Saturday, November 9, 2013

THE INDEPENDENT: Barry Curtis Showcases Projection and Cultural Blinders

Journalist for The Independent, Barry Curtis

Opening Rant: It's Not Fair!
Readers must forgive me for the scarcity and quality in my writing in recent months; my current work situation is one such that my employer owns my mind, body and soul, and I don't have time to sit down and write anymore. (It is a miracle I was able to muster the time to sit down and write this post!) I'm trying to better it though, so perhaps not so far off in the near future you will see more of my writing. Until then, I will have to plead with you to please bear with me.

Very recently there have been articles with their authors lashing out at intactivists, making accusations and calling them names. Often, they don't even address our arguments, or just proceed to take down straw man arguments we never made. Ideally, I would like to sit down and take them all on, but currently time just doesn't allow.

It'd be nice to get paid as much as Bill Gates pays journalists and "researchers" to promote circumcision, but unfortunately, blessings aren't always rewarded to the righteous; there are often instances in history where the wrong are strong, and the weak are right, and this is one of them.

It is rather depressing that while circumcision promoters often get paid big by interested medical organizations and/or philanthropist organizations, to the point that circumcision promotion is how they make their living, those of us who strive for the most basic of human rights of the most defenseless members of society have to juggle our activism with a family and a real job.

Why is it that those who fight for basic human rights have to strive and fight a constant battle just to see if we can get heard? Why is it that while circumcision promoters are given all the time in the world on panel discussions and news reports, those who oppose them are pressured to cut their arguments short for time?

Recently, one Mark Joseph Stern was ranting and moaning about how intactivists have "broken the internet" and are "drowning out reasoned discourse,"; nothing could be further from the truth. (I've been meaning to sit down and destroy this idiot piece, but I need time to sit down and pick apart this tightly packed plethora of lies and half-truths. I'll get you yet, my pretty...)

While it's true that intactivists are there at every turn, whenever anyone publishes a circumcision propaganda piece, dominating the discussion in the comments section, the fact is that it's the headlines that matter. The media is not being overwhelmed with the message that circumcision is a gross human rights violation, it is replete with headlines that circumcision "is beneficial," "prevents AIDS," and "special interest Nazi groups are trying to ban circumcision."

Medical literature is not overflowing with factual information regarding male sexual anatomy; there is this drive by a handful of circumcision "researchers" to flood medical literature with how circumcision prevents HIV and other STDs.

Who is editing every single circumcision and circumcision-related article on Wikipedia, but rabid circumcision advocates who make sure only pro-circumcision information is posted? And who make sure anyone trying to add factual, referenced information is banned from editing these articles?

Who is fighting to prevent research that puts circumcision in a negative light from being published, but the University of Sydney's Brian Morris and friends? And his colleague, Joya Banerjee, has the nerve to complain on the same media outlet as Mark Joseph Stern, (SLATE was started by whom?) that intactivists are hampering scientific research by writing petty reviews on pro-circumcision publications on Amazon? (I'll get you too someday, Joya...)

I think it's amazing, the gall with which circumcision propaganda authors have the audacity to, with a straight face, unabashedly point their finger at us, and project onto us the very actions that they themselves are guilty of engaging in.

Yes, "drowning out well-reasoned scientific discourse." SO much "misinformation" being published.

Do tell.

Begin Destruction of Barry Curtis' Article
So on Friday, November 9, Barry Curtis at The Independent published a piece titled Why the decision to circumcise must be left to parents. His ad-hoc argument is already self-evident in the headline itself, as just below it, Curtis reasons: "A ban would force the practice underground, and could lead to more botched jobs."

Strangely, it appears this thought does not cross the minds of those who thought that banning female circumcision was a good idea. I really don't have too much time, so what I will do is simply post parts of his article and respond to them directly.

"They have compared it to removing a kidney, suggesting there is much confusion over this issue in society."

Who has? Mr. Curtis? Who has compared circumcision with removing a kidney? A source please?

I'll say; circumcision advocates compare circumcision to ear piercing and a haircut. Perhaps those are more accurate comparisons, Mr. Curtis?

