July 26, 2012
Religions should accept a subordinate roleGreen Party member of Parliament Memet Kilic of Heidelberg grew up in Turkey. He voted against the Bundestag resolution. He finds that those affected should decide for themselves at the age of 14 what should happen to their foreskin.
TAZ (Interviewer Daniel Bax): Mr. Kilic, recently the Bundestag weighed in on a law to regulate religious circumcisions. Why did you vote against it?
Kilic: I was against it because it stifled a necessary debate. This must occur before such a decision is made.
TAZ: Many Muslims and Jews consider the circumcision of boys as a religious obligation. Can the German state assume a right to pass judgment on that?
Kilic: Until a few weeks ago I would have said no to that. But the Cologne ruling has given me food for thought because what is preached in holy books must now be freshly interpreted in light of reason and medical progress. Indeed, one country alone cannot succeed in changing religious rituals and customs of its citizens. But it can question them and can enter into a dialogue with the religious communities.
TAZ: Didn’t the Cologne ruling make a quick political action necessary because it caused uncertainty for so many parents and physicians?
Kilic: Absolutely. But when there are strong reasons, in Islam as well as in Judaism, circumcision can be postponed for a while. The Cologne ruling is one such strong reason – and the religious communities must respect constitutional democracy.
TAZ: A prohibition on religious circumcision could tempt many Jewish and Muslim parents to have their sons circumcised abroad. Isn’t that risking the creation of circumcision tourism into different countries?
Kilic: That already exists. For cost reasons, or because they want to celebrate the circumcision within family circles, many parents already allow this surgery to be performed in their home country. Yet, a constitutional state is therefore not tasked with making it easier in this country, but has to balance different legally protected rights.
TAZ: Whether circumcision comes with physical disadvantages is controversial. Why should the German state interfere in those questions?
Kilic: The medical benefits are not proven but if it’s medically necessary then such circumcisions should continue to be permitted. Yet I consider it questionable to rely on health arguments to justify religious commandments. Certain religious communities mark their members with circumcision. I’m all for those affected making this decision themselves when they are 14, at the age of religious consent under German law.
TAZ: Unlike Muslims, for religious Jews it isn’t possible to wait that long when the procedure traditionally happens at 8 days. Is your suggestion realistic?
Kilic: For devout Jews this is difficult, I agree. But some Jewish communities in Great Britain have reduced circumcision to a symbolic act and postponed the operation to a later time. This seems exemplary to me.
TAZ: Should Germany of all countries, with its history, be the first to restrict a Jewish tradition?
Kilic: I’m aware that anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim sentiment may rise to the surface in such a debate. It’s our duty to be sensitive with such issues, not only because of the Holocaust, but Germany also has signed a treaty on children’s rights. Furthermore, the Cologne ruling is simply logical for a secular society and is much better than what it’s been made out to be because it balances many aspects. Therefore the large religious communities should not jump the gun by swinging a big stick with the slogan “You don’t want us!”
TAZ: About 30% of men worldwide are said to be circumcised. And so far there has hardly been any controversy about it. Isn’t this just an artificially created problem that doesn’t exist?
Kilic: No I don’t see it like that. It doesn’t help the argument to point to statistics. The Cologne court has ruled in a concrete case, and medical and children’s organizations have clearly spoken to this question. However, many of those involved act out of social pressures and traditions without properly reflecting upon them. Also the motivations of the circumcision industry which originated in the USA is by all means questionable.
(Translated by Bernd Vey and Tim Hammond)