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Copenhagen — Jerichow, who is Jewish, went on to compare circumcision’s opponents to anti-Semites and to suggest that circumcision for Jews corresponded to baptism for Christians. “Society would be wise to accept that both practices are outside the domain of the state, not a legal question but the responsibility of the parents,” Jerichow wrote.
Politiken is viewed as Denmark’s most intellectual daily newspaper. Such a defense of circumcision did not go down well in this staunchly secular country, where opponents routinely describe the practice as a barbaric or medieval form of genital mutilation.
“Goodbye liberalism, goodbye cultural radicalism, goodbye reason,” one typically irate commenter wrote under Jerichow’s article on Politiken’s website. “Holberg, Brandes and Kierkegaard have fought in vain.”
Several days later, Kjeld Koplev, a Jewish broadcaster who converted to Catholicism, published an article in Politiken calling circumcision “pure torture.” Koplev said he had been psychologically traumatized by his own circumcision and that the practice was “a violation of the Jewish man’s sex life” and a violation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Denmark is home to about 300,000 Muslims and about 5,000 Jews. Despite the uproar, and what he saw as mounting opposition to circumcision in Northern Europe, Lexner said he doubted the ritual would be outlawed anytime soon, because it would be perceived as contravening “religious freedom.”
Politiken’s executive editor-in-chief, Bo Lidegaard, agreed. Only backbench Members of Parliament had spoken out against circumcision, he noted, while “most of the decisive politicians kept a very low profile” during the debate.
Lidegaard added that for secular Danes, circumcision presented a classic dilemma between two competing liberal freedoms: parents’ right to exercise their religious freedom, and the right of children “not to be dragged into their parents’ religion in a way they cannot reverse.”
Whether circumcision causes physical harm also remains up for debate. After Frisch’s study was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, three specialists wrote to the publishers, pointing out that the study drew conclusions from a very small pool.
They noted that Frisch looked at just 2,093 men. Of the 203 participants who were circumcised, 85% had the procedure as adults. This suggests that many had been treated for an outstanding “foreskin pathology,” the specialists said.
Lidegaard said that as long as there is no evidence that male circumcision is harmful, its opponents will always have a hard time banning the practice in Denmark.
But he added, “Clearly, if you could establish in an authoritative way that this does harm, that there is a medical argument that can be well established, that will change the situation.”