Thursday, 13 September 2012

Snipping away at Liberalism.

Since I first wrote about circumcision with regard to the liberal doctrine of free-choice and the communitarian emphasis of religious faith I have discussed the issue of male circumcision with friends and strangers. I was led to these discussions after being accused of being an apologist for religious absolutism and even theocracy. It's the first time that I've really looked into the issue and it seems as though there may not be an easy answer as to the legality of the procedure. It's clear why female circumcision should be illegal, it is unambiguously about the sexual repression and punishment of women. This is not the case with the circumcision of young boys, the evidence is ambiguous as to whether or not circumcision diminishes the sex life of men. It's also the case that the circumcision of women is not a religious phenomenon, rather it is a relic of a barbarous past. It precedes the Abrahamic religions in Africa and used to be prescribed to cure 'mania' in Europe.

It has become all too ordinary, especially in Europe, for cultural chauvinists to hide behind the shibboleths of bourgeois liberalism. In this view anything that constrains the capacities of the individual has to be shunted out of the way. It used to be the state, now it’s anyone with any beliefs which might prefer a stronger state. No wonder the cultural conservatives who slimed the Left have found common cause with liberal secularists. The self-proclaimed opponents of the state have come together to empower the state further in order to rid the world of fanaticism. It gets weirder as the guardians of free-choice come to defend the imposition against choice. The self-described libertarian Geert Wilders has called for the banning of the Islamic veil, the banning of the Quran and no doubt lots of other barbarian fetishes. Only the Western liberal lifestyle option can be chosen because it emphasises choice, freedom and pluralism.

Nevertheless it is the liberal democratic system of human rights, civil liberties and equality of opportunity which the reactionary Right want to throw under the bus. Let alone multiculturalism and political correctness. All of this is worth defending from the cultural chauvinists and crypto-fascists. The aim isn’t just to get at the freshly settled Muslim community of many European countries. It’s about bashing Muslims to get to the real enemy, liberalism. The same is true of so-called counter-terrorist legislation, it infringes on our basic liberties and not to protect us. It’s the destruction of civilisation rather than the defence of civilisation. The traditional authoritarianism of the European Right rears its hideous casque once more in this way. That isn’t to say that the hatred of Muslims is purely extrinsic. It’s very real and shouldn’t be underestimated in its role in the populist projects of cultural rightists and chauvinists.

We can tell this much from the campaign against homeless Muslims in France where the far-right have set up soup kitchens that only serve pork-based soups. Likewise, the closet fascist Mel Gibson lashed out at Jews on the silver screen to get at the Vatican and its concession that not every Jew is guilty of deicide. Here we find anti-Semitism fits into an ultra-traditionalist Catholic agenda in rebellion against Rome. It’s not that the Australian ham-actor isn’t a Judeophobe; it’s that there is something more going on than a prejudice. This is relevant as we find increasingly the Muslims of Europe are pinned as alien to Western civilisation and subversive to the liberal precepts of capitalist society. There was a time when Jews were taken in the same light. And it is no coincidence that we find the attempts to restrict the freedoms of Muslims has slid into restrictions on Jews as well. This is most blatantly the case with the calls for bans on halal meat and circumcision.

I was eager to take the side of the religious groups that would be affected by a change in the legal status of circumcision for good reason. It would seem that there is more going on when people are calling for a ban on a practice of Muslims at a time of raging Islamophobia. This is where we should ask ourselves further questions about what it means to live in a liberal society. If we take seriously the bodily integrity of a child as well as freedom of conscience then we would be led to the legal regulation of circumcision rather than a ban. This could take the form of stipulations, that the operation has to be performed by a professional with anaesthetic. We might even go for an age of consent. Liberalism leads us to this compromise between secular individualism and religious communitarianism. The call to ban circumcision is suspect given that it is possible to find a compromise within the realms of liberalism. That's before we even consider the political context of Europe, with its authoritarian traditions of conservatism.

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