Tolerant Denmark Debates Circumcision Ban

Some See Practice as Violation of Children's Rights


By Paul Berger

Published August 20, 2012, issue of August 24, 2012.
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Tolerant Denmark, the nation that famously saved its Jews during World War II, is embroiled in a fierce debate about whether circumcision should be medically supervised or even banned.

The Scandinavian country is not alone: Health officials in Norway, Austria and Switzerland have also questioned circumcision this summer. But in Denmark, the debate has dominated the media as a topic for public discussion.

The furor follows hard on the heels of a ruling by a local German court outlawing circumcision, and a local Dutch court banning ritual slaughter. Both rulings, later overturned by higher courts, and the debate in Denmark reflect a deep-seated secularism in Northern Europe that is becoming increasingly hostile toward Jewish and Muslim practices.

“Now we know again that large parts of the Danish population, leading doctors, leading ethicists and many politicians suffer from acute spiritual and cultural phimosis [a tightening of the foreskin],” Danish journalist Martin Krasnik wrote in a July 27 article in the newspaper Politiken.

Krasnik, one of several Danish Jews to come to circumcision’s defense, complained bitterly of the “freak show of commentaries and readers’ letters” that filled newspaper columns, websites and television talk shows in Denmark this summer, transforming a usually slow news cycle into the “golden days of a good old-fashioned culture of radical xenophobia, self-righteousness and disgusting wiener talk.”

Circumcision opponents retort that their stance has nothing to do with xenophobia or religious prejudice. Instead, they say, it is about protecting children’s rights. Backed by research suggesting that circumcision causes babies intense pain and harms some men’s sex lives, a chorus of critics, including secularists and politicians, say circumcision must be stopped.

Politicians from several Danish parties questioned why a requirement that a doctor be present during ritual circumcision is not routinely followed. Others went further. Jørgen Arbo-Bæhr, a Member of Parliament for the socialist Red-Green Alliance, told The Copenhagen Post, “We advocate a ban on circumcision.”


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