Years ago, when my brother, Chet, was a student at Humboldt State University, I met his roommate. Don had long wavy hair and a full blond beard. He also had deep pain and resentment over his parents' decision to circumcisize him as an infant. He felt maimed and violated by their choice. Don was an early advocate of the anti-circumcision movement.
It is men like Don who are leading the charge to keep all boys in San Francisco from being “mutilated” until they are eighteen and can choose circumcision for themselves. They have successfully secured enough signatures to place the Male Genital Mutilation Bill on the November 11th ballet. The bill makes no exception for religious practices and is in direct violation of Jewish and Muslim traditions.
The “Intactivist” movement is bringing together a series of unlikely coalitions. The anti-circumcision crowd who tend to be free-speech, anti-government activists like my brother’s friend Don are finding themselves in bed with the anti-choice crowd who presumably argue “we shouldn’t kill babies before they are born or mutilate boys after.” “Intactivists” are also finding a home with those who harbor anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiment.
A proposed ban on circumcision can be perceived as an assault on religious freedom. For Muslims, male circumcision is considered a way to follow the precepts of the Prophet Mohammed. Circumcision is a requirement of Jewish law dating back to Abraham in the Book of Genesis. According to a recent article in the New York Times, circumcision is more than just a religious issue. “Beyond the biblical, there are emotional connections: checking for circumcision was one of the ways Jewish children could be culled from their peers by Nazis and the czar’s armies.”
Rabbi Ari Mark Cartun of Etz Chayim in Palo Alto has deep concerns. “I want to continue to live in a free country, one that allows me to observe my religion in the way I chose,” he says.
So does Samina Sundas, a Palo Alto resident and the Founding Executive Director of the American Muslim Voice Foundation. As an American, Samina too simply wants to be free to practice her religion as she sees fit. “This country is founded on religious freedom and I want to be sure we can get back to the ideals that we started from.
In some ways this all may be a moot point. Circumcision has lost significant ground over the past decade. Now, reports estimate only 30 percent of American boys are circumcisized versus over two-thirds of boys in the 1980s and 1990s.
This drop flies in the face of the latest news about the benefits of circumcision and HIV. According to a study in 2007, circumcision significantly reduces the spread of HIV among heterosexuals. The results were so encouraging that the World Health Organization endorsed male circumcision as “an important intervention to reduce the risk of heterosexually acquired H.I.V.”
Male circumcision also reduces the risk of cervical cancer in women. Human papilloma virus, or HPV, is the main cause of cervical cancer and genital warts. Uncircumsized men are significantly more likely to carry HPV than their circumcised counterparts. It’s no wonder circumcision advocates say it is a pro-woman policy.
It would all be so sad if it wasn’t also a little funny. The latest comic book hero is Foreskin Man who bears a striking resemblance to Don sans the beard. I don’t imagine Marvel will be rushing to create a summer blockbuster with him as a hero. They can’t even get a green lamp off the ground these days. But the anti-semitism is very real in the comic strip. Monster Mohel is the villan out to harm “innocent boys.” A mohel is a Jewish man who performs a circumcision on a baby boy eight days after he is born in a Jewish ceremony called the Bris Mihal. It’s no wonder the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement against Foreskin Man.
It might seem obvious circumcision is the best choice for male children given the latest health information. However, there are many who disagree, saying a child is born perfect and should not be “mutilated.” "We abhor the idea for girls," “Intactivist” argue. "Why do it to boys?"
For now, the decision to circumcise a male child is still a private choice that rests with parents. But as Samina Sundas asks, “If one city passes this resolution, what is keeping other cities from following suit?”
With the anti-choice, anti-semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-woman subtext behind the anti-circumcision ban, it is surprising a city as progressive as San Francisco would even consider putting this issue on the ballot. Whatever the outcome, the good news is Our Fair City is not likely to fall prey to the whims of a small faction with an agenda. Right?