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Traditional circumcision ceremonies: Averting our eyes from the bloodshed

I don’t often do the cross-posting thing, but I have a piece up on the Guardian today that I feel rather strongly about and thought should share with you here

The death and deformity caused by male circumcision in Africa can’t be ignored 

The more I read about the rituals and the extent of suffering involved, the more appalled I am that it continues with so much official blessing and so many wilfully averted gazes.

A point I didn’t really have space to address in the article is that the pain involved, the suffering involved, the risks involved –  of injury, permanent scarring and even death – are, I think, intimately tied up with the business of proving oneself a man. Those pushing these ceremonies are very reluctant to adopt safer, more humane alternatives as this undermines the entire purpose, which is more about the suffering and health risks than anything else. It’s a very extreme and rigid test of masculinity. I find it very revealing that in the participating cultures, men who opt for medical circumcision under clinical conditions are shamed as cowards. 

Anyway, not around much to discuss it, but would be interested in the thoughts of the HetPat crew, as ever.

Comments

  1. Thil says

    That bit at the end, what exactly are they/you worrying light happen if you don’t take their culture into account in the effort to stop this bullshit?

    is there actually some tangible harm your worrying about or is this just star trek prime directive “changing another culture is negative in of itself” type nonsense?

  2. Sans-sanity says

    The risk is that they will tell you to bugger off and all your efforts come to nothing. Without community acceptance trying to implement any intervention is fighting an up hill battle that you are probably going to lose.

  3. 123454321 says

    I salute you, Ally.

    I wonder which UK Government politician will be the first to jump out and speak about this wicked form of child abuse? Could it be Harriet or Yvette, perhaps? Or maybe Ed, or, if we’re lucky, it might even be David Cameron himself!

    By the way, we need to stop calling it circumcision; it should be called MGM, which is what it is.

  4. mildlymagnificent says

    I find it very revealing that in the participating cultures, men who opt for medical circumcision under clinical conditions are shamed as cowards.

    This is the worst of it. It’s not the circumcised result that is at question in these cultures as it is in Jewish and Muslim communities. It’s the physical ordeal that young men must survive in order to “prove” themselves.

    It is entirely possible for such communities to come up with other ordeal/ initiation/ be a “real man”/ coming of age activities that would serve _exactly_ the same purpose. Special tattoos, skin/ nose/ nipple piercing, all those other processes that people can tolerate (just barely) that also finish up with some visible badge of courage that everyone can point to as evidence of the individual being “one of us”.

    The important difference being that, if anything goes wrong, you just finish up with a crooked piercing or a blotchy tattoo or a skin infection. You’re much, much less likely to end up dead or significantly impaired – though the infection/death rate would still be higher than the same things performed under safe and sterile conditions.

    This is beyond awful.

  5. Holms says

    By the way, we need to stop calling it circumcision; it should be called MGM, which is what it is.

    Not really. The term ‘female genital mutilation’ was adopted because the surgical procedures applied to women in many cultures go much further than mere removal of the prepuce, making it a different procedure altogether.

  6. daveallen says

    Not really. The term ‘female genital mutilation’ was adopted because the surgical procedures applied to women in many cultures go much further than mere removal of the prepuce, making it a different procedure altogether.

    I fail to understand this argument (beyond a cynical speculation that it’s rolled out for the purpose of rhetorical partisan point scoring in an area where there need not be any dispute between people who object to genital mutilation of any sort).

    Firstly there are other forms of ritual mutilation of the penis. “MGM” would therefore be to circumcision as “FGM” is to any particular form of surgical alteration of the vagina for reasons other than medical necessity, and seeing as the surgeries to the vagina are both singly, and as a group, called “FGM” why object to any single form of MGM being called what it is?

    That a single sort of procedure is called a mutilation isn’t incorrect, either technically or in spirit. In this regard “FGM” would stand for Female Genital Mutilations. So even if things like subcision of the glans or shaft didn’t occur it would still seem a moot point in regard to the issue of language.

    Beyond that it just seems an appeasement of religious groups and moral majorities. The main reason that there is a weight of opposition to “MGM” as a term is the fact that circumcision is deemed respectable by large proportions of society. Referring to it as “Genital Mutilation” (which it is) therefore makes people think a bit harder about blithely justifying it or accepting it.

  7. Anton Mates says

    That doesn’t mean we don’t call

    Not really. The term ‘female genital mutilation’ was adopted because the surgical procedures applied to women in many cultures go much further than mere removal of the prepuce, making it a different procedure altogether.

    FGM types Ia and IV do not go further than removal of the prepuce, but they’re still classified as “female genital mutilation.” Conversely, more drastic (medically unnecessary) surgeries of the male genitals are found in many cultures; for instance, penile subincision is fairly common in indigenous Australian, South American and African societies.
    It’s certainly true that extremely drastic ritual genital mutilation is currently more common in women than men worldwide, but I don’t think that really justifies limiting the “mutilation” term to a single sex.

  8. StillGjenganger says

    @DaveAllen
    Circumcision is the well-established, neutral term for, well, circumcision. If you want to convince people that this is wrong, the honest way would be to argue for your position. By arbitrarily re-naming it ‘mutilation’ you are chickening out of arguing for your cause, and trying to force your oh-so-correct opinions onto people who do not agree.

    This is par for the course in progressive ‘debate’, of course. It is still dishonest.

  9. StillGjenganger says

    Well to start with, Ally, this is their decision, not ours. It is not up to us to tell people in Africa how to bring up their young, whether we use ‘human rights’ or plain old ‘you are backward and we know better’ as our arguments. (And circumcision would be a total non-problem if carried out correctly). Once we have made it clear that we respect their right to decide, we can and should say clearly that current practices come with all these terrible medical problems. This is a matter of fact, not ideology, and so might go in more easily. One would hope that their natural desire to protect their young would then lead them to find an alternative ritual that was less damaging, especially if we avoid making it into a battle between protecting their culture and submitting to ours.

  10. daveallen says

    Circumcision is the well-established, neutral term for, well, circumcision.

    I find argument from tradition logically fallacious.

    If you want to convince people that this is wrong, the honest way would be to argue for your position.

    My position on the matter isn’t quite as strong as 123454321’s and I don’t find it “wrong” per se. I just found Holms’s objections lacking. As for argument I think I gave several points as to why:

    1) There are other forms of MGM besides circumcision, so if we are to be even handed on what gets termed genital mutilation the notion that one term covers several procedures seems moot to me.
    2) When it comes to “FGM” the term is used to refer to both specific and general procedures, so Holm’s point about FGM covering several procedures seems further moot.
    3) As you say yourself, the term circumcision is widely used – furthermore it carries a deal of respectability which is undercut by referring to it as genital mutilation – which it is.

    Now maybe you don’t feel these are good arguments, but arguments they are. So for you to suggest that I chickened out of presenting any argument strikes me as both deceitful and hypocritical, seeing as it’s not true, and that it is you who are dodging the issue of dealing with my argument in favor of forcing your opinion in lieu of genuine rebuttal.

  11. Anton Mates says

    Circumcision is the well-established, neutral term for, well, circumcision.

    Terms such as “infibulation” and “clitoridectomy” are well-established and neutral as well. That doesn’t mean we don’t classify them as mutilations when they’re done for no good medical reason.

    Any traditional ritual is going to have well-established and neutral-sounding terminology, even if–especially if–it causes obvious harm. That’s one of the main ways people avoid feeling bad about it.

    Well to start with, Ally, this is their decision, not ours.

    Well, except it’s not their decision, it’s the decision of more powerful people in their society. I mean, the second freakin’ sentence in Ally’s article is:

    “Males from participating tribes are told that if they do not volunteer they will be captured and circumcised by force.”

    If African men and boys were doing this completely voluntarily, with zero physical coercion or social shaming, the situation would be very different.

  12. StillGjenganger says

    @DaveAllen 10
    You are mixing two things together.

    If you want to convince people that circumcision is wrong you need to argue why it is wrong. This is what you fail to do by trying to enforce ‘mutilation’ as the word to refer to it.

    Your arguments are all on another point, namely that mutilation is the right word to use. But your main argument remains “that is what it is” – which means in plain English “Any discussion must start with the assumption that this is evil, because I KNOW IT IS EVIL!”. Which 1) is not much of an argument, 2) will not bring you anywhere. In general opinion circumcision is a fairly respectable procedure, so ‘circumcision’ is the right word to use. If you want to change that, you must argue the point instead of manipulating the dictionary.

  13. StillGjenganger says

    @DaveAllen 11
    Well, forced circumcision is clearly unacceptable by any standards, including mine. We can and should make that point. Social pressure towards circumcision, on the other hand, is simply the normal way social norms are maintained – and it is not up to us to decide African social norms. Social norms anywhere will tend to be influenced more by the powerful than by the powerless (well duh!). They are still the norms of society, and deserve to be respected as such.

