Newborns babies are, to Blair’s eyes, almost invariably indistinguishable. So when a friend of Blair's texted a picture of her hour’s old niece Blair dutifully downloaded the text and prepare to text back some platitude or another (“So cute!”, I figured, would probably hit the spot) and go on with my evening.
“Yeah,” came the reply. “When pic taken she’d just her clit cut off. LOL.”
Let Blair explain. My friend and her family come from a part of the world where cutting away parts of a newborn girl’s genitals is routine. The practice of removing the clitoris started in the Bronze Age, where fear of a female sexuality touched such phobia that some barbarian hit upon the idea that women shouldn’t enjoy sex at all, thus the practice of slicing off the most sensitive part of the sex organ was born. It survives as a “tradition” and a way for people from their part of the world to assert their identity. Mothers wish for their daughters to look similar to themselves and the tradition somehow survived the Enlightenment into the 21st century.
Needless to say, the process is dangerous, unnecessary and indefensible. Studies have also showed it can lead to psychological issues once the child becomes sexually active because – as already stated – the whole objective is to diminish sexual pleasure in females.
Well, actually, some of that story didn’t happen quite like that. As a matter of fact, my friend’s sister gave birth to a healthy boy, not a girl. And did so in New York City, the capital of the Free World, not some township in Africa. And it wasn’t a clitoris sliced away at. It was a penis, which was subjected to the revolting hack-operation of circumcision.
Cutting bits off new-born babies because it is tradition direct from the Bronze Age is not - and cannot - be acceptable. This barbaric practice was back in the news recently when 20 South African boys, all aged around 15, died within a single week from complications from a traditional “coming of age” ritual involving the hacking off of their foreskins. The superior way in which the story was reported (“oh dear, these poor savages, so beholden to their ancient rituals”) really pissed me off, but not as much as the omission that this very same thing is happening here in the United States.
Even with circumcision no longer freely available on Medicaid, 55% of boys born in America still undergo the grizzly procedure, whereas in Europe circumcision is called out as the unnecessary and dangerous procedure it is, and less than 10% of kids are subjected to it. The issue is largely unreported upon but the debate has all the hallmarks of other “two Americas” issues like Obamacare, gay marriage, gun control and legalizing pot: namely one side has the facts and the other side has a vocal minority, impervious to reason, hysterically screaming about their “rights” to chop away at their baby sons.
But here are some facts. Circumcision reduces sexual pleasure in later life, with many thousands of nerve cells cut off the tip of the penis, and indeed, just like female cutting, that’s the whole reason the practice got started. In Genesis, god demanded Abraham slice away at his penis – and the penis of everyone in his household, family and slave alike – as a “flesh covenant”. That men without a foreskin enjoyed sex more than those without was well understood by the sexually repressed Victorians, some of whom who volunteered for the surgery after seeing London newspaper advertisements promising it would “greatly reduce desire for intercourse and masturbation”.
But isn’t this a “harmless snip”?
No. Try, if you can, to watch unflinchingly this footage of sanitized procedure, performed by a medical professional in a medical facility with (mercifully) the use of a local anesthetic. Even more alarming is a 2010 study published in the Journal of Boyhood Studies (Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 2010, pages 78-90) found that over 100 American baby boy’s died every year in the US from complications directly related to this elective surgery. The study also found disturbing evidence that US hospitals are reluctant to accurately record the cause of death, meaning the true number is likely to be much higher.
The study further concluded that 1 in every 77 deaths in neonatals was a direct result of a circumcision, compared to 1 in every 115 deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (more commonly known as “cot death”). The frightening phenomena of cot death has been met with public awareness campaigns and government sponsored “Safe to Sleep” education program. Every responsible parent is concerned about cot death. Yet circumcision, undeniably more deadly than SIDS, hasn’t engendered anything like this response – mainly because of the position this disgusting practice has managed to achieve in US medical culture.
Circumcision has become an entrenched cosmetic ritual that a majority of American parents feel they have to subject their children too; it is also a lucrative side business for doctors who are somehow blind to the fact they are ignoring not only their Hippocratic oath to “first do no harm”, but also the simple calculus of surgical risk vs health benefit.
And there are no significant health benefits. No legitimate health organization in the world actually goes as far as recommending the surgery. Not even the spineless American Association of Pediatrics, who last year released a statement which read “…if someone wants this, they should have it… (but) the benefits are not so strong everyone needs have it” completely in denial of the fact the overwhelming majority of circumcisions in the US are performed on babies, who cannot give any informed consent that they “want this”.
The more desperate cock-cutting advocates will rapidly gesticulate towards several statements by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) which have stated circumcision could be a method for HIV prevention in cases of uninfected men having intercourse with infected female.
Yet they are less enthusiastic on passing along the WHO and UNAIDS caveats: the operation should be performed under sanitized conditions by a trained medical professional, and only upon a man who can give his informed consent. And they have no appetite at all for the statement made by those same organizations that, while circumcision may be a cost effective way to slow the spread of HIV in Africa, it isn’t as cost effective - or anywhere near as safe – as simply using a condom.
It has been suggested, supported by some studies, that the warm, moist area under the foreskins of uncircumcised men can be a breeding ground for infections, with one study making the banal point that removing that area reduces this risk.
Well, yes. One can imagine not having a foreskin dramatically decreases the likelihood of getting a sore foreskin - for precisely the reason that Oscar Pistorius never pulled out of a track meet with a fucking twisted ankle. The layman’s excuse for taking a knife to a kid’s dick is usually “it is more hygienic”. No, you know what really gets cock clean? Washing it.
