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Posts Tagged ‘cultural imperialism

Rev. Giles Fraser, a Believer in Collective Guilt and Imperialism?

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Giles Fraser, ex-Canon Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral penned an article on why the ban on circumcision in Germany[1] is an affront to Jews and Muslims.

In the article he makes a risible allegation:

The philosopher Emil Fackenheim, himself a survivor of Sachsenhausen concentration camp, famously added to the 613th commandments of the Hebrew scriptures with a new 614th commandment: thou must not grant Hitler posthumous victories. This new mitzvah insisted that to abandon one’s Jewish identity was to do Hitler’s work for him. Jews are commanded to survive as Jews by the martyrs of the Holocaust. My own family history – from Miriam Beckerman and Louis Friedeburg becoming Frasers (a name change to escape antisemitism) to their grandson becoming Rev Fraser (long story) to the uncircumcised Felix Fraser – can be read as a betrayal of that 614th commandment.

The above passage can be interpreted to mean that the loss of Jewish identity caused by the denial of circumcision is identical to the deliberate systematic extermination of all European Jews. While one may legitimately question the strength of a religious identity which depends so intimately on 30-40 sq. cms.[2] of skin, the more serious implication here is that Rev. Fraser believes that the denial of circumcision is equivalent to the Holocaust and it is sinister that it is a German court, of all places, that would symbolically re-create the Holocaust 70 years later. He even alludes to it in a later tweet

Collective Guilt

Rev. Fraser seems to be mighty keen to impute anti-semitic motivations to the court. He seems to believe that because Germany under Nazi rule systematically exterminated Jews, all Germans, even those who may not have been born during the Nazi era, bear some guilt for the Holocaust and thus should be extra-sensitive to Jewish concerns.

But Rev. Fraser should be extra careful of tarring all Germans with the collective guilt of the Holocaust. The notion of collective guilt has not been kind to Jews.[3] Jews were collectively blamed for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

When Pilate saw that he could not prevail, but rather that a tumult was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person. See ye to it.” Then answered all the people and said, “His blood be on us, and on our children!”

Matthew 27:24-25

It is this collective guilt, forced on the Jews, which contributed to the rise of European anti-semitism and ultimately to the Holocaust. As Martin Luther wrote[4] in On the Jews and Their Lies

[The Jews] grew wrathful, bitter, and hateful, and ranted against [Christ]; finally they contrived the plot to kill him. And that is what they did; they crucified him as ignominiously as possible. They gave free rein to their anger, so that even the Gentile Pilate noticed this and testified that they were condemning and killing him out of hatred and envy, innocently and without cause.

On the Jews and Their Lies was publicly exhibited in a glass case at the Nuremberg Rallies.[5]

The traditional Roman Catholic Good Friday Prayer for Jews goes like this:

Oremus et pro perfidis Judæis: ut Deus et Dominus noster auferat velamen de cordibus eorum; ut et ipsi agnoscant Jesum Christum, Dominum nostrum…

After WWII Pope Pius XII declared that perfidus in Latin meant unbelieving and not treacherous.

In a meeting with the Roman Catholic Bishop Wilhelm Berning of Osnabrück, on April 26, 1933, Hitler said:

I have been attacked because of my handling of the Jewish question. The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for fifteen hundred years, put them in ghettos, etc., because it recognized the Jews for what they were. In the epoch of liberalism the danger was no longer recognized. I am moving back toward the time in which a fifteen-hundred-year-long tradition was implemented. I do not set race over religion, but I recognize the representatives of this race as pestilent for the state and for the Church, and perhaps I am thereby doing Christianity a great service by pushing them out of schools and public functions.

The Eastern Orthodox Church also refers to Jews as

the murderers of God, the lawless nation of the Jews[6]

Given what the notion of collective guilt has wrought on Rev. Fraser’s forefathers, one would expect him to be more circumspect in dishing out collective guilt to others.


Another point regarding this comparison of a ban on circumcision with a victory for Hitler. If the loss of Jewish identity due to a ban on circumcision is to be considered a victory for Hitler, what would one call the loss of tribal identity and traditions due to a ban on female genital mutilation among the Kikuyu as campaigned for by british missionaries? As Jomo Kenyatta, the first Prime Minister of independent Kenya said:

The real argument lies not in the defense of the general surgical operation or its details, but in the understanding of a very important fact in the tribal psychology of the Kikuyu—namely, that this operation is still regarded as the essence of an institution which has enormous educational, social, moral and religious implications, quite apart from the operation itself. For the present it is impossible for a member of the tribe to imagine an initiation without clitoridoctomy [sic]. Therefore the … abolition of the surgical element in this custom means … the abolition of the whole institution.[7]