    You could argue that UK social norms are disproportionately determined by Rupert Murdoch. It is still not up to Tunisia or China to disregard them and try to impose their own version.

  14. Jacob Schmidt says

    It is not up to us to tell people in Africa how to bring up their young, whether we use ‘human rights’ or plain old ‘you are backward and we know better’ as our arguments.

    I am reminded of a scene in the comic Digger:

    I see a warrior with an army at his back preparing to kill one brave, half-mad girl with a broken arm. I would think that would be the concern of any decent creature.
    —Boneclaw Mother

    Normally, the full quote is rather hyperbolic, but given this:

    Males from participating tribes are told that if they do not volunteer they will be captured and circumcised by force.

    … it’s rather fitting.

    In general opinion circumcision is a fairly respectable procedure, so ‘circumcision’ is the right word to use. If you want to change that, you must argue the point instead of manipulating the dictionary.

    Complete and utter twaddle. Either term is accurate: it is mutilation, and such mutilation is frequently referred to as circumcision. Using the term mutilation is, at worst, merely entirely accurate, and, at best, undercuts assumptions at play within the general discourse.

  15. 123454321 says

    “Well to start with, Ally, this is their decision, not ours. It is not up to us to tell people in Africa how to bring up their young, whether we use ‘human rights’ or plain old ‘you are backward and we know better’ as our arguments. (And circumcision would be a total non-problem if carried out correctly).”

    Bull.

    Shit.

  16. says

    ” In general opinion circumcision is a fairly respectable procedure, so ‘circumcision’ is the right word to use.”

    This is NOT a respectable procedure. Clearly, we are talking babies and children who are FORCED to have part of their sexual organs removed. The word “circumcision’ is way out of date and anyone who feels strongly that this (fast becoming) aberrant procedure requires more emphasis should insist on calling it by what it is – MGM!

  17. says

    “They are still the norms of society, and deserve to be respected as such.”

    Hacking off bits of children’s genitals is not normal, geez, and how can you possibly bring yourself to say it should be respected! Words fail me. Unbelievable.

  18. Jacob Schmidt says

    They are still the norms of society, and deserve to be respected as such.

    I actually agree with this. Norms do deserve to be respected as norms. That’s tautological, and simply unarguable. ‘Course, that doesn’t matter in the slightest, given that a a given ideal’s status as a norm doesn’t give said norm any respectability in and of itself; shitty norms do not become good or respectable simply by being norms.

    So yes, respect norms as norms, and acknowledge the precise amount of respectability a norm earns by being a norm (i.e. none).

  19. Carnation says

    Re “coming of age” rituals for males: “proving oneself a man”

    This is an interesting concept. Females start to menstruate, and at that point are (usually) physically capable of conceiving a child. This is something of a step into womanhood. For boys, the ability to ejaculate certainly doesn’t have the same cache. In fact, it’s pretty much taboo (as is menstruation, to a degree,thankfully less so post-feminism). Females change shape more obviously than males with the advent of puberty. It could be argued that something dramatic is (or was) required to “prove oneself a man” (I am absolutely NOT talking about circumcision here, by the way, but instead about the transition from boy to man and masculinity in general).

    The imposition of toxic masculinity/patriarchal misandry kicks in pretty fiercely around primary school age (“boys don’t cry”) lulls, then comes back with a vengeance in the teens, when boys are meant to be physically hard, emotionally resilient, sexually active (with girls who are not meant to be) and at the same time appearing successful and manly at all times.

    Males police other males for transgression from masculine norms and society expects much the same.

    I believe that as a result of this (and western decadence/disillusionment), males in the UK often turn to ingesting massive amounts of alcohol as a bonding ritual; self-flagellation and destruction in the public sphere to prove oneself a “man”.

    Sadly, the ceremonial aspects of the ritual disappear, but the substance use stays and wreaks a massive amount of trauma.

    If self-styled advocates for men want to be taken seriously, stop obsessing about feminism and start obsessing about masculinities and masculine values. There’s so much to be appreciated therein, but my God, some things need to change.

  20. mildlymagnificent says

    123454321 @16

    Bull.
    Shit.

    QFT. I’m marking this day on my diary, because I never expected to agree with 123454321 on anything.

    The fact that something is traditional or cultural or common practice in some or many cultures does not mean that people outside that culture are not allowed to comment on it, or criticise it, or even to outlaw it.

    Throwing widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres might have been ‘traditional’ (though not as common or respectable as people pretended it was), but that doesn’t mean it was ever a good idea. It’s understandable that cultures have ways of acknowledging milestones to maturity and “earning” your place among the acknowledged adults of the community. It doesn’t mean that outsiders are prohibited from suggesting that there are better ways to do such things.

    If young men need to prove that they are strong, stoic, brave, whatever – then a wrestling tournament could just as easily serve the same purpose as this brutal ritual. All that has to happen is for the community to ascribe as much importance to it as it does to its brutal, needlessly dangerous and lethal practice.

  21. Anton Mates says

    Social pressure towards circumcision, on the other hand, is simply the normal way social norms are maintained – and it is not up to us to decide African social norms.

    Ally referenced individuals and groups within these cultures who oppose circumcision, at least in the form under discussion. They’ve already decided to reject those norms. We can help, or not.

    Social norms anywhere will tend to be influenced more by the powerful than by the powerless (well duh!).

    Sure, but not to the same degree. Legal and philosophical constructs like civil rights, egalitarianism and individualism limit the influence of the powerful over the powerless. Social pressure to circumcise exists in the US as well, but uncircumcised men are not chased down by mobs or openly vilified as cowards. That’s an improvement over the situation in Southern Africa, IMO.

    You could argue that UK social norms are disproportionately determined by Rupert Murdoch. It is still not up to Tunisia or China to disregard them and try to impose their own version.

    If human rights violations are occurring in the US or the UK, Tunisia and China are welcome to condemn them and encourage international health and human rights bodies to fight them. No country’s perfect.

  22. daveallen says

    If you want to convince people that circumcision is wrong you need to argue why it is wrong. This is what you fail to do by trying to enforce ‘mutilation’ as the word to refer to it.

    Again, it strikes me that it is you attempting “enforcement”. Given that the tone of the thread up to the point in question was anti-circumcision I felt it fairly pointless to outline why I think circumcision is wrong.

    Are you aware of the phrase “taking coal to Newcastle”?

    Nor was I “enforcing” the word mutilation. I was objecting to Holms’s objections for the stated reasons – and that’s all really.

    If you want to know why I think ritual circumcision amounts to mutilation then by all means ask – but don’t make up shit about how that was what I was “too chicken” to tackle, or “enforcing” when all I was doing was continuing the back and forth between 123454321 and Holms.

    As should have been obvious to anyone with passable eyesight and a functioning brain.

  23. 123454321 says

    I hate to say this but the only chance we might have had in stopping this abhorrent ritual would have laid at the feet of feminist campaign. With the money, voice and power feminism has had at its fingertips (but now losing) over the last few decades it wouldn’t have been inconceivable for feminist groups to have raised the profile on MGM from a political standpoint in order to drive through the message to the female communities operating within the societies affected. This way, providing the message was appropriately accompanied with legitimate medical, hygiene and other humane-related factors, surely it wouldn’t be hard to convince the women of these cultures (over a period of time) that having sex with an intact man was actually better – safer – more beneficial – than having sex with a man that’s had his bits shredded. Coupling this with my previous postulate – that female sexual power is probably THE most powerful force – the influencing force of these women (by nature of the fact that they would prefer to have sex with a “proper and intact” male) may just be enough to at least swing a debate in a positive direction.

    But feminists would rather campaign to have Nuts taken down.

  24. H. E. Pennypacker says

    Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed
    Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives’ need;
    To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild–
    Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.

    Take up the White Man’s burden, In patience to abide,
    To veil the threat of terror And check the show of pride;
    By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain
    To seek another’s profit, And work another’s gain.

    Take up the White Man’s burden, The savage wars of peace–
    Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease;
    And when your goal is nearest The end for others sought,
    Watch sloth and heathen Folly Bring all your hopes to nought.

    Take up the White Man’s burden, No tawdry rule of kings,
    But toil of serf and sweeper, The tale of common things.
    The ports ye shall not enter, The roads ye shall not tread,
    Go mark them with your living, And mark them with your dead.

    Take up the White Man’s burden And reap his old reward:
    The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard–
    The cry of hosts ye humour (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:–
    “Why brought he us from bondage, Our loved Egyptian night?”

