Ari Zighelboim's review of
Circumcision, Strictly Speaking, by Gerald N. Weiss, MD,

[The following review was on as of July 26, 1999.]

Should be: Circumcision, deceptively speaking

Dr Weiss is a known supporter of circumcision. For decades he has promoted cutting off the foreskins of men who as healthy but defenseless babies didn't request nor need the surgery. As a result of his zeal and that of countless others (as well as parents misinformed by deceptive pamphlets such as this) millions of American men live their lives with altered genitals, and many of them are not even aware of what was taken from them. Circumcision thrives in ignorance and deceptiveness. The radical nature of this alteration and its physical and psychological effects are not even acknowledged by Dr Weiss, nor have they ever been studied by medical researchers in the US. Nothing is said in this book about the functions of the foreskin. In Dr Weiss and his co-author's mind, the foreskin cannot have functions. It must be presented as completely useless, against all empiric evidence, to make its ablation more palatable. A truthful exposition of those effects, and of the mutilatory nature of circumcision, is unlikely for this simple reason: the people who should be conducting that research are the actual perpetrators of the long term effects of the procedure to be studied, i.e., the disease is iatrogenic, caused by those same doctors who pull the strings of medical research funding, and who are not prone to indict themselves for any wrongdoing. However, the deception goes beyond that. Circumcision is not a medical procedure, although it has disguised itself as such in 20th Century America. It is a form of genital mutilation required by some religions as a ritual of passage or entrance into the community of believers. Similar rituals affect men and women in many societies around the world, past and present. Female circumcision in this basic sense is no different from male circumcision. Among the religions requiring the circumcision of the new born male, the most notorious is Judaism. Coincidentally, Dr Weiss is Jewish, and a practicing Jew at that. To expect him to be honest and truly objective, as well as interested solely by the physical wellbeing of others, and not fatally biased by his religious or ethnic beliefs (or superstitions) is disingenuous. A good analogy would be a similar pamphlet written by a practising Muslim doctor in Egypt, for intance, making the "medical" case for female circumcision, which is traditionally performed on small girls in that country. Wouldn't any discerning reader suspect, quite rightly, that her conclusions were prompted by her own interest in defending a practice dear to her religious tradition, and one that herself as a parent feels her daughters need to endure, just as she endured it before them? Dr Weiss is doubly deceptive, because he won't acknowledge that as a practicing Jew he has little choice but to support a practice for which he feels compelled as a physician to find modern "medical" rationales. His sad pursuit is no different from that of our not so hypothetical Egyptian physician (many doctors in Egypt claim that female circumcision is cleaner, reduces sexual diseases and cancer incidence, makes a girl look like her mother etc etc-- sounds familiar?) Many people in the US, affected themelves by circumcision, feel a need to deny the mutilatory nature of the procedure, and vehemently reject any criticism of circumcision. This book obviously is for them. However, men and women in the US and other mutilating societies should understand that the effort to end genital mutilation (including male circumcision disguised as a medical preventive surgery) is for the sake of the new generations, for them to live happier lives, blessed with physicial and psychological integrity, and not to make people who have already been circumcised unhappy or unsatisfied with their lot. It is about breaking the chain of abuse, not about creating a sense of victimhood. Dr Weiss's contribution to the pertetuation of the barbarity of circumcision in our midst will fail, it is my hope, in the face of the truth about circumcision, as it makes its way despite the resistance and the reaction of circumcision zealots such as (self-) deceptive Dr Weiss and his co-author.

Ari Zighelboim

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