Culture and tradition are about being a part of something wider than oneself … We are born into a network of relationships that provide us with a cultural background against which things come to make sense. “We” comes before “I”. We constitutes our horizon of significance.[8]

By Rev. Fraser’s logic the ban on female genital mutilation was thus an attack on the Kikuyu identity, an attack by the colonial administration and missionaries.[9] Thus any such continuing attack on female genital mutilation is a victory for imperialism. Thus the prohibition on female genital mutilation in the UK is a victory for the UK’s imperialist past. Is Rev. Fraser proud of the UK’s imperialist past? He sure does try to hide his support for imperialism behind feminist rhetoric

Male circumcision, in fundamentally the same way, is an act of physical abuse of defenceless male infants and the exhibition of the power of the priestly class but you will not hear Rev. Fraser say that.

Dear Rev. Fraser, given the UK’s imperialist history, especially in Kenya are you really happy for the British to ban what it is to be Kikuyu?[10]

P.S. If you haven’t, please read (including the footnote) the second paragraph from Mr. Kenyatta’s “statement” above.


[1] An issue on which I have blogged earlier

[2] Kigozi et. al. Foreskin surface area and HIV acquisition in Rakai, Uganda (size matters) AIDS. 2009 October 23; 23(16): 2209–2213 doi: 10.1097/QAD.0b013e328330eda8

[3] Of note: Rev Fraser’s father was jewish.

[4] On the Jews and Their Lies, Section VIII

[5] Noble, Graham. “Martin Luther and German anti-Semitism,” History Review (2002) No. 42:1-2.

[6] Metropolitan Kallistos and Mother Mary. The Lenten Triodion St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2002, p. 589 (third stichos of the Beatitudes at Matins on Holy Friday)

[7] Mufaka, Kenneth. Scottish Missionaries and the Circumcision Controversy in Kenya, 1900–1960 International Review of Scottish Studies, vol 28, 2003.

[8] To be honest, these (this paragraph) are not Mr. Kenyatta’s words. They are Rev. Fraser’s (substitute “Culture and tradition are” with “Faith is” to get the original). But doesn’t what Rev. Fraser say, in the defence of male circumcision, eerily echo what Mr. Kenyatta said, in the defence of female genital mutilation, all those years ago?

[9] Thomas, Lynn M. ‘Ngaitana (I will circumcise myself)’: Lessons from Colonial Campaigns to Ban Excision in Meru, Kenya, in Shell-Duncan, Bettina and Hernlund, Ylva (eds). Female “Circumcision” in Africa. Lynne Rienner, 2000, p.

[10] Female Genital Cutting on UK Parliament Agenda

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 18, 2012 at 12:44

What About Teh Wimminz??!!??

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In an earlier post I had referred to a ruling by a German court in Cologne outlawing religious circumcision of male children. This was the same ruling which led to Brendan O’Neill to write about how anti-circumcision rhetoric echoes anti-semitism.

In the linked article, the Guardian carries the reactions of religious groups who are predictably outraged. What is interesting though is the reaction of feminists:

Women’s rights groups and social policy makers also condemned the decision, but for the reason that it would have the effect of putting male and female circumcision on the same footing, when they were “in no way comparable”, said Katrin Altpeter, social minister in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Female circumcision she said, was a far more drastic act. It is already outlawed in Germany.

Competitive victimhood is sickening. No victim’s trauma is minimised by acknowledging that another person is a victim too. Altpeter’s rationale is similar to saying that a victim of rape is put on the same footing as a victim of larceny because both rape and larceny are felonies.

Can male circumcision be placed on an equal footing with female circumcision? Yes and no. This is because “female circumcision”[1] is an umbrella term covering a variety of practices. The WHO classifies these practices into 4 categories.

  1. Type II and Type III are more aptly described as gross mutilations of the female genitalia
  2. Type IV covers miscellaneous procedures, ranging from the relatively innocuous[2] e.g. pricking and piercing to more repulsive practices such as burning, scarring to cutting the vaginal wall[3]
  3. Type I is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce . Type Ia is the removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only. This Type Ia female circumcision is the exact analogue of male circumcision.

This male circumcision is identical to certain practices of female circumcision and is also not identical to other practices of female circumcision.

The next question to ask is what is the legal treatment of male circumcision and female circumcision?