    Take up the White Man’s burden, Ye dare not stoop to less–
    Nor call too loud on Freedom To cloke your weariness;
    By all ye cry or whisper, By all ye leave or do,
    The silent, sullen peoples Shall weigh your gods and you.

    Take up the White Man’s burden, Have done with childish days–
    The lightly proferred laurel, The easy, ungrudged praise.
    Comes now, to search your manhood, through all the thankless years
    Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom, The judgment of your peers!

  25. daveallen says

    HE – do you think that to so much as discuss an apparently troublesome aspect of a foreign culture is the equivalent of paternalistic colonialism, or did you want people to consider the poem for some other reason?

  26. lelapaletute says

    Astonishing that anyone can read about the forcible, painful and unhygienic mutilation of unwilling men and boys, often resulting in infection or death, and think it is the moment to start ironically critiquing colonialism or deploying a Pilate-like cultural relativism. This is not about the value of cultural norms, it is about assault that in several cases has resulted in murder. Leaving aside the wider debate about the morality of mass circumcision globally (inasmuch as it can be called a debate, the pro side being morally bankrupt), we are not talking about sterile procedures in US hospitals here. Ally’s article, both at the human level and the statistics he brings to light, is straight-up horrifying.

  27. StillGjenganger says

    @Lela 27
    This is indeed a serious situation, and there are a number of things that one could and should do about it. But hard cases make bad law, as they say. Tolerance means letting other societies do things their way, even when we disapprove of their actions – and it is what allows different groups to rub along without continuously fighting for supremacy. Of course this principle must sometimes take a back seat to other considerations – like any other principle (!) – but that does not mean you can simply ignore it whenever it is inconvenient.

    Besides, the altruistic motives of people debating here are less than fully convincing. I have nothing to say against Ally, this is indeed a worthwhile cause and anyway I trust his balanced judgement. But, at a guess, the avoidable deaths from bad roads and untrained drivers in Nigeria alone surpass the deaths from circumcision in the entire continent. How many of the debaters here give a damn about the wellbeing of Africans, when it is not a matter of indulging in their ideological obsession with circumcision?

  28. Carnation says

    @ GJganger

    Very good point, well made.

    I think that’s Ally’s points still stand, and stand well, and that they develop in an interesting direction here.

    Can the campaign* against circumcision succeed without challenging the assumptions that it’s “manly” to suffer emotional and physical pain (mostly self-inflicted) to prove ones manliness?

    * I don’t include the incessant online whining of MRAs as a campaign.

  29. Tendentious? says

    The UK’s National Health Service provides details on its website of why male circumcision might be advisable, is necessary and what alternative treatments might be considered.

    http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Circumcision/Pages/Why-is-it-necessary.aspx

    I cannot find any medical reason that would necessitate Female Genital Mutilation, which is one of the reason why it is illegal in the UK and in many other civilised countries.

    To equate male circumcision and female genital mutilation provides an excuse to those
    who would continue to condemn millions of women to suffer the barbarity of Female
    Genital Mutilation. Look at http://islamqa.info/en/45528 where FGM is referred to as circumcision. “For us in the Muslim world female circumcision is, above all else, obedience to Islam, which means acting in accordance with the fitrah and following the Sunnah which encourages it.”

  30. daveallen says

    The UK’s National Health Service provides details on its website of why male circumcision might be advisable, is necessary and what alternative treatments might be considered.

    Whilst the url might say “why circumcision is necessary”, but the page carries the rather more reasonable title of “when circumcision might be necessary” and lists identifiable pathologies that might be effectively cured by the procedure.

    So what?

    Do you really think those who oppose circumcision are arguing against it being carried out when the foreskin is riddled with metastatic cancer, or has developed in such an abnormal way so as to painfully cramp the penis?

    No. That’d be like saying that because I oppose the mutilation of people’s hands I cannot simultaneously sympathize with Aron Ralston for removing his hand in order to save his life.

    I cannot find any medical reason that would necessitate Female Genital Mutilation, which is one of the reason why it is illegal in the UK and in many other civilised countries.

    Go to the same site. Look under “labia” and “vagina”. You will find mention of procedures that would be termed FGM in other contexts. Vaginal cancer, for example, is sometimes treated by cutting away parts of the vagina.

    Which of course most people would not object to as a matter of last resort – seeing as the damage done is hopefully much less than the damage prevented.

    To equate male circumcision and female genital mutilation provides an excuse to those who would continue to condemn millions of women to suffer the barbarity of Female Genital Mutilation.

    There is a difference between making similar rhetorical points about things, and equating things.

    Despite the oft-repeated saw that to agitate forcefully against circumcision is to somehow detract from arguments against FGM the opposite seems to be the case. In every society where there is strong feeling against one procedure there is strong feeling against the other(s). No society that has heeded arguments against MGM has simultaneously treated arguments against FGM with increased levity. When Germany took a temporary tough stance aginst circumcision they did not simultaneously become more liberal in regard to FGM.

    Everywhere on Earth where the rights of little girls to remain intact (medical necessity aside) have been honored the rights of boys to remain intact have been increasingly considered. Those societies that seriously entertain the notion of banning MGM have typically already banned FGM and show no signs of re-establishing the practice.

    So why do you propagate this myth that to argue against one form diminishes arguments against the other?

  31. Tendentious? says

    The report on the situation in South Africa states:

    “According to CRL Chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, botched circumcisions, abuse and drug use associated with illegal schools will be the death of the time-honoured practice.

    “We cannot have mothers lose their boys up there and be told only when the other boys come back,” Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said. “At this rate, (the practice) is going to die of
    natural causes because…people are scared of taking their kids to initiation schools.”

    And:

    “The Department of Health recently announced that it would spend R180 million to support safe circumcision in initiation schools. The department has already begun providing pre-initiation health screenings to initiates, and medical supplies to traditional surgeons and nurses. Traditional practioners are also slated to receive training in preventing and identifying infection.”

    http://www.health-e.org.za/2014/06/25/half-million-initiates-maimed-knife/

    So it is quite clear that the situation in South Africa is quite different to the ones in Kenya and Tanzania. And although the article refers to sub-Saharan Africa, where “hundreds of thousands of boys and young men submit to initiation ceremonies” it is nor clear whether this is in addition to what is happening in Kenya and Tanzania, or whether this is a case of geographical confusion on the part of the writer.

  32. Tendentious? says

    @ 31

    “Do you really think those who oppose circumcision are arguing against it being carried out when the foreskin is riddled with metastatic cancer, or has developed in such an abnormal way so as to painfully cramp the penis?”

    Well if you look at the comments following the Guardian article there are posters saying they oppose it in all circumstances. They may be doing that from ignorance but that’s what they’re saying.

  33. daveallen says

    Well if you look at the comments following the Guardian article there are posters saying they oppose it in all circumstances. They may be doing that from ignorance but that’s what they’re saying.

    Well I have no idea what goes on in other people’s heads, but what do you think the likelihood is of them answering the query of “do you oppose genital mutilation (of whatever sort) even when it would be the best option for curing a serious condition” with a response like “under those sort of circumstances I would cede exception”?

    I’d say it was high myself.

  34. daveallen says

    So when people say “I oppose it in all circumstances, they’re probably talking about ritual genital mutilation of those who can’t give informed consent.

  35. 123454321 says

    “But, at a guess, the avoidable deaths from bad roads and untrained drivers in Nigeria alone surpass the deaths from circumcision in the entire continent. How many of the debaters here give a damn about the wellbeing of Africans, when it is not a matter of indulging in their ideological obsession with circumcision?”

    You’re trying to wriggle out of acknowledging and solving one problem by bringing up a completely seperate problem, thus suggesting that we should forget the first problem? That could only ever happen where “men” are explicitly at the heart of problem 1.

  36. 123454321 says

    “* I don’t include the incessant online whining of MRAs as a campaign.”

    You appear to strongly dislike men using the internet as a platform to raise awareness of their own issues. You always have an excuse or an explanation as to why it’s pointless or damaging – now you complain that MRAs are incessantly whining (all part of some weird tactic!) Why is this? would you prefer all men to shut up and be quiet? It isn’t going to happen!

  37. 123454321 says

    “So why do you propagate this myth that to argue against one form diminishes arguments against the other?”

    Yeah, I’d like an answer to that too. But there can be no logical answer. There might be an answer, but it won’t be formed around any sensible form of logic. At least not an all-inclusive unbiased, all-encompassing, humane answer which supports EVERYONE. One way or another the answer will be at the detriment of men and boys.

  38. says

    “Well if you look at the comments following the Guardian article there are posters saying they oppose it in all circumstances. They may be doing that from ignorance but that’s what they’re saying.”

    Can you link to a comment where someone is opposed to removing the foreskin where riddled with cancer, or something along those lines? Just curious.

