Is the circumcision of boys comparable to female genital mutilations?
The “Children’s right to physical integrity” Resolution adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) (1) on October 1st asserts that female genital mutilations and the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons are both “particularly worrisome practices”.
It is understandable that this wording, rightly perceived as a lumping together of the two practices, would have shocked, as it did, Jewish and Muslim communities in France as in the rest of Europe. Neither the distinction made between these two practices in the second part of the resolution (2) nor the explanations of the author of the resolution were sufficient to defuse the tension.
Circumcision is an essential ritual in Judaism. All male infants are circumcised eight days after they are born. It is also an obligation – or at least a strong recommendation – in Muslim religion that all boys be circumcised before puberty. In addition, circumcision is a commonly performed procedure in the United States, mainly for hygienic purposes. Globally, approximately 30 % of men older than 15 (about 661 million) have been circumcised according to a 2007 report of the World Health Organization (3).
Just about a year ago, Burhan Kuzu, head of the Turkish National Assembly’s Constitution Committee and member of the AKP, the party in power, called the European Commission’s Progress Report for Turkey “garbage”, and actually threw a copy of it to the floor during an interview on national television! A year later, the most recent Progress Report has fortunately elicited a more positive reaction.
Several changes contributed to a more constructive climate. In February 2013, the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced that France was in favor of resuming accession talks with Turkey, the first gesture towards “repairing the damages” brought about to Franco-Turkish relations during the Sarkozy presidency (1). Following France’s footsteps, Angela Merkel declared that Germany was also favorable.
Talks should have resumed in June but the violent crackdown of Istanbul’s Taksim Square “Gezi” protests in May and June had a negative effect on members of the Union. It was not until October 22nd that representatives of the 28 member states have eventually decided – unanimously, as required by EU rules – to restart accession talks. Finally, after a three-year standstill, discussions resumed on November 5th with the opening of Chapter 22 on “Regional policy and coordination of structural instruments”, aiming at reducing socio-economic differences between regions.
French MP Véronique Massonneau
It turns out that a Member of Parliament in France may still be subjected to sexist remarks at the National Assembly. As she was discussing an amendment during the pension-reform debate on October 8th, ecologist MP Véronique Massonneau was mocked by the center-right UMP party MP Philippe Le Ray who imitated a chicken’s “cackling”.
It is disappointing to see an elected representative give such an example of rudeness, at a very juncture when political figures in France are suffering from a growing discredit in the public opinion and the far right is growing stronger.
Disappointed, yet not really surprised, since similar discriminatory behavior has been exhibited too many times in the past. Indeed, political figures such as Dominique Voynet, Roselyne Bachelot, Michèle Barzach, Edith Cresson, Elisabeth Guigou, Catherine Trautmann, Rachida Dati and Cécile Duflot have all been subjected to sexist attacks, often in relation to their looks or their clothing.
A portrait of Mossadegh held by protesters at Tehran University during the Iranian Revolution, January 1979 (Abbas/Magnum Photos)
The Iranian government’s reaction to Argo’s winning the Oscar for Best Picture in March 2013 – see my previous blog below – fitted well with one of the Islamic Republic’s favored ways of working: one that British journalist James Buchan has called “lachrymose intransigence”.
This intransigence has not helped Iran to advance its cause internationally, especially during the Ahmadinejad presidency. Since the arrival of the new president Rouhani, we have seen a change of tone, seemingly expressing a need to differentiate itself from the previous government, in speech as well as in deeds. While cautious optimism becomes possible again for the resumption of talks on the nuclear issue, let us not forget that the ultimate power in Iran is held by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – a favorite disciple of Khomeini’s – whose radical positions are well known, at least until now.
In the first minutes of the 2012 film Argo directed by Ben Affleck, we are shown documentary clips of the 1953 Anglo-American coup d’état that overthrew the popular Iranian Prime Minister Mosaddegh and reinstated the Chah Reza Pahlavi. The film tells the story of the “Canadian caper” that was used to rescue six American diplomats stranded during the 1979 hostage crisis in Tehran.
A few weeks after the film was released it was reported that the Iranian government planned to sue the producers (George Clooney and Ben Affleck) for “insulting Iran” and that Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, a French lawyer, was hired to defend the interests of the Islamic Republic in this case.