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Posts Tagged ‘physical abuse

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

Parental Freedom of Religion vs. the Child’s Physical Integrity

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I usually agree with Brendan O’Neill but once in a while I disagree with him. This is one of those times.

His contentions are:

  1. Banning male circumcision, carried out as part of religious ritual, is an attack on the freedom of religion and on parents’ rights to initiate their children into their religion.
  2. Corollary to the above is that parents have the right to physical and mental modification of the their offspring to conform to their religious beliefs.
  3. Description of male circumcision as child abuse is an anti-semitic trope centuries old.
  4. Parents imparting their religious beliefs is not abuse and labelling it so is a “cynical tactic”
  5. There is a slippery slope. Now parents are being prevented from circumcising their male children. In the future parents will be be prevented from imparting their religious beliefs to their children and will not be allowed to raise their children in their faith.
  6. This is also excessive interference in the family life by the state.

Against this I argue:

  1. Circumcision is a permanent body modification of the male child without its consent. Male children (by definition) are incapable of consent. Violating the physical integrity of any person without consent is abuse.[1]
  2. Not every religious practice deserves respect. Sati was sanctioned in certain strains of Hinduism. I would be interested to note what O’Neill thinks of banning Sati as a prohibition on the free exercise of religion.[2]
  3. Christian Scientists believe in praying over modern medicine as a means of treatment. This has led to preventable deaths in children. Commonwealth v. Twitchell was a famous case where the Christian Scientist parents were prosecuted for the death of their child who was treated only according to Christian Science tenets. While the parents were convicted, on appeal their sentence was overturned on grounds of religious freedom.
    • Even if the practice is carried out by a community which was historically persecuted, that should have no bearing on whether such practice should continue.
      • The right thing can be done for the wrong reasons; the right thing can be done for the right reasons.
      • The current court decision does not single out any particular class of people for prosecution unlike the anti-circumcision posturing of the Middle Ages
  4. O’Neill has been framed the debate as freedom of religion vs. the State. What if parents want their son circumcised to prevent masturbation? Would he support their right to do so? If he answered no, would he change his answer if the parents have a religious objection to masturbation? (And if he answered yes to the penultimate question does he believe that parents have the right to control all manifestations of their child’s sexuality? I can imagine parents not wanting their child to engage in sexual intercourse until the child has achieved a certain level of maturity.)

I am sympathetic to O’Neill’s argument that this is a slippery slope. One needs to articulate a limiting principle which would prevent state interference in the freedom of religion while balancing the interests of the child.

  • Firstly a distinction has to be made between physical transformation/modification and a mental transformation (via education in religious beliefs). One has to recognise that while physical transformation is irreversible, mental transformation is not irreversible. People brought up in religious households can turn their back on their religion of birth. They can covert into other religions and even give up on religion altogether.
  • Therefore unlike banning circumcision, banning religious education is an overreach because such education is reversible, children on turning older can change their minds regarding religion. This is not the case with circumcision.
  • There is thus a limiting principle which can limit the state’s interference with the right of the parent to raise his/her child in the way the parents best sees fit.

I agree with O’Neill that the imparting of religious education to children cannot be classified as child abuse. If it can be so then can imparting one’s politics to one’s children be far behind? Will parents who tell their children which politician to admire and how they should vote when they grow up be considered as child abusers? Let the parents impart whatever education they want. Children will grow up and make up their minds on their own. They may even change it.

Finally O’Neill refers to the Waco Siege as an example of where charges of child abuse can lead to significant harm. But that doesn’t mean all allegations of child abuse are false. And in the case of Waco the deaths were not due to allegations of child abuse but due to bad tactics and impatience shown by the FBI. The moral of Waco is not that allegations of child abuse should not be taken seriously (otherwise one could end up with Jerry Sandusky) but that situations like Waco need to be handled with more patience and care. In fact all allegations of child abuse must be treated with care (see here, here and here). And finally incidents of circumcision are not alleged. The male child can be readily verified to be sans foreskin.

[1] Unless as a means of penal punishment?

[2] Some will say that I am conflating culture with religion, but in my defence what I am attacking is parental practice based on faith, whether informed by religion or by culture.

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

June 30, 2012 at 23:26