  39. Adiabat says

    I think the issue people have with referring to circumcision as MGM is that it makes it harder to campaign against FGM, and the worst versions of MGM that Ally highlights.

    It makes Western campaigners appear much more hypocritical to campaign against mutilation of boys and girls in poor countries when it’s clear that they allow mutilation of children in their own ‘civilised’ countries.

    The only argument to fall back on at this point is that of sanitary conditions with anaesthesia vs non-sanitary conditions. But this carries hints of rich countries that have good healthcare and cheap and easy access to these things ‘telling’ poor countries that ‘they are doing it wrong’. It has a hint of “rich, western privilege” about it.

    Personally I think it puts us on a much higher moral high ground to first stop allowing the mutilation of our own children, then try to get other cultures to follow us. Refusing to call circumcision what it is just makes us look like imperialist hypocrites chastising other cultures’ practices while refusing to have a good look at our own.

  40. daveallen says

    I think the issue people have with referring to circumcision as MGM is that it makes it harder to campaign against FGM, and the worst versions of MGM that Ally highlights.

    Please provide an example of where referring to circumcision as genital mutilation (which it is) has made a quantifiable and negative difference to the effort to prevent FGM.

    Because as far as i see it this is nothing but a myth. In every broad circumstance where one sort of ritual genital mutilation has met with opposition it hasn’t hindered efforts to oppose others, it has helped.

    So please point to some case where there was an effort to highlight the problems of MGM that plausibly resulted in a rise in FGM.

    Don’t just say it happens – show me where it has happened.

  41. StillGjenganger says

    @DaveAllen 41
    Proving that issue either way would require a large and varied data set of different approaches, different starting situations, and different outcomes. It is pearls to peanuts that no such data set exists, or could. If you can find one, point to it. Otherwise stop pretending that you are automatically right unless and until your opponent proves you wrong.

  42. daveallen says

    Otherwise stop pretending that you are automatically right unless and until your opponent proves you wrong.

    So what you seem to be supporting is the notion that other people can say any old tosh (“calling it MGM undermines efforts to oppose FGM!” for example), but if I suppose this to be merely a myth and mention the precedent for the alternative view (namely that in every society where a tougher line has been taken against either form of mutilation arguments against the other form have been bolstered rather than undermined) I’m “pretending to be right”?

  43. StillGjenganger says

    @DaveAllen 44
    Claiming that this is a myth, and insisting that your opponent come with an actual example (or, implicitly, admit defeat) is indeed “pretending to be right”. I challenge you to provide data, from anywhere, about “quantifiable” effects of political strategies on the prevalence of FGM. There are none, could not be any – unless of course you yourself can produce them. Demanding the impossible as a condition of considering the arguments of your opponents, is simply a rhetorical trick.

    Your own argument is equally an empty postulate. Can you prove even a correlation between the two campaigns and their effects? Does that correlation extend beyond the rich west, where FGM is already rare and vilified? And even so, how do you get from correlation to causation?

  44. daveallen says

    There are none, could not be any – unless of course you yourself can produce them. Demanding the impossible as a condition of considering the arguments of your opponents, is simply a rhetorical trick.

    I would say that demanding the impossible of those making positive claims based in apparent knowledge of the unknown highlights the absurdity of said positive claim, and is therefore more than just a rhetorical trick.

    Your own argument is equally an empty postulate. Can you prove even a correlation between the two campaigns and their effects? Does that correlation extend beyond the rich west, where FGM is already rare and vilified? And even so, how do you get from correlation to causation?

    Very few things are a matter of proof. I’m confident that the Loch Ness Monster is a myth, for example, and I don’t see why I should be able to prove it in order to hold that view.

    Paucity of evidence to the contrary is enough.

    My confidence in my position is based on a rough hypothesis that if it was correct that focus on one sort of genital mutilation were to the detriment of others we would be able to observe a pattern to the effect of an interaction between reducing per capita FGM and increasing per capita MGM or vice versa.

    Is this science exact?

    No.

    Is it better than anything those who argue contrariwise have produced?

    Yes – by a county mile.

    The west is a good place to start because records of rates over time are more accessible. The pattern there is a tendency for strong opposition to FGM to run alongside gradually decreasing per capita rates of MGM (talking gestalt). As mentioned earlier we have an example of one western nation taking a very hard line stance against MGM – Germany – and there is no corresponding reported rise in rates of FGM or weakening of the comprehensive legislation banning ritual FGM in that country. Other countries are harder to find records for, though a cursory appraisal of rates of prevalence suggest nothing along the lines of one sort of gendered genital mutilation being increasingly popular where another is absent or in decline.

    Based on this comprehensive paucity of evidence for the notion that campaigns against one sort of genital mutilation lead to relaxed attitudes to other sorts I am happy enough to accept my hypothesis that it is a myth.

    It’s not set in stone – I could be convinced by a case for the prosecution, but it would have to amount to more than “ooh you’re too sure of yourself, you might not be right” and so on and so on.

  45. Tendentious? says

    @ 31

    “Whilst the url might say “why circumcision is necessary”, but the page carries the rather more reasonable title of “when circumcision might be necessary” and lists identifiable pathologies that might be effectively cured by the procedure.”

    Quite right, but it also says:

    Conditions that require circumcision

    Balanitis xerotica obliterans (BXO) is a skin condition that can only be cured with circumcision. However, the condition is rare in young children and usually affects children over nine years old and adults.
    BXO can cause hardening and inflammation of the penis, usually affecting the foreskin and tip of the penis. It causes symptoms such as:
    difficulties passing urine
    pain when passing urine
    itchiness and soreness of the penis
    In cases of BXO that primarily affect the foreskin, circumcision is usually the most effective treatment, and often results in a complete cure. In some cases, BXO can affect the urethra and treatment to widen the urethra may be necessary (a meatotomy).

  46. Tendentious? says

    @ 31 you write:

    “Do you really think those who oppose circumcision are arguing against it being carried out when the foreskin is riddled with metastatic cancer, or has developed in such an abnormal way so as to painfully cramp the penis?”

    From the same NHS website:

    Cancer of the penis

    “Research has shown that men who are circumcised in childhood are three to four times less likely to develop penile cancer than men who are uncircumcised. This is because many cases of penile cancer develop in the foreskin.

    However, cancer of the penis is very rare. On average, 550 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK. It would, therefore, be very difficult to justify routine circumcision as a method for preventing penile cancer.

    However, in some rare cases a person may be more at risk, for example if they have a family history of penile cancer or a weakened immune system. In such cases, circumcision is recommended as a preventative measure.”

    So male circumcision has proven benefits as far as cancer prevention is concerned, but as far as I can find there is no such benefit for girls and women who have been butchered by those administering Female Genital Mutilation.

    You continue:

    “Go to the same site. Look under “labia” and “vagina”. You will find mention of procedures that would be termed FGM in other contexts. Vaginal cancer, for example, is sometimes treated by cutting away parts of the vagina.”

    And your suggestion that the UK’s National Health Service is carrying out operations that have anything to do with Female Genital Mutilation is both grotesque and desperate.

  47. Tendentious? says

    @ 31

    “So why do you propagate this myth that to argue against one form diminishes arguments against the other?”

    It is not a myth for the simple reason that there are vast differences, both short and long term, between most male circumcision and FGM, so to equate the two diminishes the the campaign against FGM.

    You only have to read the descriptions of adult male circumcision in Ally’s article to understand that and to understand that it is far closer to FGM than standard male circumcision.

    Deaths commonly occur through dehydration, blood loss, shock-induced heart failure or septicaemia. And there are estimated to be two total penile amputations for every death. Countless numbers of participants are left with permanent scarring or deformity. Urologists describe seeing patients whose penises have become so infected and gangrenous they literally drop off.

    Indeed that is why the writer agrees with the The South African Department of Health, supported by the WHO, Unicef, etc when it recently announced that it would spend R180 million to support safe circumcision in initiation schools.

    Again as far as I am aware none of these organisations has announced it is supporting “safe FGM”.

  48. Tendentious? says

    @ 38

    “Yeah, I’d like an answer to that too”

    See my post @49.

    I don’t think there’s anything there that’s “to the detriment of men and boys”. quite the contrary it’s saying that the barbarism Ally describes in his article should be banned.

    Furthermore, my own view is that standard male circumcision carried out by qualified medical practitioners should be limited to adult males who request it.

  49. Tendentious? says

    @ 39 you ask:

    “Can you link to a comment where someone is opposed to removing the foreskin where riddled with cancer, or something along those lines? Just curious.”

    No I can’t as even posters on Comment if Free aren’t that pathetic.

    But here you are, third post down with 195 recommends.

    All circumcision should be proscribed, male and female.

