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Germany heads off furor over circumcision

July 13, 2012 at 12:55 PM   |   Comments

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BERLIN, July 13 (UPI) -- Germany is seeking to defuse international furor over a German court ruling on circumcision that united Jews and Muslims against the government and judiciary.

Amid protests in Germany and several Muslim countries, German Chancellor Angela Merkel intervened to reassure Jewish and Muslim citizens they were perfectly within their religious rights to continue with circumcision of boys.

Merkel aides said the government would work on legislation to remove ambiguity that led to a Cologne court ruling circumcision was equal to bodily harm.

European Jewish and Muslim advocacy groups united to condemn the court ruling, which followed complications in the circumcision of a 4-year-old Muslim boy. The doctor who performed the surgery for the traditional removal of the male child's foreskin faced prosecution but was acquitted.

However, it was the court ruling that caused uproar in Germany, in several Muslim countries and Israel. Foreign Jewish campaign groups elsewhere also backed the protests.

The court's ruling that "the right of a child to keep his physical integrity trumps the rights of parents" to observe their religion was greeted with dismay.

The court said circumcision of male infants on religious grounds was tantamount to grievous bodily harm, a criminal act subject to prosecution. Circumcision of boys is part of both Jewish and Muslim traditions, although the practice is recognized across Europe on grounds of hygiene by other religious groups.

Germany has large Muslim communities of Turkish, eastern European, South Asian and African origin that all practice circumcision for boys. African communities also practice circumcision for girls, for the removal of the clitoris, usually secretly or during visits to native lands.

The numbers of German and non-German Jewish communities are also on the rise.

A joint Jewish-Muslim statement said, "We consider this to be an affront (to) our basic religious and human rights."

It declared, "Circumcision is an ancient ritual that is fundamental to our individual faiths and we protest in the strongest possible terms against this court ruling.

"To that end we will vigorously defend our right to maintain our mutual tradition and call on the German parliament and all political parties to intervene in overruling this decision as a matter of urgency."

Several major advocacy groups that signed the statement included the Rabbinical Center of Europe, the European Jewish Parliament, the European Jewish Association, Germany's Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs and the Islamic Center in Brussels.

The campaigners took their protests to the Bundestag, the German parliament, as well as the European Parliament.

Legal analysts said the judgment could set an unwelcome legal precedent and lead to unpredictable complications and vast implications for society not only in Germany but across Europe.

Right-wing German groups led calls for banning circumcision, and some complained political correctness and Germany's perceived collective guilt over the Holocaust allowed the practice to continue.

Analysts said the court judgment was not carefully thought through and had caused Germany unwanted embarrassment in and outside Europe.

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