC (which is something that many people are not aware of), and that some are more harmful than others.

      So let me ask you the question another way:

      What is it about "conventional" MGC (the sort that occurs to tens of thousands of baby boys every day) that you consider to be excluded from the definition of GBH?

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    20. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Marwan Daar

      Marwan & Juan: if it was that traumatic I would surely have remembered it as such! If the application of an admittedly gross-sounding procedure does not cause one young boy noticeable pain then that procedure cannot intrinsically and necessarily be too bad. I don't think I was particularly lucky, I suspect that if the people know what they are doing and do it right then complications are pretty rare. I think this answers your question, Marwan. You're talking with Catholics, Juan, but they…

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    21. Juan Andres Alzate

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      I mentioned before the optimistic rate of complications of 0.2%, and how that would represent 2,400 boys with early complications every year in the United States. (With a pessimistic rate we would have a larger number) You evidently don't care that 2,400 baby boys in the United State will suffer such complications. That's where I'm trying to make you see, that you are missing empathy towards them.

      Since I follow the circumcision issue, and it's only been 2 years, I see all the time, babies bleeding…

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    22. Marwan Daar

      PhD Candidate, Center for Vision Research, York University

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Chris, people who oppose human genital cutting on the grounds that it causes harm do not do so based on the amount of pain or trauma experienced during the procedure, but rather based on the lifelong loss of functional tissue.

      A study by the WHO found that over 90% of women who had experienced the worst form of FGC (type 4, which includes removal of labia and clitoris, and infibulation), nevertheless were able to experience orgasm during intercourse. According to your criterion, had they been adequately anaesthetized during the procedure, and given post operative care, this would not count as GBH.

      What are your thoughts on this?

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    23. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      We certainly do NOT get our concepts of human rights from a world in which "the ... Creator Who orders genital cutting also decides what human rights are". As Christopher Hitchens said, do you think the Hebrews thought murder and theft were okay until Moses brought down the tablets of stone? The teachings of the Pentateuch have only an accidental connection with human rights, which were forged over millennia independently and often in spite of theological teachings, such as the Divine Right of Kings…

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    24. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Slavery has 'teh anCienT BiBliCal' too. All it means and implies is that people like yourself will find a way to justify anything.

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    25. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      'These things happened, or at least, are thought to have happened by large groups of people, therefore continue to shape history, and consequently should be taken seriously. The book remains influential.' - Consensus truth rationalization

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    26. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      'why should the scruples (and philosophical presuppositions) of another group of people be determinative?' - because unlike yourself there exist people that can think for themselves.

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    27. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Hugh Young

      "The Jews assert that circumcision (done properly!) is not GBH."

      "done properly" is weasel-wording, since if circumcision turns out to wreck a man's sex life, it wasn't "done properly".

      There is no dotted line, no "right" amount to cut off. So far as I know there is no mention of the frenulum in any ancient writing. The frenulum is the web connecting the underside of the glans to the foreskin, a continuation of Taylor's ridged band of specialised nerves running round the inside of the tip…

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    28. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Michael Huebner

      Because it would be deleted again. This site has a rule against personal attacks, and they are in any case a logical fallacy. Please concentrate on the topic, not the person.

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    29. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Hugh Young

      I would concentrate on the topic but you people continue to feed this gynocentric troll that refuses to address any of your points or offer a positive or meaningful argument of his own. You should know by now that you are not going to change his opinion. All you can do is expose him for the self-loathing sycophant he is.

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    30. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Hugh Young

      'Mine is not the wrong question. If your God (or YHWH, a very different character) can say what is and is not a human right, so can Allah through his Messenger (pbuh).' - This

      The concept of human rights is great, but the problem is that it is always eventually raped by ideologues that wish to impose their pseudo historical narrative in order to advance their agenda. It is for that reason that feminists have NOT advanced MGM as a human rights issue.

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    31. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Michael Huebner

      I do not believe Christ Jeynes is a troll. His position has actually moved somewhat during the course of this conversation (very much as Richard Dawkins' has on Twitter), and if he is not repeatedly prodded with your sharp stick, it may move further. And as usual, we may also move the positions of an unknown number of lurkers.

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    32. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Hugh Young

      Whoops, "Christ" was a genuine typo, which this site won't let me correct, not a fulfilled threat.

