Published March 16, 2018
The recently proposed ban on male child circumcision has continued to spark controversy both domestically and internationally. The legislation currently has backing from most major political parties within the country, including the Progressive Party and the Left-Greens, who are in the ruling coalition, as well as the Pirate Party, and the People’s Party. If the bill goes through, Iceland will be the first European country to ban male child circumcision.
But while political parties have all spoken out, how strong is support in the general populace? The best guess comes from a March 1st poll done by Market & Media Research, which revealed a sharp divide in the population. Only 50% of Icelanders support the circumcision ban, while 37% are opposed, and 13% having no opinion either way. For further analysis, about 57% of those who supported the proposed ban were men, and the highest levels of support came from the Pirate Party, the Left-Greens, and the Progressives.
Religious leaders respond
Icelanders might be on the fence about the legislation, but religious leaders are unanimously opposed. Davíð Tencer, the Catholic Bishop of Iceland, recently came out with this statement: “To us, it looks like this can be an opportunity for those who are interested in this matter to misuse the subject of circumcision in an attempt to persecute individuals for their religion.” Davíð’s views echo those of Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir, the Bishop of Iceland, who condemned the ban early on. “The danger that arises, if this bill becomes law, is that Judaism and Islam will become criminalised religions,” she said.
Mansoor Ahmad Malik, Imam and National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Iceland, urged people think about the unenforceability of such legislation. Muslims traditionally circumcise their boys. “Imposing a ban on such a religious injunction will put many Muslims and adherents of other faiths, who practice circumcision, in great distress,” he said. “This may lead to people carrying out such procedures by themselves in an inappropriate environment, perhaps causing harm to the child. Therefore, I would urge not to impose a ban on such a religious injunction, but to find ways to make the procedure safer and more comfortable.”
The other religious group who practises male circumcision are the Jews, and while Iceland currently has no Jewish religious leader in residence, Rabbi Avi Feldman will soon be moving to the country to open a Chabad Centre. “Circumcision is a core Jewish practice that serves as the bedrock of Jewish life. It was the first command that G-d gave to Abraham, the first Jewish man, and it has been practised by our people for nearly four millennia,” he wrote in a statement to the Grapevine. “To those that value religious freedom, the proposed ban is naturally a matter of great concern. We are hopeful that the religious needs and rights for people of all faiths will be preserved and respected.”
But while local and international religious leaders have all firmly condemned the ban, 400 Icelandic doctors have spoken out in support of it. In addition, Icelandic nurses and midwives sent a list with 1,325 signatures to Parliament in support.
The number 117
How dangerous is male circumcision though? The research continually being referenced by Icelandic politicians in support of the ban is that 117 circumcision-related deaths occur yearly in America. This number comes from a report done by Dan Bollinger, a known opponent of circumcision, based on his review of infant mortality statistics. However, in 2012, The New York Times dove into Dan’s report and found that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not track deaths from infant circumcisions because they are exceedingly rare so it’s unclear where Bollinger got his information from. In the CDC’s last mortality report, which occurred in 2010, there were no circumcision-related deaths.
The ban, though, continues to be a matter of distress and concern for both sides. It’s an issue of bodily autonomy, which one cannot argue with, but will undoubtedly affect certain small religious groups in the country, and particularly those who have been historically discriminated against.