"Others don’t understand that the foreskin is merely surplus skin and not even really a part of the male organ."

Not even really part of the male organ!

Just what is it then, Mr. Curtis? And why are all male children born with it?

"The fog of confusion in society over the issue means that bans may be occurring without clear debate, leading to bad policy."

And who is conjuring such a "fog of confusion over society over the issue," Mr. Curtis? Who is trying to "set the facts straight?"

The fact of the matter is that there is no "confusion" of the matter, as we will see shortly.

"Furthermore a paranoid American group called The Intactivists, who mis-inform internet debate, (Here it is!!!) argue their sexual performance has been limited by being circumcised, therefore feeding into the powerful victim-orientated politics of today in which it’s fashionable to blame everything on one’s past."

We "misinform," he says. Research actually shows that circumcision removes the most sensitive part of the penis, and reduces sensitivity by a factor of 4. What is Mr. Curtis' rebuttal to that?

But more to the point, as Mr. Curtis doesn't seem to think it isn't "fashionable" to blame everything on one's past and scorns "victim politics," what does he think of women who protest their circumcisions? Perhaps he things they shouldn't "blame their past" and anti-FGM activists are feeding into the "powerful victim oriented politics of today?" 

Oh, but that's "different," I'm sure.

"Surplus skin," Mr. Curtis. Yes, let's talk about "misinforming" while you do this very thing yourself.

"Researching whether circumcision is actually harmful can be a difficult task as different websites say different things."

It's not a "difficult task" no.

Instead of looking for random websites, why doesn't Mr. Curtis encourage his readers to look at what medical organizations have to say on the matter?

"The group Doctors Against Circumcision say that non-medically necessary circumcision can lead to sexual difficulties in later life, low self-esteem, and even death if the operation goes wrong – fuelling fears of groups like the Inactivists. However, I think it’s more important to concentrate on the authoritative studies, that is those which consider all the evidence impartially."

And here, Mr. Curtis is trying to engage in a logical fallacy known as "ad verecundiam," otherwise known as "appealing to authority." What's real sad is that while Mr. Curtis is trying to appeal to authority and wield the cloak of scientific credibility, it doesn't actually work in his favor.

Here is where Mr. Curtis' poor argument breaks down; The fact is that the trend of opinion on routine male circumcision is overwhelmingly negative in industrialized nations. No respected medical board in the world recommends circumcision for infants. All of them, including the AAP in their latest statement, state that the "benefits" are not great enough.

The most respected medical organizations in the world have weighed the current body of evidence regarding infant circumcision and have found it wanting. Mr. Curtis tries to make the task of researching circumcision more "difficult" than it needs to be.

"In that light, it is valuable to note that the American Pediatrics Association, the World Health Organisation, the Centres for Disease Control, and UNAIDS, have all concluded that circumcision, if practiced correctly, does no harm whatsoever, and that there might even be some health benefits."

Earlier, Mr. Curtis was warning about an alleged "fog of confusion." Here we observe it emanate from his very own mouth.

There is no medical organization in the world that recommends the circumcision of infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics tried to, in their most recent statement, get away with the sound-bite that "the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks," but couldn't conclude their statement with an actual recommendation; they still end up saying, as they did in their last statement, that the "benefits" of circumcision are not great enough to recommend the procedure.

But you will not hear this from Mr. Curtis.

The WHO, CDC and UNAIDS have approved circumcision for consenting ADULT males, in high-risk areas in AFRICA. NOWHERE have they recommended the circumcision of infants to prevent HIV.

Mr. Curtis might have you believe that there is this world campaign underway to promote the circumcision of infants to prevent HIV. There is no world campaign. The most respected medical organizations in the world remain unmoved. Even given the current "research" regarding HIV in Africa, they all cannot bring themselves to recommend infant circumcision. Way to create a "fog of confusion," sir.

"The highest quality studies referenced in the US National Library of Medicine say there is no adverse effect on sexual function, sensitivity, sexual sensation or satisfaction. Given that these are the most respected medical authorities in the world, I think we have to trust their evidence."