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    33. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Hugh Young

      Sorry, Hugh, it was a mental confusion with the Guardian columnist of the same name (that is a compliment!) ...

      The "Book of J" is a fabrication of the scholars. The Masoretic text is astonishingly well attested, back to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Septuagint must represent an earlier version, but again a) this is only 2nd (or 3rd) century BC and b) there are many differences, mainly of interpretation, but they are invariably minor or trivial. The text itself is good.

      Your history is…

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    34. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Juan Andres Alzate

      Listen Juan, I didn't know any of this stuff, and thanks for taking the trouble to explain it! It sounds horrendous, and if such suffering is really inescapable then I would agree that the practise is indefensible!! Is that good enough?

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    35. Juan Andres Alzate

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Yes Chris, there is definitively a darker side to the issue of genital cutting, one that only becomes apparent when we start paying attention to it. Best wishes.

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    36. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Hugh Young

      Good point. I was trying to get to the heart of the matter but it seems like a lot of 'intactivists' don't want to go there out of some fear of being offensive. Everyone seems content to argue minutiae about ancient biblical texts and obscure definitions of human rights when it comes to slicing up another human being. I guess it has its place in certain settings, but it seems to me like a lot of sound and fury that wastes a lot of time.

      This article and thread illustrates perfectly that western society does not, nor never has cared for the welfare of men and boys, or at the very least does not view males as quiet as human or as deserving of protection as females. LOL good luck trying to get feminists to take MGM seriously.

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    37. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Not only are there "lots of very nasty things in the Old Testament. Much worse than the ones you mentioned." but many of them were ordered by the God of the Old Testament, who is, as Richard Dawkins said, "arguably the most unpleasant character
      in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving
      control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynist, homophobic, racist,infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal,
      pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."
      A few years ago some of us on the then Richard Dawkins website community proof-texted that quotation from the OT. Only "filicidal" wasn't there. It belongs to the NT.

      As a moral exemplar for the 21st century, God fails miserably.

      I'm curious that you were circumcised at an age to remember it. Do you know why? And if you weren't traumatised by the experience, you are unusual. I have a friend who finds the experience too painful to revisit.

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    38. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Michael Huebner

      I prefer to accept their ostensible reason as the real one, that it would distract attention from the stuggle against FGC, which they perceive as much more damaging than MGC.

      I argue that involuntary genital cutting is a single human rights violation and a united movement against it all would be stronger than two movements fighting each other.

      The argument that "genital cutting is a parental right, but no FGC should be allowed because it does no good" is faulty. When something is a right, those with that right do not need to justify it by its effects. In fact many (on Facebook pages with names like "Bitchin' Mommas") assert that they will cut their sons because they can, with no further justification needed. Well, sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose.

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    39. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      It shouldn't be hard to tell me from Hugo Young, who is 10 years dead.

      Do we really have to concern ourselves with the factual accuracy or otherwise of texts whose origin is "shrouded in mystery"? The same text that says all Jews must be circumcised says
      "For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring." (Gen 17:12)
      This implicitly endorses slavery, and today still endorses forcibly circumcising the live-in Mexican gardener.

      As even the most cursory search will show, Jesus did not originate the Golden Rule. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule) but it can be traced at least to Confucius, 500 years earlier.

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    40. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Hugh Young

      And if "man is made in the image of God" is poetry, how can that possibly help us in formulating human rights? "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" seems more relevant. (And yes, I know the context. Shylock was preaching human equality.)

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    41. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Hugh Young

      Hugh, on "man is made in the image of God", what I said was, "In modern terms this counts as poetry, that is, you should expect that the author of it (who longs predates Moses) is using a very condensed and elliptical expression, knowing perfectly well that God is not a man, that can be seen. Like poetry, if you are not willing to try to understand what is intended then you never will." And it does help formulate human rights since it (together with the web of texts that presuppose it) underlies…

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    42. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      I notice that whenever you want to blur what is happening, you use jargon like "determinative" and "normative" in ways that are not quite the usual ways. Do you mean the texts determine present day attitudes? Then say so. If they do, that's terrifying. For some people we know they do, and we hear calls for the execution of homosexuals and the like, but fortunately sensible people and certainly those formulating laws and human rights declarations do not listen to them.

