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Iceland is considering becoming the first country in the world to ban infant circumcision, the practice of removing a newborn’s foreskin for no medical reason. The legislature is coming under fire from European Jewish organizations for being antisemitic.
It’s not coming under fire from Icelandic Jewish organizations, mostly because there are none. There are an estimated 90 Jews in Iceland, and as of this moment none seem to have come forward with a strong opinion about their or their children’s dicks. That said, it doesn’t matter how many people of a particular religion or culture live in a place if that place is enacting bigoted laws against them, since those laws can be used to oppress the small minority in the country while keeping others out of the country. In fact, one of the reasons there are so few Jews in Iceland is because Iceland refused to take in Jewish people fleeing the Holocaust, which we now understand is all kinds of fucked up (even if we fail to see the connection between that and failing to provide help for people fleeing similar circumstances in other countries today).
The Jewish Communities of Nordic Countries penned a letter to the Icelandic government arguing against the circumcision ban, stating in part, “If any country with next to no Christian inhabitants would ban a central rite in Christianity, like communion for instance, we are certain that the whole Christian world would react as well.”
And that’s true! If, say, a predominantly Muslim country banned communion, Christians in the US would be up in arms and at this point, who knows, Trump would probably declare war.
Here’s the issue: there are several rather stark differences between circumcision and communion. Chief among them is that during a communion, no infants have a piece of their own body amputated for absolutely no medical reason. I mean, I don’t think. It’s been a really long time since I’ve taken communion but I’m pretty sure that at the absolute worst, if you’re Catholic, you eat a little cracker that magically turns into a piece of Jesus as you digest it. But Jesus is a consenting adult — he literally said that we should do it. He’s into it. He may get off on it, who knows.
But with circumcision, it’s usually a surgery performed on infants who can’t possibly consent. I say “usually” because there are a few cases of adult men who decide to get circumcised after converting to Judaism, and in the past in some cultures circumcision was seen as a coming-of-age act or an act of manliness to have a piece of your own dick cut off without flinching. If that were the normal Jewish ritual, the comparison to communion would still be a stretch, but it would at least be vaguely comparable.
Instead, infant male circumcision has less to do with communion and more to do with another cultural act that many people try to keep up in the name of religion: female genital mutilation, which Iceland outlawed in 2005. Again, it’s not a perfect comparison since FGM so much more often results in extreme disfigurement, illness, and death in girls, but it’s a hell of a lot closer to male circumcision than male circumcision is to eating a cracker and having a sip of wine (or grape juice for poor suckers like me who were raised Baptist).
So yeah, Iceland (along with most other reasonable countries) banned FGM ages ago and didn’t give a shit about the cries of religious persecution. Why? Because reasonable people understand that your religious rights end where an innocent person’s body begins, and those infants are innocent people with no concept of religion or culture. What an infant should have is basic bodily rights — the right to be complete, “as God made them,” if you will.
I’ll end by pointing out that there are rare medical circumstances where circumcision is deemed appropriate by a doctor, and where it is performed by a doctor and not a random Jewish guy who closes the wound by putting his mouth over the baby’s genitals. And I’ll also point out that yes, the vast majority of male circumcisions result in no lasting harm to the child, and the vast majority of men grow up not missing their foreskin. All of that, though, makes no difference. If there’s any chance of harm, and if there’s any chance that a person would not consent to having it done, and if there’s no medical reason to do it, why are we doing it?
Iceland is in the right. I hope they pass the legislation and I hope that other countries soon follow suit, including the United States, where nearly half of infant boys are circumcised even though Jews only make up about 2% of our population–because, like female genital mutilation, it’s a cultural artifact having little to do with anything any god ever told anyone to do.