    The fact that, in 2014, adults are still hacking their childrens genitals for ancient, quasi, ritualistic purposes is an indictment on how we treat children in general.

    Every man or woman who mutilates a child should be treated as a child abuser.

    http://discussion.theguardian.com/comment-permalink/39898938

    As I said before – “They may be doing that from ignorance but that’s what they’re saying.”

  50. StillGjenganger says

    @DaveAllen
    Science is Bayesian. In the absence of convincing evidence, you stay with the a priori hypothesis. With the Loch Ness monster or UFOs the a priori probability is that either is quite unlikely, and that if it was real we probably would have something solid to go on by now. With social policy there generally is no strong a priori probability either way. What you are saying here – like many in related debates – is “It is so overwhelmingly likely that I am right, that I should win the argument by default, unless someone else can prove me wrong”. But you have nothing but your own inner certainty to back you. The debates on whether TV violence, porn etc. cause real violence, and rape illustrate the phenomenon quite well. There is no conclusive evidence either way, and people who feel very strongly that they are right argue that the absence of reliable evidence is enough that they should win the argument..

    In western cultures FGM is rare and uniformly vilified, limited to specific immigrant groups. Even before more recent awareness campaigns it would be seen uniformly as primitive and barbaric. The chance that there would be a clear increase in FGM under these conditions whatever the social policies is remote – and the phenomenon is so poorly documented that we would be unlikely to observe the change even if it happened. Also the range of different attitudes and policies towards either circumcision or FGM in the west is very narrow. So it proves absolutely nothing that we have not observed increased FGM anywhere.

    The groups that matter for FGM are third world traditionalists and/or muslims. Both groups that do not share in the western consensus, and that have good reason to be suspicious of ideas that are being pushed on them. To get rid of FGM we must ultimately change the behaviour of these people. It is a perfectly reasonable hypothesis that this would be easier if we allied ourselves with (large parts of) Islam, and made the point that FGM was not mandated by the Koran and the Prophet, that we not trying to repress their culture except on this very specific point, and generally made it as easy as possible for people to make the change. It is also possible that trying to suppress both circumcision and FGM, and applying maximum pressure to promote good Atheist thought would be a quicker way of reducing FGM. In the absence of evidence all we can say is that both ideas are fairly reasonable. So, believe what you want, argue your side, but do not pretend that your version is much more obvious than the alternative.

  51. Tendentious? says

    @ 41

    Please provide an example of where referring to circumcision as genital mutilation (which it is) has made a quantifiable and negative difference to the effort to prevent FGM.

    It is in fact the other way round – referring to FGM as circumcision that’s the problem. See my post 30.

  52. daveallen says

    Science is Bayesian. In the absence of convincing evidence, you stay with the a priori hypothesis.

    I think in this one remark you are three times wrong.

    Science isn’t contingent on Bayes Theorum.
    In science you accept the null hypothesis in absence of evidence.
    In order to judge the sustainability of propositions according to Bayes you must articulate probabilities, and such things would require appraisals of evidence.

    I don’t think your argument gets any better here on in, but at least you bring me to the point of losing the will to continue.

  53. H. E. Pennypacker says

    @26 & 27

    You honestly don’t see how believing we have a duty to educate the “primitive natives” and teach them not to continue with practices we consider barbaric is similar to… believing we have a duty to educate the “primitive natives” and teach them not to continue with practices we consider barbaric?

    Now, perhaps you do believe it is our duty as enlightened Westerners to do this but be honest about what you’re saying and don’t hide behind faux-universal principles like “human rights” and “medical necessity”.

  54. Schala says

    and applying maximum pressure to promote good Atheist thought would be a quicker way of reducing FGM

    Secular.

    Atheist thought is nonsensical.

    Secular: That which religious doctrine does not even touch. Deity or not, tradition or not, ritual or not.

    Atheist: That which professes no belief in a deity. (ie Usually a person, possibly a society, definitely not a thought)

  55. StillGjenganger says

    @Schala 58
    Atheist thought: The kind of thought characteristic of or commonly associated with (professing) atheists.
    Conf.: Yankee ingenuity, male stoicism, French elan, Italian fashion sense, …

  56. mildlymagnificent says

    Now, perhaps you do believe it is our duty as enlightened Westerners to do this but be honest about what you’re saying and don’t hide behind faux-universal principles like “human rights” and “medical necessity”.

    Substitute outsiders for “enlightened Westerners” and you’re getting close. It’s entirely possible – and people from all cultures do it all the time about other cultures – to evaluate cultural beliefs and practices and express a view that they find them good, bad or indifferent. I recall reading Margaret Mead’s description of one New Guinea tribe’s belief that babies were made by repeated sexual activity by the parents. It had the unfortunate consequence of people being judged as not diligent enough in bed if their baby turned out to have some kind of disability. OTOH, it had a certain charm absent from a lot of other pre-scientific understandings about sex and reproduction. In the end, my view was that, if people were ignorant about biological realities, this kind of belief was much “better” than many of the other ignorant formulations. (I don’t remember the details of other beliefs in the region.)

    Same thing goes for this circumcision practice. Many cultures have initiation/ coming of age rituals that are quite demanding and dangerous, but without the pure nastiness of chasing down young men and forcibly assaulting their genitals. It’s quite legitimate for outsiders to look at the wide range of these options – from the freezing plains of the Tibetan plateau to the jungles of the Amazon to remote Pacific islands – which require courage, pain tolerance, patience, physical strength, ability to handle/ race/ hunt/ kill animals, to tolerate deprivation (or intoxication or whatever) or some other test of skill or endurance, and making judgments about them.

    I see no reason why people can’t say that any/some/all of them look a bit strange, that some are truly horrible and some are obviously useful skills in that environment. There’s no good reason why outsiders can’t observe that these rituals can range from ingeniously clever to good to bad all the way through to mindlessly cruel.

    There’s obviously no point in suggesting that people in one place adopt the horse-riding skill tests of another community when they’ve never even seen a horse or demonstrate diving skill into tropical lagoons when there’s no such body of water in their environment. But when the only objective of a ritual is to “prove” manly stoic manliness by tolerating physical pain and damage, then firewalking or some other such pointlessly dangerous, or spectacular to watch, process is far preferable.

  57. StillGjenganger says

    @Schala 58
    As in:
    A belief in the Declaration of Human Rights as an authoritative source of ethical judgements and a disdainful intolerance towards competing belief systems are key components of Atheist thought

  58. StillGjenganger says

    @Mildly 60
    Of course we are free to have an opinion about the customs of other people. Which are good, which are bad, and which ought to be interchangeable. The question is when we have the right to substitute our judgement for theirs and force them to do things our way. Sometimes we have to take that right. I would combat infanticide or (the more damaging forms of) FGM without caring if they were traditional or not. But it is an imposition, as H.E.P. says, and we should admit to this openly. And limit our interventions to particularly serious cases. Circumcision (if carried out according to good medical practice) does not qualify.

  59. Adiabat says

    Daveallen (41):

    Please provide an example of where referring to circumcision as genital mutilation (which it is) has made a quantifiable and negative difference to the effort to prevent FGM.

    Only if you can provide an example of an anti-FGM campaign that has openly acknowledged that male circumcision is also a form of mutilation, ideally as part of their campaigning. Otherwise you can’t expect any figures that enable us to compare the approaches can you?

    I can find plenty who deny that fact, and some that admit to not acknowledging it for political reasons. From the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights:

    The choice to make a dissociation between the two practices was at that time a pragmatic, political decision, related to the vehement discussion in the Netherlands and because the fight against female genital mutilation would be more difficult if male circumcision were also to be challenged.

    http://www.cirp.org/library/general/legato1/

    Basically, western attempts to fight FGM in places where it is practiced are engaging in Moral Hypocrisy (http://pss.sagepub.com/content/18/8/689.extract#) and it is known that this can undermine attempts to influence foreign cultures (http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=440685&fileId=S0260210506007017).

    I agree with you that circumcision is a form of mutilation, by all definitions of the term. I don’t even consider this point worthy of debating tbh because it’s so obviously the case. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that this may make it slightly harder to fight FGM by exposing the hypocrisy of western campaigners. But admitting circumcision is a form of mutilation is still the morally right thing to do, and it does no-one any favours by refusing to acknowledge the negative sides of doing the right thing. In fact admitting this gives us insight into the refusal by many to acknowledge that circumcision is a form of mutilation, and perhaps helps us to eventually find common ground.

  60. Schala says

    “A belief in the Declaration of Human Rights as an authoritative source of ethical judgements and a disdainful intolerance towards competing belief systems are key components of Atheist thought“

    I’d replace atheist with secular in this sentence.

    I’m very very secular, and agnostic, not atheist. I don’t let my beliefs, superstitions etc matter politically. They should not, either. I believe in reincarnation. I don’t think it should matter one bit.