      Let's call a spade a spade…

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    43. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      You wrote:

      "Curiously, you refer to the Golden Rule ("do as you would be done by") which comes from a memorable phrase of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 et passim). Our human rights law is based firmly on our Christian heritage, which is so deeply ingrained that you appear not to be aware of it!"

      and then
      "Nor did I say that Jesus originated the Golden Rule. Confucius was a latecomer. Jesus certainly had in mind the Holiness Code in Leviticus 19 - "love thy neighbour as thyself…

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    44. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Hugh Young

      Hugh: "We went to the book itself and found chapter and verse to back up every word." I don't doubt you. But you read it imposing a post-Enlightenment Western mindset on it. I notice that you did not defend yourself from my remark about anachronism. Your reading is unreliable.

      Must I apologise for being precise? "Mrs Do-as-you-would-be-done-by" (and Mrs. Be-done-by-as-you-did") were inventions of Charles Kingsley's that got into our language, and of course he explicitly credited Jesus with…

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    45. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Hugh Young

      'To love others as oneself is a command about a mental state, a counsel of perfection, impossible and impractical.'

      Welcome to organized religion which controls people in the name of saving them from themselves.

      I like the 'silver rule'.

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    46. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      'Unfortunately, there do remain many people who read the texts as carelessly as you do, and do indeed project all their own opinions and phobias onto it, and I agree that that is terrifying. But you can't blame the texts for that!'

      Sure you can. We don't even have a copy of the bible written in its original language nor do we know exactly who wrote it. Thats why the bible has been so good at justifying every human misery in history.

      Read it as carefully as you want, its still just a bunch of boring 10th hand accounts written by stone age superstitious fear mongers.

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    47. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Michael Huebner

      You see, Michael, on the one hand there are the wild-eyed religious fundamentalists that impose their own agendas on the texts, and on the other hand there are the wild-eyed semi-rationalists (like you) that make a virtue of misreading the texts.

      We have excellent texts of the Bible in the original languages - Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek - that are still in print today. Some parts of which are even stone age as you say. And the editorial standard in these texts is extraordinarily high, with the chain of attestation manifestly of great interest to the final compilers. Boring they are not. And as for "fearmongers", it is popularly alleged that "fear not" is an emphatic command included 365 times in the text (one for each day of the year, but I haven't checked this myself).

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    48. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      I don't misread the texts, I just don't care what they say. Only a few passages were written in Aramaic, and we know nothing about who first documented these 'stories'. As for what is written in Hebrew, its not even written in order and we still do know the original authors/witnesses.

      I make a virtue of nothing. I simply follow my passions and allow my values to evolve, and serve myself first and foremost. I have wasted far to much of my life on other people's garbage rationalizations. When I…

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    49. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      "The Bible says an astonishing amount actually about the equality of the sexes, starting with the assertion that it is man-and-woman together made "in the image of God"."

      But for generations it didn't say "man-and-woman together" it said "man". Our use of non-sexist language has come a long way since the 1970s, and anyone who was there will remember the terrible fights - now lost - against "Ms" and "chairperson". There were many humorous examples of the underlying sexism of unisex "man" - perhaps…

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    50. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Hugh Young

      "she was not taken from his head to rule over him, nor yet from his feet to be ruled by him, but from close to his heart to be loved by him."
      You might say this is just offensive and saccharine 18th century sentimentalism.

      "In [the Water Babies], Kingsley expresses many of the common prejudices of that time period, and the book includes dismissive or insulting references to Americans,[1] Jews,[2] blacks,[3] and Catholics[4] particularly the Irish.[5][6] " - Wikipedia

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    51. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Hugh Young

      'Whatever ancient influences may come from what, everybody in the world today lives in the world of today, and they have already shown an infinite capacity for bending their interpretations of ancient texts to suit what they really want to do today (as you show with your "rib-side-equality" exegesis).

      So the task of persuading people not to cut babies' genitals, whatever their sex, doesn't change just because of the strange cultural baggage different people carry. We all have our common humanity ("If you prick us, do we not bleed?") And the law certainly should not depend on ancient, incomplete, many-times-translated texts.'

      This. Finally.