  1. The United States has banned all forms of female circumcision.[4]
    • The language of the statute indicates that even type Ia female circumcision is a criminal act. On the other hand, 55% or more of all newborn male infants are circumcised.[5]
  2. The United Kingdom has outlawed female circumcision.[6] The offence is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceesing 14 years.[7]
    • The statutory language indicates that type Ia female circumcision is outlawed.[8] WHO data indicates that 11.7% of boys born in 1980-84 in the UK are circumcised.[9][10]
    • No criminal prosecutions have been initiated under the law but sanctiones have been levied by the Medical Council.[11]
  3. France, unlike the US and the UK does not have any specific statutes against female circumcision. Such acts are prosecuted under the general criminal law proscribing acts of violence.[12] There is no distinction between female and male circumcision, both possibly punishable for a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years. Since 1979, 35 cases of female circumcision have been prosecuted.[13] I have been unable to find any case of male circumcision prosecuted. Given that there are an estimated 5-6 million Muslims in France[14], any sanction by the state would be protested vocally similar to the ban on face coverings..
  4. Belgium, like the UK and the US has specific statutes outlawing female circumcision.[15]
    • The language of the statute indicates that type Ia female circumcision is also outlawed.[16] Around 3% of the males in Belgium are circumcised.[17]
    • No criminal prosecutions have been initiated under the law.[18]
  5. Germany, like France relies on general criminal statutes to proscribe female circumcision. A Karlsruhe court ruled that parents have no right to subject their daughters to circumcision. However, unlike France, no criminal prosecutions have been initiated. [19] The German parliament is currently considering stiffer penalties for female circumcision.[20]

Further discussion on the legal aspects of female circumcision in Europe can be found here and here.

The purpose of the above survey of the legal rules pertaining to circumcision in the developed countries is to highlight the institutionalised gender discrimination which considers males children to be less worthy of protection than female children. While there is no disagreement that type II and III female circumcision should be outlawed, there is no answer to the question as to why type Ia female circumcision, an exact analogue to male circumcision, is treated differently to it. Is it fair to say that Katrin Altpeter is in favour of legal discrimination in the favour of female children and to the detriment of male children? Is Katrin Altpeter sexist?

Secondly, is Katrin Altpeter aware of carious degrees of a felony, with different aggravating factors, e.g. felony in the first degree, felony in the second degree, felony in the third degree and so on? Certain crimes are broadly similar but due to different aggravating factors are treated differently. Just because a felony of a lesser degree is recognised by the law, doesn’t mean that the felony of a higher degree is put on an equal footing with that of felony of the lesser degree. There is no diminishment of the gravity and seriousness of the felony of the higher degree. Just because male circumcision has been outlawed, doesn’t mean it will carry the same penalty as type II and III female circumcision (though I don’t see why type Ia female circumcision and male circumcision should not treated identically under the law). Her opposition is a kind of zero-sum competitive victimhood which escalates conflicts and impedes the resolution of social problems.

Inter-group competitive victimhood (CV) describes the efforts of members of groups involved in violent conflicts to establish that their group has suffered more than their adversarial group. Such efforts contribute to conflicts’ escalation and impede their peaceful resolution. CV stems from groups’ general tendency to compete with each other, along with the deep sense of victimization resulting from conflicts. The authors … contend that such competition serves various functions that contribute to the maintenance of conflicts. … they suggest that CV may reflect groups’ motivations to restore power or moral acceptance.[21] [22]

Thirdly female circumcision is widely practiced in Africa and among African immigrants in the developed nations. Justifications for female circumcision abound in African cultures. As Jomo Kenyatta, the first Prime Minister of independent Kenya said:

The real argument lies not in the defense of the general surgical operation or its details, but in the understanding of a very important fact in the tribal psychology of the Kikuyu—namely, that this operation is still regarded as the essence of an institution which has enormous educational, social, moral and religious implications, quite apart from the operation itself. For the present it is impossible for a member of the tribe to imagine an initiation without clitoridoctomy [sic]. Therefore the … abolition of the surgical element in this custom means … the abolition of the whole institution.[23]

Cultural defences of female circumcision are explicity not recognised as defence to a prosecution for female circumcision in France[24]. In the UK custom is no defence to a prosecution of female circumcision.[25] Deliberations in the Commons explicitly rejected use of culture or custom as a defence.

“Respect for other cultures does not mean that we should ignore practices that are so harmful, and that violate the most basic human rights”[26] “[R]espect for other cultures should not include condoning or ignoring practices that abuse and deny human rights. Personally, I believe that cultures are sacrosanct only if they are consistent with human rights.”[27]

Male circumcision is, on the other hand, practiced widely in North American, Europe, the Muslim world and in Muslim and Jewish communities all over the world. Male circumcision thus has the imprimatur of the Abrahamic religions.

Is Katrin Altpeter when saying that male and female circumcision “are in no way comparable” also saying that the culture of Africans is not as worthy of respect as that of people professing any one of the Abrahamic religions? That sounds a lot like racism and cultural imperialism.[28] [29]

So is Katrin Altpeter:

  • Sexist?
  • Racist?
  • a Cultural Imperialist?
  • Ignorant of how criminal law works?

