Much Ado About Foreskin

Is circumcision of young boys an affront on their bodily rights?


That is according to a regional court ruling in Cologne, Germany, last spring. This case arose after the circumcision of a four-year-old Muslim boy led to medical complications. The doctor who had performed the operation was taken to court and the court ruled that the boy’s “fundamental right to bodily integrity” had been violated. This ruling caused a lot of hue and cry among Muslims and Jews since they viewed it as an affront to their religious freedom. Although German lawmakers eventually passed a legislation that ensures that parents have a right to have their boys circumcised, this controversy touches on a lot of raw nerves. It is clear that while activists against female circumcision in most countries easily get their arguments across to the targeted societies, intactivistshave a hard time getting theirs across.

I find this particular case to be very interesting for many reasons. Beyond its medical benefits, circumcision means many things to different societies. For Jews and Muslims, circumcision is of great religious significance and has been practiced by these societies since time immemorial. For those African societies that practice it, circumcision is an important rite of passage that signifies a transition from childhood to adulthood. Some American and European societies also practice circumcision; and they too have their own reasons for doing so.

When social/religious practices conflict with personal rights/state laws, which one should take precedence? Does a boy born into a Jewish family have a right not to be circumcised? Obviously, an eight-day old boy cannot exercise such a right, so someone, usually the parent, assumes the responsibility. What happens then when the said boy later decides to renounce their religious beliefs? Or when he decides that the slight loss of sexual sensitivity as a result of circumcision is a big deal for him? Obviously, he cannot reverse the procedure. Could he then possibly sue the parents and the hospital for doing that to him? Or the state for allowing the parents to do ‘such grievous harm’ to his body?

Another twist to the circumcision issue is when national laws or beliefs conflict with the practices of one particular society within the country. Do the majority get to decide for the minority whether they get to keep a distinct part of their culture? While there exists grounds for arguing whether the German court was right in some sense, it is doubtful whether we can say the same about the guys who did this!

The German case has another dimension to it beyond that of the merits/demerits or circumcision and religious/personal rights. The fact that Germany has a long and tragic history of anti-Semitism immediately throws the other arguments out the window. While it is true that in Germany, circumcision is “unfamiliar to the general public, even to most lawmakers”, it is very important to think about the message such a ruling sent to the world about how Germans (or their judiciary) feel about minority groups in their society. To the court, it might have been a straightforward case of what the law allows and doesn’t, but it sure did appear otherwise to the world.

The Dark Side of Black Friday

We all have an image of the ideal Thanksgiving Day set in our heads. It is a day of cooking, feasting, and eventually laying in food comas. It is a day of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving special, and football. It is a day of laughter, catching up, and enjoying the wonderful company of family and close friends. It is a day of reflection, appreciation, and giving thanks. But, this has all changed in recent years.

This year as families were sitting down to feast on a thoughtfully planned out and carefully cooked dinner, 307. 67 million Americans were standing in lines outside of major retailers. This year Black Friday, the day of shopping historically following Thanksgiving Day, took over Thanksgiving Day. Stores such as Wal-Mart opened as early as 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. About 10% of the shoppers were out at stores by 8 p.m. on Thursday and an estimated 28% of shoppers were at the stores by midnight, compared to 24.4% last year. That means millions of Americans cut their Thanksgiving festivities short to shop. So it can be argued that sneaky and creative retailers have transformed what was created as a day of thanks into a day of greed.

As evidence note that the number of Black Friday sales this year hit the all time high. Total spending over the four-day weekend totaled $59.1 billion, up 12.8 percent from 2011. Thanksgiving online sales rose 32 percent from last year to $633 million. And online sales on Black Friday were up 26 percent from the same day last year to $1.042 billion. Chew on these facts. They don’t taste as good as that homemade stuffing or grandma’s apple pie did, do they? That’s because they’re not delicious, appetizing, or appealing. They are a reflection of the disgusting consumerism that has engulfed America. They are evidence that desire has overwhelmed gratitude. And that’s not a leftover I am anxious to dig into. Continue reading “The Dark Side of Black Friday”

Pardon Me, Please?

Before you dig into your Thanksgiving turkey (or am I too late?), consider this fun fact: the President of the United States pardons a turkey at an official ceremony in the White House every year and saves it from slaughter.

This tradition started in 1989 with President George H. Bush.  Among the lucky few birds that have been spared are Katie and Zack in 2001 (named after children of the Chairman of the National Turkey Federation),  Marshmallow and Yam in 2005, and Liberty and Peace last Thanksgiving.

The process  is full of pomp.  The turkeys (one for the ceremony and one alternate) are selected at birth and trained to handle loud noises, crowds, and flash photography. They are brought into D.C. via motorcade and stay in a deluxe suite at the W Hotel, feasting on berries, corn, and acorn the night before the event. After their official duty, they are whisked off to Mount Vernon.

All is done in good jest and the holiday spirit, but it raises some “sort of” serious questions:

1. Why pardon turkeys at all?  Does this point to a larger issue about animal cruelty or food (over)consumption? Surely, there’s a reason why we cringe when we see Governor Palin pardoning a turkey while his fellow birds are being butchered in the background::


2. And what about the names? Why Liberty?  Why Peace?  And why was Liberty the chosen bird and Peace the alternate?  Surely it would have been bad taste to name the bird Osama.  But in the name of all things to be pardoned, what about Congress or the Economy? There must be a method to the madness of selecting these select birds—if the act is symbolic, then the names must be as well.

Just some food for thought.  Happy Thanksgiving!