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    52. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Hugh Young

      Very good Hugh, respect. I didn't want to put all that stuff in, but happy you did. To add to your list, the Jewish Publication Society 1999 edition of the Tanakh also says "rib". The question still remains though of what the ancient authors intended us to understand by "rib". Paul in the first century glosses this as a mutuality under God between man and woman when he said "For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God." (1 Corinthians 11:12…

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    53. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      "Very good Hugh, respect. I didn't want to put all that stuff in, but happy you did."
      Woooahhh!
      Way to appropriate someone else''s (hard) work as your own!
      I start to agree with Michael Heubner that you are a troll, just trying to wind people up. You certainly did. If you did that - claimed someone else's work as your own - in your academic work you'd face severe censure. "Respect" indeed!

      MY extensive search and research above clearly shows the contrary of what you clearly said: "it doesn't…

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    54. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Hugh Young

      'I suspect that if you knew where to look you'd find girls being cut, as boys are, "because we're Christians".'

      Do you know how many stupid 'Catholics' think circumcision is part of their religion? Not pentacostals, Catholics.

      Make no mistake of it. Chris Jeynes is just a run-of-the-mill dime-a-dozen troll, just a very smart one.

      Once you take the red pill, you see the world as it is.

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    55. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Hugh Young

      Why do people fly off the handle so fast? Hugh, your careful documentation is exactly the way I would do it, which you will see if you look on my website. I wasn't claiming your work as mine, why should I? I was wrong about rib/side, and thank you for correcting me. And you remain wrong in reading the texts so literally.

      The ancient authors weren't "writing" at all, just as Homer wasn't. The oral tradition was written down later. But the ancient authors were certainly composing for…

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    56. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Ok, I'll bite. For once you got straight to the point.

      Your are right. There was strong Christian influence in a lot of movements for social justice. But to say we derive any theory of human rights from Christianity is a stretch.

      Marxists were also involved in a lot of social movements too. Does this mean we derive all of our theories of human rights from Marxism?

      Everything in this world has some sort of influence on everything else and almost nothing is completely wrong or right. Christianity…

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    57. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Michael Huebner

      Hi Michael. Where do you think Marx got his theory of alienation from? Paul was very sensitive to it (Ephesians 4:18; Colossians 1:21) and of course he was looking back to Egypt (Exodus 18:3 etc etc). Of course, you're right to say, "Everything in this world has some sort of influence on everything else", and of course Marx made a seminal contribution (which has now unfortunately gone out of fashion). But there is no point in distortion by exaggeration.

      And Human Rights are not an "emergent…

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    58. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Marwan Daar

      Read it. More of the same 'men are the dominant sex' garbage. Its females that push for FGM the most.

      LOL having to fight in wars is not a 'privilege'.

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    59. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      It's the slithering that gets me. Probably starting with getting my name wrong and then claiming he confused me with someone dead 10 years, but I've actually been flying of the handle very, very slowly, over a period of days, like something in The Matrix.

      And now finally, finally admitting that the bible says what it does say, so that all that crap about it saying women are men's equal was completely beside the point....

      And now, putting the good old English word "beholden" in quotes as if…

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    60. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Circumcision began well before the Jews or the Egyptians, in the stone age, as some kind of blood/sex/fertility/propitiation/sacrifice/magic ritual.

      Suggestions include:
      - to give men the same power over life and death as women, of bleeding without dying,
      - as a watered-down castration
      - as a watered-down child-sacrifice
      - to sacrifice the part and hence to strengthen the whole
      - to give the flaccid penis more of the appearance of the erect one, and hence to encourage virility and fertility
      - and more

      We will probably never know the truth, but good luck with finding "a well-established philosophical justification going back some 4000 years which has to be given due weight" in any of that.

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    61. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Hugh Young

      Male disposability is universal. Even in countries where MGM is uncommon boys receive no protections under the law.

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    62. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Hugh Young

      Hi Hugh: it seems I wasn't as wrong as all that. The Septugint (2-3rd century BC Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) has "πλευρων" (pleuron) which in the New Testament is always translated "side" (as in John 19:34; 20:25ff etc) and never translated "rib" (although that is its primary meaning). And the Hebrew of Genesis 2:21 "ribs" [מצלעתיו] (m-ts-l-a-t-y-w) from the root [צלע] (ts-l-a) is never subsequently translated "rib" (except in Daniel's vision of 7:5) but always something else…

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    63. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      And nary a word about genital cutting, male or female.

