Giles Fraser versus human rights

Giles Fraser strongly disapproves of the idea (and the judicial finding) that non-medical circumcision is what it is: genital cutting of an infant for religious reasons.

Generally, the logic behind these moves is that circumcision is an act of unnecessary violence against a child and that it is imposing a belief system against a child’s will. If an adult wants to be circumcised, so be it.

But child circumcision violates the rights of the child over his body. I recently defended circumcision in the Guardian and was inundated with letters telling me I was a child abuser, that male circumcision was like female genital mutilation. But mostly, the arguments against were all about choice.

That’s surprisingly clumsy – it would be much easier to follow if the last sentence of the first para and first sentence of the second were one sentence -

 If an adult wants to be circumcised, so be it, but child circumcision violates the rights of the child over his body.

So I’ll do him a favor and re-write it, so that we can follow.

Generally, the logic behind these moves is that circumcision is an act of unnecessary violence against a child and that it is imposing a belief system against a child’s will. If an adult wants to be circumcised, so be it, but child circumcision violates the rights of the child over his body.

I recently defended circumcision in the Guardian and was inundated with letters telling me I was a child abuser, that male circumcision was like female genital mutilation. But mostly, the arguments against were all about choice.

Apparently, only choice makes it ok.

There; at least now we know where we are.

Choice doesn’t exactly make it ok, but it certainly (and obviously) does take the act out of the hands of the parents, and that certainly (and obviously) does make a difference. Doing something to someone is different from doing something to yourself. So yes – in that sense, choice does make it a hell of a lot more ok than the total absence of choice does.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to everything. It doesn’t mean don’t feed an infant, or don’t provide an infant with shelter from rain and cold, or don’t take an infant to the doctor. It does mean don’t cut bits off the infant unless it’s medically necessary.

But Giles Fraser doesn’t see it that way. He wants to do a reductio, instead, so he tells us to imagine parents not teaching their child a language, on the grounds of choice.

See above. Don’t play silly buggers.

I offer this bonkers experiment as a reductio ad absurdum of the sort of thing that is often said about imposing religion on children.

It is a rubbish argument because to be inducted into a community of values is a precondition for making sense of the world in a moral way — it is even a precondition of the very freedom that the mad liberal parents are after, a precondition of the child deciding that he or she is going to believe something different.

But this particular issue is not about imposing religion on children. It’s about not imposing genital cutting on infants for non-medical reasons, including religious reasons. The core of it is not the religion but the cutting.

Fraser is apparently simply taking for granted the idea that the religion and the cutting are inseparable; that if the cutting is delayed until adulthood, the infant/child is therefore not in the religion – is denied the religion, excluded from the religion.

How ugly. How ugly not to give the religion the chance to grow up a little and decide that cutting can be both optional and delayed. How ugly to insist that snipping infant penises is somehow mandatory for a particular religion, and that it’s “mad” to think otherwise.

Choice has become a cuckoo value in our society — driving out other values like fairness and community.

Fairness? Driving out fairness? What about the unfairness of snipping penises without consent? And how on earth is it “cuckoo” to think that people should have a right to choose whether or not to modify their genitals?

And the same goes for community. That too should be a matter of choice. It’s not for Giles Fraser to decide that all children should be drafted into one “community” or another from birth via genital branding.