And aesthetics shouldn’t don’t come into this. Whether a potential sexual partners, years hence, would prefer a roundhead or a caviler is none issue; it is perverse to perform surgery purely to please a sexual partner years hence. What are we even talking about here? Most women like a bigger cock, so how about compulsory penis enlargement surgery on children? Let’s see, what else? Well, how about surgically inserted bumps and balls throughout the length of the shaft so the child grows to manhood “ribbed for her pleasure”? No? Thought not.
Moving around the body, what about “tribal tattoos” for babies? Nope. Scarification art? Of course not. Nose job? Sick. The only compulsory cosmetic surgery which is it okay to perform on post-natals is the penis snip.
That leaves us with the real reason America is lagging behind the rest of the civilized world on ridding itself of Bronze Age ritualistic child-torture: religion.
Circumcision has been practiced by monolithic traditions – the Jewish and Muslim sections of the “great” three customs in particular – for thousands of years (4000, if you believe the custodians of the Jewish faith). Not one of those thousands of years is a justification for the ritual’s presence in 2013, it is sadly a pretty comprehensive explanation of the abject cowardice medical professionals and politicians display when it comes to confronting this issue.
The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics contorted this sentence to preface their (YEAR) paper on circumcision “(the Orthodox Jewish practice) has an important cultural and historical role”. What is “important”, much less “cultural” about taking a knife or a sharp stone to the penis of a new-born? And what on Earth is the medical profession doing factoring in religion when making pronouncements on elective surgery? Because religion certainly doesn’t factor in medical concerns when it comes to the surgery of circumcision.
Circumcision has been killing Jewish kids in New York since at least in 1856, when the death of a baby named a Julius Katzenstein was recorded, but the on-going scandal of an ultra-orthadox practice called metzitzah b'peh brings the entire issue of hacking off bits of baby into focus.
Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. After a mohel (Hebrew for man who circumcises) cuts away at the newborns genitals he performs “metzitzah b'peh” which is the part of the ritual where after removing the foreskin, he puts the bleeding penis in his mouth and sucks the blood from the wound to clean it.
Even allowing for the mythical properties Monotheist place upon the humble alcoholic grape drink (“blood of Christ” and all that bullshit), I hope we can all agree that there are more effective antiseptics available to us in the 21st century than wine and old-man spit. The risk of infection is astronomical, and a baby’s undeveloped immune system is completely ill-equipped to handle exposing an open wound to an adult mouth.
The Center for Disease Control’s figures show 13 babies born in New York City since the turn of the Millennium have contracted herpes from this homosexual pedophile practice. It is important to note the CDC suspects many more cases go unreported but, of the 13 confirmed, two babies died and two more were left brain damaged for life. Two of the younglings were infected as recently as this year, according to Jay Varma, the deputy commissioner for disease control at the New York City Department of Health, who added it was too “early to tell” if these two most recent victims had been left mentally handicapped for the rest of their lives.
The vast majority of the Jewish faithful abandoned this sordid tradition generations ago. However, the cowardice of NY Mayor Bloomberg, ever anxious not to upset a religious and well organized voter block, makes you want to puke. Bloomberg doesn’t have a problem banning smoking in bars and Big Slurps, but could only summon the political courage enough to say: “We're going to do a study, and make sure that everyone is safe and at the same time, it is not the government's business to tell people how to practice their religion.”
What kind of “study” could be needed, exactly? And, should one really be deemed necessary, what possible conclusion could be draw other than the Bronze Age inspired tradition to slice the flesh of a child and suck on his penis is immediately - and irrevocably - superseded by a child’s right to his own body and to not be exposed to harm, brain damage and death?
When decisions that affect children’s health and well-being are being discussed, religion and tradition can fuck off and leave the room. The First Amendment does indeed forbid any infringement of religious freedom - but it is not a child abuser’s charter.
Bloomberg was speaking in 2005. Two years later, one of the mohels linked to the deaths of children, rabbi Yitzchok Fischer, was prohibited by a court order from performing the metzizah b'peh ritual. But the Jewish Week newspaper – out in front of this scandal from the start – found that Fischer continued to practice oral suction in nearby Rockland County, just beyond the limit of the court order’s reach. Worse, it seems like the Rockland authorities may have known about it, and therefore the risk young babies were being placed in, and turned a blind eye.
But Fischer isn’t alone in putting ritual before reality. As media such as the New York Times and ABC News wades into the scandal, spokesperson after spokesperson for the faith refused engage with the cold facts of what they were doing.
"This is the government forcing a rabbi practicing a religious ritual to tell his congregants it could hurt their child," Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of something called the Hasidic United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, said. "If, God forbid, there was a danger, we would be the first to stop the practice."
That’s bullshit, but Brooklyn Rabbi David Niederman (of something called the United Jewish Organization), at least, was more authentic in his missive. “The Orthodox Jewish community will continue the practice that has been practiced for over 5,000 years. We do not change. And we will not change.”
The the metzizah b'peh ritual, the ignoring of the evidence it harms babies, and the yellow-belliedness of the medical and political professions in tackling this issue – is token of the wider practice and support of all circumcision performed on children.
If a grown man wants to get his penis cut, fine, that’s his right. It is also significantly safer to cut a grown man than a baby because his immune system is better prepared to fight off infection and less painful - a neonatal’s forskin is fused to the head of the penis, and has to be stripped off.
If the above makes for uncomfortable reading, good. That’s what people are subjecting their kids to. It is time to cut this vile practice out.