      ("Do you think they didn't know how many ribs people had?"
      It's a popular fallacy to this day that men have one rib fewer than women, for precisely this reason.)

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    64. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Hugh Young

      I agree my post is a bit marginal, but it is still on-topic since my whole thesis is that the texts have to be understood properly to understand the attachment to male cutting. The text in question is foundational, and yes, I know about the fallacy, which comes from the (anachronistic) desire to read the text over-literally.

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    65. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Hugh Young

      'This is not a matter of my ideology but generally valid history (and philosophy).' - Chris Jeynes

      Yes he is slithering.

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    66. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      You are a robot. You just can't rid yourself of other people's ideas and think for yourself. You can't even address a quarter of the posts I have made.

      Even if the bible is 'foundational' to our society, it doesn't mean it can't be wrong.

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    67. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Michael Huebner

      Only some of your posts merit an answer, Michael. Something that is foundational should be accorded appropriate attention, whether or not it is right or laudable. Obviously I think the Bible is right, but that is debatable and in any case my argument hasn't depended on it. You get the wrong end of the stick, as usual.

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    68. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      Everyone has addressed your points. You have not addressed everyone else's points. You determine what is important. You determine what is foundational.

      You sucked this discussion into completely irrelevant biblical semantics. You are a troll.

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  15. Roland Day

    logged in via email @ymail.com

    It is entirely wrongheaded to have a contest between circumcision of male children and circumcision of female children to see which one has the greater injury and the greater wrong.

    It should be enough to say that both create physical injury, both violate human rights, both are wrong, and both should be prohibited by law.

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  16. Tim Hammond

    Survey Programmer

    The belief that cutting away up to half the skin system of a baby's penis by the act of circumcision is somehow benign, morally/ethically acceptable or religiously/culturally defensible is absurd.

    This stems from the fact that the medical community has yet to do any studies of the long-term adverse outcomes to boys and the men they become. With this in mind, the Global Survey of Circumcision Harm (CircumcisionHarm.org) was conducted in 2011-2012.

    More than 1,000 men responded to the survey…

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  17. Ron Low

    Foreskin Restorer

    The ethics of infant circumcision revolve around whose choice it rightfully is to elect amputation of a healthy normal (or even atypical) body part.

    Proxy (parental) consent for an intervention is ethical only if waiting for the patient's own rational consent would lead to harm, and when less-destructive options are exhausted. Forced genital cutting fails this test decidedly.

    "What constutes harm" is only for the owner of the genitals to decide. EVERY circumcision alters sex dramatically by amputating thousands of pleasure-receptive nerve endings, removing protection for the mucosal glans, and eliminating the frictionless gliding mode of stimulation. There is absolutely no debate about this.

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  18. Mike Roloff

    logged in via Facebook

    Making it a taboo to compare male with female sexual mutilation is the biggest scandal of the controversy. In both instances the most sensitive and most erogenous zone of the human body is amputated and severely damaged. In both instances, what counts primarily is the cutting of human sexuality. The imposition of control by the patriarchy. A good look at a book on embryology will show the development of the nerves and tissue and how they are the same.

    What is lacking in all the talk about…

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  19. Tim Hammond

    Survey Programmer

    It seems this Conversation has become extraordinarily academic and has lost sight of the children that it impacts and how the adults they become confront or deny the harm done to them.

    Excerpt from 'A Preliminary Poll of Men Circumcised in Infancy or Childhood' published in BJU International (1999):

    [ Generally, men circumcised in childhood remain uninformed of its effects. Lilienfeld, et al. (9) found that one-third of circumcised men were unaware they were circumcised. Schlossberger, et…

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    1. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Tim Hammond

      I hadn't "lost sight of the children", Tim, although I do agree that the conversation had become apparently theoretical.

      I was not aware of the nasty underside of current circumcision practise : but I don't find it "difficult to believe". And thanks to all contributors for informing me (and other silent readers too, no doubt). I repeat that I too find these very nasty accounts entirely unjustifiable, as all GBH is.

      Your quotes (and links) do help to refocus and clarify this conversation…

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    2. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Tim Hammond

      'It seems this Conversation has become extraordinarily academic...'