  61. Tendentious? says

    @63 Adiabat:

    ” I agree with you that circumcision is a form of mutilation, by all definitions of the term.”

    Yes the forms described in Ally Fogg’s and Fezisa Mdibi’s articles, clearly are mutilation and designed to be so, as are a number of other male initiation practices.

    But would you apply this definition to all forms of corrective surgery that carried out on the human body, whether that is for medical or cosmetic reasons. After all why should the penis be considered so different to the face, ears, mouth, nose and breasts, all of which can be the subject of corrective / plastic surgery for both medical and cosmetic reasons.

    And I suggest that although much male circumcision is carried out for religious reason, I suspect there are plenty of cases where is it done purely for cosmetic reasons – for example where parents say – I don’t want my boy to risk being different to the friends and class mates he’s going to be spending time with.

  62. Schala says

    And I suggest that although much male circumcision is carried out for religious reason, I suspect there are plenty of cases where is it done purely for cosmetic reasons – for example where parents say – I don’t want my boy to risk being different to the friends and class mates he’s going to be spending time with.

    Barring having the nose destroyed or being born this way, we don’t allow nose jobs on children. Or breast implants. And we only repair cleft palates because it’s a grave impairment on top of not looking good.

    We don’t tattoo kids. However much you say “he will look like his friends/father/country people”. So why would we allow cosmetic surgery on non-consenting children?

    I also suggest we ban earrings on infants and all kids too young to consent. Though the age of consent for earrings could probably be lower than 18 (maybe 10-12?) given the damage and non-permanence of the hole.

  63. Ally Fogg says

    Hi everyone

    Just back after a week away, and afraid I am lacking the energy to respond to all the posts here, but for your information, the person commentating under the name Tendentious? is a persistent contrarian troll-cum-stalker, who has been banned from this site and many others on countless occasions before and now has been been banned from here yet again.

    Normal blogging service shall be resumed shortly!

  64. Anton Mates says

    Tendentious?,

    In light of Ally’s last comment this is probably pointless, but:

    So male circumcision has proven benefits as far as cancer prevention is concerned, but as far as I can find there is no such benefit for girls and women who have been butchered by those administering Female Genital Mutilation.

    There are some minor indications that FGM can reduce vulnerability to HIV infections (see also here) and cervical cancer, though they’re nowhere near proven and may be purely the result of statistical confounding.

    However, note that there is far less high-quality research on how FGM affects the rate of HIV, cervical cancer and other diseases, than there is on male circumcision. This is largely because a) there aren’t large cohorts of cut but otherwise healthy and high-SES Western females to study, and b) Western researchers generally accept that FGM is massively unethical, and therefore can’t conduct any sort of experimental trials where they mutilate some of their female subjects and leave others intact. So if FGM produces small but statistically valid protective effects against infection, as male circumcision appears to do, we’ll probably never know.

    And your suggestion that the UK’s National Health Service is carrying out operations that have anything to do with Female Genital Mutilation is both grotesque and desperate.

    On the contrary, I think that suggestion is simply correct. The NHS carries out radical vulvectomies, which are comparable in severity to the worst forms of FGM. of course, the NHS only does so when there is some overriding medical issue that demands it–usually an aggressive and life-threatening vulvar cancer–and this would justify only a tiny fraction of the cases of FGM worldwide. But it is a “medical reason that would necessitate Female Genital Mutilation,” as you asked. (And yes, medical vulvectomies are occasionally conducted on infants too young to consent.)

    But here you are, third post down with 195 recommends.

    I don’t think this person is condemning medically necessary circumcisions, though. Yes, they write about “all circumcision,” but the “all” seems to refer to the fact that they oppose circumcision of both sexes, not just girls. What they are opposed to is, specifically, circumcision of children (and perhaps only religion-based circumcision of children). They don’t seem to be discussing elective circumcision in adults. So I would guess they agree with you that “standard male circumcision carried out by qualified medical practitioners should be limited to adult males who request it.”

    Adiabat,

    The choice to make a dissociation between the two practices was at that time a pragmatic, political decision, related to the vehement discussion in the Netherlands and because the fight against female genital mutilation would be more difficult if male circumcision were also to be challenged.

    I think this is largely true in the Netherlands, where the two practices are completely disparate in the public eye. To the African public, the opposite may be true–where male circumcision and FGM and practiced, they tend to be considered parallel rituals done for parallel reasons. In that case, it may be easier to fight them both at the same time, since “F tradition, don’t cut bits off your baby” is a more straightforward message than “don’t cut bits off your girl babies, but do cut bits off your boy babies, but in a different manner than tradition demands.”

  65. StillGjenganger says

    @Anton Mates 69

    An equally simple – and maybe more effective – message would be “Cherish your traditions, but change them enough that you are not causing serious damage to your children”. Which would naturally lead to banning (most forms of) FGM, and keeping circumcision but cleaning up the procedures you use.

    Too bad about Tendentious? – he was as sensible as anybody and more polite than many on this thread. I guess he cannot complain if he has destroyed his credit elsewhere already.

  66. 123454321 says

    “…and more polite than many on this thread…”

    …who, in turn, are even more polite than many of those out there in the world who participate in supporting the extreme brutality of hacking off part of a CHILD’S genitals. By the way, I feel just as passionate about the barbaric nature of FGM and I pride myself in not supporting one gender above the other as part of some twisted double-standard theory. This all needs to stop and I wonder how many others are tired of all the over-complex excuses which do nothing more than block positive evolutionary progress in this area.

  67. Anton Mates says

    An equally simple – and maybe more effective – message would be “Cherish your traditions, but change them enough that you are not causing serious damage to your children”.

    I don’t think that would be an equally simple message, considering that a) cherishing traditions generally involves not changing them, and b) the definition of “serious damage” is precisely where our culture and their culture disagree.

    Which would naturally lead to banning (most forms of) FGM, and keeping circumcision but cleaning up the procedures you use.

    If male circumcision was kept, Types I and IV FGM would “naturally” be kept as well, just in a more medicalized fashion (as I believe is currently happening in Indonesia.). I don’t think that would be an acceptable endpoint for most reformers.

    I’m not saying it can’t be justified to advocate ending all FGM but keeping male circumcision, if you’re talking about a country with a sky-high rate of HIV infection via sex, but it is a more complicated position to hold.

  68. StillGjenganger says

    @Anton Mates 72
    If male circumcision was kept, Types I and IV FGM would “naturally” be kept as well, just in a more medicalized fashion (as I believe is currently happening in Indonesia.). I don’t think that would be an acceptable endpoint for most reformers.
    Type I is clitoridectomy, which definitely does cause serious harm, but some of the type IVs (assorted nicks, cuts and scrapes) might be kept, yes. I would have no problem with that outcome (whatever WHO says), though I generally keep out of the FGM debate, because I know little about it and do not want to complicate an important and tricky campaign.

    There are two different reasons for being against circumcision and FGM:

    One is to protect children against hurt and damage. That is very important, but it can be solved by better medical procedures, and by banning most – but not necessarily all – FGM types. A nick in the clitoral hood under sterile conditions does not cause significant suffering or long-term damage AFAIK.

    The other is to protect the principle that children must not undergo body modification before they are old enough to consent. If the body modification does not cause any significant suffering or damage – at circumcision does not – this is purely a matter of abstract principle. Or of ideology, if you like. People are of course welcome to campaign for their principles (I share this one to some extent), but unlike children’s health, the sanctity of your ethical principles is not really reason enough to force your values onto others. If we are to make parallels, banning circumcision would seem rather less justified than banning abortion (which, at least according to one side of the debate, is as damaging as murder).

  69. H. E. Pennypacker says

    Substitute outsiders for “enlightened Westerners” and you’re getting close. It’s entirely possible – and people from all cultures do it all the time about other cultures – to evaluate cultural beliefs and practices and express a view that they find them good, bad or indifferent.

    But to substitute the neutral term is to engage in the pure fantasy of imagining that your evaluation takes place in a vacuum, devoid of all context – that somehow it can be divorced from hundreds of years of white people going round the world and forcing the people who live their to change the way they live because aspects of their culture didn’t fit with the imperialists morals. It ignores the fact that no African NGO is ever going to come to Europe and make people start practicing ritual circumcision because the power to go and change how other people live is concentrated in Western hands. It also ignores the fact that one of the main ways that people seem to be claiming that this is immoral – the idea of Human Rights (universally guaranteed individual rights), notions of consent (particularly with regards to age) etc. – are Western ideas, and would not make any sense in many culture. You’re arguing that these Western notions take precedence of people’s own understandings of what they’re doing.

