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.