Look again; so far, the "evidence" has not been sufficient for any of said respected medical authorities to endorse the circumcision of healthy, non-consenting minors.

"In the rare cases where circumcision is botched, one can argue that the surgeons ought to be better trained."

Forget the competency of the surgeons, as it can also be argued that surgeons performing female circumcision could be "better trained"; shouldn't the question be whether or not circumcision is necessary in a healthy, non-consenting minor to begin with?

"Indeed a ban on the practice would likely push circumcision underground, and increase the risk of bad surgery. Thus a ban, rather than leading to increased safety of babies, would lead to more suffering."

Interesting. These thoughts apparently didn't cross the minds of those behind moves to ban female circumcision. You must inform them, Mr. Curtis. You must inform them soon, to avoid botched female circumcision jobs. Oh those poor, poor girls.

"The classic liberal John Stuart Mill argued that only things that are clearly harmful to someone else can rightly be prohibited by the State."

How clear must the harm be, Mr. Curtis? What is it called when clear harm is outright dismissed by people such as yourself?

"This is why liberal democracies can justify laws against child abuse, rape, murder, etc. But if the most authoritative evidence suggests circumcision is not harmful, the case for a ban has not been made."

The most authoritative evidence has not been enough to convince a single medical organization, not even the AAP, to endorse the circumcision of children.

I'm afraid you have your logic turned upside down; surgery requires a very good, compelling reason. There must be a medical condition present for which there is no alternative, and all other methods of treatment have been tried and failed. You do not perform surgery on a healthy child "just because" you think it's a good idea. Wherever did you get your medical degree, Mr. Curtis?

"Some have argued that even if it is not harmful generally, it is still “abusive” because the body is altered, or “mutilated” they say, and not left to develop as nature intended. But this argument is also wrong. For example parents frequently get their children to wear braces on their teeth, purely for cosmetic reasons."

So now having a foreskin is akin to having crooked teeth? Wouldn't removing a foreskin be more akin to removing the teeth themselves "to facilitate cleaning," etc.? Seriously, couldn't you dig up a more compelling analogy?
"Some claim that circumcision remains abusive however, because the baby has no say. In accordance with Judaism, a baby is circumcised on the eighth day - so clearly it cannot consent. But parents are not being abusive here - they are making decisions which will affect the socialisation of the infant for its betterment as they see it, and ought to be trusted with that decision."

What about parents who made the "decision" to circumcise their infant daughters, as they are in South East Asia and some parts of Africa? Would this "decision" also not affect the socialization of the infant for its betterment, as they see it? Should they be trusted with that decision?

Why the double-standard? Why is it "abuse" for girls, but not for boys? Why does a ban "infringe on a parent's right to make decisions" with boys, but not with girls? Only parents who are thinking about circumcising their sons should be trusted with their "decisions?"

"Of course, when the child grows up and hits adolescence he may resent the decisions his parents made like many adolescents do. That is, however, part and parcel of life."

A girl in Malaysia, a boy in Turkey, both undergoing genital cutting

For the girl? Female genital mutilation, child abuse, and a violation basic human rights.

For the boy? "Part and parcel of life."

"The best people to raise a child are its parents and the immediate community around it because they are the ones who love the baby the most and have a vested interest in its prospering. Arguably the worst people to raise children are those who would do so from afar, like EU bureaucrats."

Yes, so we agree, then, Mr. Curtis, that bans on female genital cutting infringe on these so-called "parental rights?"

Who better to raise a girl than the community where she is born? And who are EU bureaucrats to step in, right?

Oh? This is "different" you say?

"In any case where no harm is caused, parental autonomy must be respected."

Now, all you have to do is deny any harm is being caused, and you're set!

Parents who circumcise their daughters obviously do not believe they are causing "harm" to them either, do they Mr. Curtis.

Such a poorly argued position in a poorly written article. Honestly.

Barry Curtis Responds:
And I take that apart too.

Says Mr. Curtis:

"Blimey, I didn’t realise my article would prompt such hostility - clearly this is a sensitive topic."

What you mean to say, of course, Mr. Curtis, is that you didn't expect for your readers to be informed on the subject. Did you just wake up from a long sleep or something?