    To substitute “outsider” for “enlightened Westerner” is complete obfuscation.

    All the more so because none of us really have any understanding of the phenomena we are talking about. I’m not saying you can never make judgments about other cultures but almost everyone here seems to think it is completely unproblematic for them to condemn this as something that needs to be stopped when they know so, so little about it. I’m assuming Ally probably knows considerably more than the rest of us because his article seems pretty well researched but his knowledge of male circumcision in Africa could be described as extremely superficial if we were being kind to him. Dave @26 seems to genuinely argue something along the lines of “it’s ridiculous to compare what we’re doing to all those previous times that Westerners thought that their superior knowledge and moral code should allow them to dictate how other people live. This time is different because now we actually do have the superior knowledge and moral code that makes it acceptable to dictate how other people live.”

  70. Ally Fogg says

    @H.E. Pennypecker

    Outside / Western influences are constantly affecting and altering traditional behaviours in all cultures, and very obviously in Africa.

    On this specific issue, the Zulu tribes of South Africa stopped these adult circumcision rites altogether from 1820 until 2009, when their King announced their reintroduction as a direct response to input from WHO and other agencies who were putting enormous pressure on them to alter their cultural practices as a public health measure. In other parts of Africa, the cultural traditions have always been to leave the foreskin intact, until western influences came along and began promoting a continent-wide ,medical circumcision campaign.

    So there is already an enormous amount of outside interference / pressure / influence occurring in this area.

    But beyond that, I utterly reject your premise that it is somehow unacceptable for any inhabitant of this planet to express a view about the human rights of another person elsewhere. How do you feel about Suttee? How do you feel about stoning to death women who commit adultery or hanging people for being homosexual? Is it imperialism and colonialism to condemn such practices and to take active steps to seek to reduce or eliminate them?

    I’m not advocating invading anyone’s country or colonising in the manner to which Kipling was referrring. I’m not even advocating economic sanctions or cultural boycotts to enforce changes on unwilling populaces or cultures. I’m merely suggesting that the global health and human rights agencies which (ultimately) work for all of us should do their bloody jobs and that all of us should offer awareness and support to the many brave people within those countries and cultures who are advocating and organising for change, and who currently are being abandoned and hung out to dry by people pushing your exact arguments.

  71. Schala says

    The other is to protect the principle that children must not undergo body modification before they are old enough to consent. If the body modification does not cause any significant suffering or damage – at circumcision does not – this is purely a matter of abstract principle.

    You keep the removal of the clitoral hood as FGM if you keep circumcision. Or you lower it down to the symbolic nick for both sexes (What I think is more reasonable). NO WIGGLE ROOM. No double standard.

  72. says

    Well to start with, Ally, this is their decision, not ours. It is not up to us to tell people in Africa how to bring up their young…

    When people IN AFRICA are trying to improve the treatment of their own kids, why is it not up to us to take a stand with them? Why is it not up to us to say that our values might also work for others?

    But feminists would rather campaign to have Nuts taken down.

    Damn, number-boy, you were doing so well up to that point. I’ve never heard of ONE feminist, “mainstream” or “radical,” who actually supported either MGM or FGM. Can you please name one, or admit you’re full of shit?

  73. Anton Mates says

    StillGjenganger @73,

    Type I is clitoridectomy, which definitely does cause serious harm

    I’m not sure you can claim that without appealing to your personal “ethical principles.” If performed by trained doctors under sterile conditions, clitoridectomy (especially on infants) is unlikely to lead to infection, serious bleeding, or chronic pain.

    Does it still cause serious harm? Absolutely…according to our ethical principles, because it tends to reduce a woman’s ability to have a satisfying sex life. But the people advocating clitoridectomy in these cultures don’t consider that to be as important an element of women’s health as we do. Are they right or wrong?

    I don’t think there’s any such thing as a “values-free” position on things like this, much less a values-free position that sanctions male circumcision but not Type 1 FGM. Resolving these questions is what ethical values are for.

  74. says

    Are they right or wrong?

    That’s easy — they’re WRONG, because they advocate the destruction of kids’ body-parts, without their meaningful consent. The stated purpose and professinalism of the procedures don’t matter — what matters is the non-consensual and medically unnecessary mutilation of a child’s body parts, which is wrong according to the most basic common sense and decency.

  75. StillGjenganger says

    @Antn Mates 78
    I quite agree that there is no such things as a value-free position. Ultimately it is all about whose values we choose to impose. But for that very reason I think we should be quite careful about when we feel justified to impose on others. And surely there is a major difference between clitoral removal, that makes a big difference to the life possibilities to the person undergoing it – and circumcision, that makes no observable difference at all. The first is about real, measurable consequences, and the second is purely about principles.

  76. StillGjenganger says

    @Schala 76
    You keep the removal of the clitoral hood as FGM if you keep circumcision
    If removal of the clitoral hood has no more real adverse consequences than circumcision I have no problems with that. But I am still trying to keep out of the details of FGM, because I know little and do not want to rock a moderately important boat.

  77. StillGjenganger says

    Here is an example how this might look from the other side:

    We have a major problem in the west that we prefer to ignore. It causes untold death, wounding and misery, through domestic and public violence, traffic accidents, economic hardship, and cirrhosis of the liver. I refer, of course, to the widespread use of alcohol. A sensibly teetotal country like Saudi Arabia might well decide that we are clearly not competent to deal properly with the matter, and that the weak groups fighting this evil deserve help. And respond with international pressure through the UN, and massive support to anybody willing to set up a temperance campaign. If they did, my reaction would be to tell them to buzz off, mind their own business, and leave us to organise our own society by ourselves. How would you people react?

  78. says

    I’d react by saying that, right or wrong, the Saudis have every right to engage in such international campaigning, and that they’re not at all wrong to be talking about a problem that is having harmful effects all over the world. After that, of course, I’d be taking a good look at what specific policies they’re advocating to deal with the problem, and judging them on their merits.

  79. Anton Mates says

    Yeah, I’d be fine with that. For all I know, MADD and AA are secretly funded by wealthy Saudis.* who cares, as long as they’re doing good work?

    *Except that they probably aren’t, because wealthy Saudis drink a ton of liquor behind closed doors.

    And surely there is a major difference between clitoral removal, that makes a big difference to the life possibilities to the person undergoing it – and circumcision, that makes no observable difference at all.

    Huh? What life possibilities are curtailed by a medicalized clitoridectomy, but not by circumcision?

    Women with clitoridectomies can work, have children, and even have orgasms. (Remember that most of the clitoris is internal, and not removed by Type I FGM.) Statistically, they’re more likely to experience sexual dysfunctions, but that’s hard to disentangle from the effect of being a woman living in the sort of culture that thinks clitoridectomies are awesome.

    Granted, clitoridectomy is totally a more drastic surgery than circumcision, and a shittier thing to do to a child. But the difference is one of degree rather than kind, and the negative consequences are largely analogous.

  80. StillGjenganger says

    @Anton Mates 84
    So, your position is that if you agree with the policy it is good, if you disagree it is bad, and you simply do not care about (non) interference in other societies? Your choice, but that has its costs. Tolerance and non-interference serves to avoid interminable wars (culture or real) and protects weaker groups from dominance by others. Is it that you are so sure your opinions will always be on the winning side? From a Saudi point of view fighting drinking and fighting depictions of the prophet have fairly similar justifications, you know.

    Granted, clitoridectomy is totally a more drastic surgery than circumcision, and a shittier thing to do to a child. But the difference is one of degree rather than kind, and the negative consequences are largely analogous.

    The negative consequences of a properly done circumcision are: none whatsoever. As I know from personal experience. If you could convince me that clitoridectomy was equally innocuous, I would accept that this was an acceptable practice too. I really do not think you can, though.

  81. 123454321 says

    But feminists would rather campaign to have Nuts taken down.

    “Damn, number-boy, you were doing so well up to that point. I’ve never heard of ONE feminist, “mainstream” or “radical,” who actually supported either MGM or FGM. Can you please name one, or admit you’re full of shit?”

    That’s my point, you numb-brain, fuck-wit. Feminist’s indifference towards MGM (WHILST THEY DO ACTIVELY CAMPAIGN AND SPEAK OUT AGAINST FGM) is direct evidence of their double-standard ‘couldn’t give a shit about men’ outlook. My point that they would rather take time to organise a campaign to take Nuts down indicates where MGM lies on their priority list.

    Who’s full of shit now, Fuck-wit?

  82. 123454321 says

    “The negative consequences of a properly done circumcision are: none whatsoever. As I know from personal experience.”

    Wrong. There’s lots of things you can do with a foreskin that you can’t do without one and that statement is so obvious it’s embarrassing to have to put pen to paper to write that sentence.