Based on her opposition to the Cologne court’s decision I think she is all of the above. And she is also wrong for claiming that the court’s decision would have the effect of putting male and female circumcision on the same footing. Unfortunately for the people (men and Africans?) of Baden-Wuerttemberg she is also the Minister for Labour & Social Affair, Family, Women and Seniors. Aah, maybe that explains it, after all she is not the Minister for Men.

Note: The title of the post “What About Teh Wimminz??!!??” is used deliberately. It echoes the “What About Teh Menz” phrase.

“What About Teh Menz?” is a term often used in feminist circles, generally to refer to the sort of people who derail conversations about, say, rape culture to instead be about how women are not sleeping with nice guys and prefer bad boys. That is kind of shitty behavior!

Katrin Altpeter, similarly tried to derail the conversation about how male circumcision is bodily harm, to how female circumcision is being “diminished”[30] by putting it on the same footing as male circumcision. The title aptly describes Altpeter’s behaviour.

[1] The more widely used term is Female Genital Mutilation. However since the Guardian article uses “female circumcision” I will also use “female circumcision” in this post.

[2] Relative to Type II and Type III

[3] A practice known as gishiri cutting

[4] “[W]hoever knowingly circumcises … the whole or any part … of the … clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.18 USC § 116(a)

[5] Trends in In-Hospital Newborn Male Circumcision — United States, 1999–2010

[6] A person is guilty of an offence if he … mutilates the whole or any part of a girl’s … clitoris. Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, 2003 c. 31

[7] Id. § 5

[8] Removal of the prepuce is a mutilation of a partof the clitoris.

[9] Male circumcision: global trends and determinants of prevalence, safety and acceptability, page 12.

[10] These statistics do not specify how many circumcisions were done for non-medical reasons and at what age.

[11] Leye, E and Deblonde, J A comparative analysis of the different legal approaches towards female genital mutilation in the 15 EU Member States, and the respective judicial outcomes in Belgium, France, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom ICRH Publications N° 8, page 36.

[12] Articles 222-9 and 222-10 of the Penal Code of France.

[13] Poldermans, S Combating Female Genital Mutilation in Europe. Unfortunately there is no breakdown of the cases based on the WHO classification for female circumcision.

[14] 8-10% of the population according to the US State Department

[15] “Anyone who undertakes, facilitates or promotes any form of mutilation of the genitalia of a person of the female sex, with or without her consent, will be punished by a term of imprisonment of three to five years.” Art. 409 of the Code of Criminal Law of Belgium.

[16] Removal of the clitoral prepuce is a form of mutilation of the female genitalia.

[17] Global circumcision rates. The statistic does not specify how many of the circumcised males were minor when circumcised.

[18] Supra note 11, at 37

[19] Supra note 11, at 16

[20] Genital mutilation and German law

[21] Noor, M, Shnabel, N, Halabi, S and Nadler, A When Suffering Begets Suffering: The Psychology of Competitive Victimhood Between Adversarial Groups in Violent Conflicts Pers Soc Psychol Rev doi:10.1177/1088868312440048

[22] Of course there is no violent conflict between sufferers of female circumcision and male circumcision but is there any doubt that Altpeter’s protestations derive from a worldview which sees females and males as adversaries, where any acknowledgement of that one group suffers comes necessarily at the expense of the other group?

[23] Mufaka, Kenneth. Scottish Missionaries and the Circumcision Controversy in Kenya, 1900–1960 International Review of Scottish Studies, vol 28, 2003.

[24] Supra note 13 at 42

[25] Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, 2003 c. 31 § 1(5)

[26] Hansard Vol 401, Col 1190

[27] Hansard Vol 401, Col 1197

[28] To those who say that culture is not the same as religion, what is the difference? Both are derived from a set of beliefs and practices. Is one to be respected over the other because it is codified in a set of books and the other is passed down only by words and practice?

[29] To those who say I am making an argument based on cultural relativism: I am not saying that all varieties of female circumcision should be allowed because we need to respect African cultures. But what would you call someone who minimises a practice in one culture (e.g. an Abrahamic religion) while campaigning to curb an exactly analogous practice in another culture? Cultural imperialist does come to mind. I agree with what was said in the Commons that “[C]ultures are sacrosanct only if they are consistent with human rights.” If a particular culture respects human rights, it in my eyes is superior to any other culture which does not.

[30] Quotes mine. As has been shown above the problem of female circumcision has in no way been minimised by the Cologne court’s ruling.

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 4, 2012 at 20:56