A four year-old Muslim boy was brought to a local Cologne emergency room by his mother, who was concerned about minor bleeding around the site of a circumcision.
A District Court there found that circumcision, notwithstanding parental consent or religious motivation, constituted a criminal bodily injury and child abuse. Ultimately, on July 19, 2012 the Bundestag resolved that “Jewish and Muslim religious life be viable in Germany,” and in December a bill was passed that legislatively overrode the ruling of the District Court and recognized circumcision as a non-punishable undertaking when undertaken for religious reasons by someone professionally trained.
Two years of rancorous debate revealed a whole range of historical and contemporary fissures.
This essay examines the dynamics of the debate and its various outcomes. In particular it asks whether the conflicts generated by practices like male circumcision can in immigrant societies be assimilated to prevailing religious freedom models.
The key questions aired were: (1) Germany’s relations with its Muslim immigrants; (2) Germany’s relations with its fragile Jewish minority; (3) proper weightings of the relationship among parents, child, and state; and (4) the deference owed medical thinking. Immigrant integration, religious freedom, group rights, and the meaning of “enlightenment” all remain sharply contested.