      No offense, but you are only just starting to get this? Don't allow yourself to be trolled so easily.

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    3. Chris Jeynes

      Senior researcher at University of Surrey

      In reply to Michael Huebner

      I remind all readers of this thread that (so far) Michael Huebner is the only one to have had a comment removed as offensive by the moderator (less than a week ago). Trolling? People in glass houses ...

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    4. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      'This seems reasonable until you remember that Jewish circumcision is a practice dating back some 4000 years and recognised as an important marker of identity...Therefore my discussions of the ancient texts on which Jewish identity are based remain relevant. The issue is not merely physical. Sadly, it is more difficult.'

      Its only more difficult because you say so. Its actually very easy. You just can't create an 'identity' for yourself, can you Chris Jeynes?

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    5. Michael Huebner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      'Michael Huebner is the only one to have had a comment removed as offensive'.

      This has been a great experiment. While I am no longer surprised, I am still amazed by how deep gynocentrism in western culture goes. It is only with a great deal of censorship that all discussion must forever dance around the central issue that western society will always view males as disposable.

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    6. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Chris Jeynes

      "This seems reasonable until you remember that Jewish circumcision is a practice dating back some 4000 years and recognised as an important marker of identity."

      As has already been demonstrated, antiquity does not justify any practice. Many human rights abuses were perpetrated for millennia until they were stopped.

      And how important can circumcision be as a marker of Jewish identity? Who ever sees it? As one Rabbi said, when asked if an intact boy could have a Bar Mitzvah: "We don't check…

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  20. Rebecca Steinfeld

    Visiting Scholar, Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS, University of London

    Thank you all for your continued comments on my article. I'm really pleased my piece has sparked such engaging debate. I have now published an article in Israel's Haaretz newspaper directly addressing the issue of anti-Semitism (including Antiochus Epiphanes!). The article asks whether censure of circumcision is best understood as the latest manifestation of European anti-Semitism or the necessary next step in child protection. You can read it here http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/the-jewish-thinker/.premium-1.560244, though it's behind a paywall. Fortunately, the first 150 words are available for free on my website http://www.rebeccasteinfeld.com/2013/11/it-cuts-both-ways-jew-argues-for-child.html, and I'll post the whole article there in 48 hours… Please feel free to share your thoughts here, on Twitter @beccasteinfeld or directly on Haaretz. Thanks.

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    1. Hugh Young

      independent researcher

      In reply to Rebecca Steinfeld

      "...Geoffrey Alderman dedicated his column to my character assassination, describing me as “a leading anti-Jewish Jew of the younger generation.” Though I appreciated the attention, I was disappointed – why not “the” leading anti-Jewish Jew? It would have brought my parents such nachas."

      I love your chutzpah! I can't wait to read the rest.

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  21. Tim Hammond

    Survey Programmer

    Michael Huebner said: "Do you know how many stupid 'Catholics' think circumcision is part of their religion?"

    In my 25 years of research on this subject Michael, I too have encountered this statement from Catholic men as their theory of why they were circumcised as infants, but only from Catholic men in the U.S. and not those in predominantly Catholic countries of Europe. I think this may stem from the Catholic church's 'Feast of the Circumcision' (01 January) being influenced by the widespread social practice of non-therapeutic infant circumcision in the U.S.

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  22. Tim Hammond

    Survey Programmer

    Fortunately for children in the very near future, this issue will not be decided by academics using historical arguments. It will not even be decided by legislatures seeking to ban non-therapeutic genital cutting of children. Such bans are important, yet only symbolic, since only a small number of people has been prosecuted for female genital cutting after such bans were enacted by Western Nations in the 1990s.

    This issue will be decided by national and international courts of law recognizing…

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  23. Tim Hammond

    Survey Programmer

    Rebecca: I noticed that there is an error in one of the links in your thought-provoking article (https://theconversation.com/like-fgm-cut-foreskins-should-be-a-feminist-issue-20328)

    It appears in the last sentence of paragraph three:
    "MGC is also far more common globally: 13m boys to 2m girls annually."

    The words "13m boys to 2m girls" appears to be a link to something but is either incorrectly linked or non-functional.

    Could you perhaps have intended it to link to this page?
    http://www.noharmm.org/HGMstats.htm#EIChart

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