  83. 123454321 says

    “I’d react by saying that, right or wrong, the Saudis have every right to engage in such international campaigning, and that they’re not at all wrong to be talking about a problem that is having harmful effects all over the world. After that, of course, I’d be taking a good look at what specific policies they’re advocating to deal with the problem, and judging them on their merits.”

    Totally agree.

  84. Schala says

    The negative consequences of a properly done circumcision are: none whatsoever.

    Then people could lob your ear lobe off, right? I mean consequences: none whatsoever.

    When is your appointment to have yours removed?

  85. Anton Mates says

    @StillGjenganger,

    So, your position is that if you agree with the policy it is good, if you disagree it is bad, and you simply do not care about (non) interference in other societies?

    Yup, sounds about right. I live in a nation of immigrants; my society was constructed from other societies, and it communicates, trades and competes with other societies every day. The idea that I can’t have humanitarian concerns about people living outside my country’s borders seems nonsensical to me.

    Tolerance and non-interference serves to avoid interminable wars (culture or real) and protects weaker groups from dominance by others.

    The weakest of groups is the individual, and in the case we’re discussing, non-interference leaves individuals at the mercy of mobs that chase them down and chop bits off their bodies. That’s a considerably more troubling form of dominance, IMO.

    And there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that we’ll ever go to war with an African country to stamp out genital mutilation there, so I’m really not gonna worry about that one.

    Is it that you are so sure your opinions will always be on the winning side?

    My opinions aren’t always on the winning side now; the United States is hardly a progressive utopia.Why should I fear foreign influences contaminating my precious bodily fluids society, when I’m already used to having serious clashes of ideology with other Americans?

    From a Saudi point of view fighting drinking and fighting depictions of the prophet have fairly similar justifications, you know.

    Sure, and from the POV of an American Evangelical, fighting drunk driving and fighting contraception have fairly similar justifications. So I ally with them on one front and oppose them on another. What else would you do?

    The negative consequences of a properly done circumcision are: none whatsoever. As I know from personal experience.

    You realize that the consequences have to be assessed statistically, surely? In virtually every study I’ve ever seen, the majority of women with clitoridectomies state (in private) that they suffered no negative consequences either. That doesn’t mean that the procedure is a good idea; it just means that a lot of women either manage to avoid the negative consequences, don’t personally view them as negative, or simply aren’t aware of them because they’ve never experienced life without them.

    Any surgery is a dice-roll, no matter how professionally it’s performed. Some guys who’ve been circumcised regret it. Most guys don’t, but that doesn’t “cancel out” the unlucky ones.

  86. StillGjenganger says

    @Anton Mates 90

    We are not going to agree on this one, which is OK.

    Your comparison with disagreements within the US breaks down, because that is about organisation within a single society, where people have to find an accommodation willy-nilly. Popular opinion is wrong: There is such a thing as society, and the jurisdiction of the United States does not extend across the entire globe.

    And there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that we’ll ever go to war with an African country to stamp out genital mutilation there, so I’m really not gonna worry about that one.

    Maybe. But others might start going to war against you and your friends, in part because they object to people like you trying to decide how they have to live their lives. In fact, they are doing so already. Attitudes like yours may not be the primary reason for that, but they sure do not help.

  87. H. E. Pennypacker says

    @Ally

    Sorry for the slow reply.

    Outside / Western influences are constantly affecting and altering traditional behaviours in all cultures, and very obviously in Africa.

    I know. I’m saying this is problematic.

    On this specific issue, the Zulu tribes of South Africa stopped these adult circumcision rites altogether from 1820 until 2009, when their King announced their reintroduction as a direct response to input from WHO and other agencies who were putting enormous pressure on them to alter their cultural practices as a public health measure. In other parts of Africa, the cultural traditions have always been to leave the foreskin intact, until western influences came along and began promoting a continent-wide ,medical circumcision campaign.

    I’m a little bit confused I don’t really see how this is an argument in favour of more interference in the way that African people live their lives. I mean, I’m assuming these health agencies weren’t promoting this because they hate African men. I’m fairly certain they did it because they believed that they knew how the Zulu tribes should run their lives better than the people themselves. And I’m pretty sure they didn’t do this on a whim but consulted dozens of experts in their respective fields. But it turns out that exerting your considerable power over people whose lives you don’t properly understand often.

    But beyond that, I utterly reject your premise that it is somehow unacceptable for any inhabitant of this planet to express a view about the human rights of another person elsewhere.

    Well than you are rejected a premise that I never made. I didn’t say it was unacceptable I pointed out that people should be aware of the context of this debate, of the history of Europeans making Africans (and Asians and Australasians and Americans) change the way in which they live.

    How do you feel about Suttee? How do you feel about stoning to death women who commit adultery or hanging people for being homosexual? Is it imperialism and colonialism to condemn such practices and to take active steps to seek to reduce or eliminate them?

    Well it very much depends on how you define imperialism and colonialism but, potentially yes, you could say that taking active steps to eliminate those practices would be a form of imperialism or colonialism. Does that mean it is wrong in principle to seek to eliminate them? No, of course not. I would however advise caution in exactly how you go about reducing or eliminating such practices. Saying “stoning adulterers to death is wrong and it should be stopped” is all well and good but the actually important thing is how you are going to achieve this in practice.

    Also I’d say these practices are very different to circumcision in general although clearly are more extreme parallels of forced circumcision. I’ve realised that I never made it clear that the main thing I oppose in this thread (and in the article) is that this practice is wrong in general. Forcing people to undergo circumcision is obviously different but the impression of this thread is that the circumcision practices are a problem even when people are not forced into it. Having said this, any society (beyond certain small groups of hunter-gatherers) will use violence to enforce it’s rules so although I personally have a problem with forced circumcision I think the question is far more complicated than most people commenting here seem to believe.

    I’m merely suggesting that the global health and human rights agencies which (ultimately) work for all of us should do their bloody jobs

    But those health agencies thought they were doing their jobs when they encouraged the reintroduction of circumcision. Now, I understand that from your point of view it seems obviously that before they made a mistake but now you have identified a (vague) course of action that would be beneficial. But can you not see how this is essentially saying “forget about all those times in the past when Westerners intervened in the lives of Africans because they thought they knew what was best for them, perhaps most of those turned out to be failures but this time I really do know how we can help them if only we can get them to change their customs.” I’m not even saying you’re necessarily wrong I’m just urging caution. To be fair you did actually address the question of how intervening in other cultures can be problematic, my main gripe is with those who arrogantly dismiss the notion that cultural sensitivity in these situations might ever be desirable.

    Actually, the thing I really am worried about is how Western-based organisations could discourage circumcision in practice. I remember seeing a documentary about FGM, quite a lot of which was a shelter for girls escaping from family pressure to undergo this practice. Leaving aside questions about the conditions under which it might be considered acceptable to encourage a child to run away from their family into your custody if we just think about the girls themselves best interests several questions are raised. In the present they’ve avoided a painful and potentially dangerous procedure – all well and good. The question in my mind is what happens next? It seems incredibly unlikely these girls can go back to their communities, at least if they want to continue to avoid FGM. What happens when they become adults? Are they going to live in this orphanage for the rest of their lives? Well meaning people do a lot of stupid things when they intervene in other cultures without knowing enough about the situation and without thinking through the potential consequences of their actions.

    and that all of us should offer awareness and support to the many brave people within those countries and cultures who are advocating and organising for change, and who currently are being abandoned and hung out to dry by people pushing your exact arguments.

    “Support and awareness” sounds nice and I don’t have a big problem with getting behind it but if you don’t mind me saying it’s a slightly wishy washy formulation. I’d be interested to know who exactly is hanging these people out to dry by pushing the same arguments as me. I my experience when it comes to NGOs, development charities, health or human rights agencies the vast majority don’t push my thinking. Some very small and relatively unpowerful ones might but they’re unlikely to be making much impact in this issue anyway.

  88. says

    Who’s full of shit now, Fuck-wit?

    Still you, because you still haven’t named or cited any feminist who supports MGM.

    The negative consequences of a properly done circumcision are: none whatsoever.

    Without POSITIVE consequences, it’s still unnecessary mutilation of a non-consenting person’s body parts. That’s a gross violation of basic medical ethics, to put it mildly. I could easily say the same about “properly” cutting a baby’s right arm off at birth.

    Tolerance and non-interference serves to avoid interminable wars (culture or real) and protects weaker groups from dominance by others.

    Peace that is achieved by refusing to fight injustice, is neither a just nor a lasting peace. And it may not prove all that peaceful either.

    Actually, the thing I really am worried about is how Western-based organisations could discourage circumcision in practice.

    Well, yeah, there’s PLENTY of leeway between doing nothing and waging protracted war on everyone whose cultures differ from ours.

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