"I respect Kaynejack’s comment that at least discusses some evidence rather than the emotional spasms of other posters."

Emotional spasms? You mean like this entire article?

"I think your point that there are problems with 0.2% of circumcisions is probably accurate (the 38% statistic is plucked out of the air though). However *something* going wrong does not mean it is serious harm."

And here we see Barry Curtis engaging in definitional retreat.

So now it's not only "harm," but it needs to be "serious harm."

It must be asked, given that children are not born suffering ailments that necessitate surgery, how is anything above 0 conscionable at all? 0.2% is the figure trolled out by the AAP.* However they have a conflict of interest in doing an actual investigation, and reporting anything higher; the majority of their fellows reap profit from the procedure.

*Note: Someone made the following excellent observation in my comments section:
"Even if 99.8% of circumcisions went ahead without any complication, this would still mean that the United States would have a recognize a complication rate of 0.2%, where 0.2%*1.2 million = 24,000 babies are suffering complications every year. While this number is not even close to the real number, the idea that we can dismiss 24,000 babies suffering complications every year, some of which can be lifelong, disabling, or even lethal, just does not seem proper of a decent person."

It is important to note that even in their last statement, the very AAP admitted that the true risks of circumcision are actually NOT KNOWN, putting into question the gall with which they dare to utter the sound bite "the benefits outweigh the risks." (They ended up not recommending circumcision, because, in their own words "the benefits" were not "great enough.")

"Many of these cases would be down to infection or excessive bleeding, things that can be easily rectified."

Not to mention here are deaths.

If 99.8% of circumcisions go ahead without even those slight hitches, it seems it's a safer procedure than most other operations, so the case for a ban hasn't been made."

Herein lies the problem; how many of those circumcisions were medically necessary?

Again, without medical or clinical justification, how is anything above 0 conscionable?

How many deaths happen as a direct result of circumcision, Mr. Curtis? Do you know? And if so, what is your source?

Without medical or clinical indication, how is it physicians are realizing surgery on healthy, non-consenting minors, let alone be giving parents any kind of "choice" in the matter?

Wouldn't reaping profit from conducting any other non-medical procedure on a healthy, non-consenting minor constitute charlatanism and medical fraud?

Isn't the reasoning "there isn't evidence of harm," or "the harm is minimal" and "therefore cutting a child is OK and shouldn't be banned" backwards logic?

You perform surgery because there is a medical necessity that cannot be addressed in any other way, not because it "doesn't cause [serious] harm."

Bit of trivia: 100% of all circumcision results in permanent disfigurement. I'm afraid not having a foreskin is actually not natural and normal as you'd like your readers to believe.

"We have to bear in mind that circumcision has existed for many thousands of years..."

Ad antiquitam.

So has female circumcision, slavery and the oppression of women, sir.

"...and that 30% of the world’s males get circumcised without any problems." 

Without any problems.

Just how do YOU know?

The AAP tells us that the true incidence of complications is UNKNOWN. But here you are, on The Independent, who are going to tell us exactly how many happen? Are you aware of why there was a judgement handed down in Cologne not too long ago? Was it due to a circumcision that "didn't cause any problems?" Do inform us as to the details of this case. 

Are you aware that there are doctors who make their living fixing circumcision botch jobs?

Of the many million dollar law suits in the US which have resulted in a circumcision clamp manufacturer going out of business?

Do you know what is the rate of death due to circumcision?

No. You do not know.

That is, unless, you actually profess to know more than the AAP, or any other respected medical authority in the world.
"That's a lot of parents whose will you seek to override with a ban."

Ad populum. (Everybody's doing it...)

So tell us, informed sir, how many parents are overridden with a ban on female circumcision?
"There are also risks from having teeth braces, yet we let parents decide for their children to have them."

There is a vast difference between putting braces on teeth to correct their position, and removing those teeth "to facilitate cleaning," "avoid cavities," and whatever arguments of prophylaxis have you in favor of circumcision. I'm afraid it is not a very good analogy.

What are the risks of placing braces on teeth exactly? You've piqued my curiosity. What are the risks of orthodontics?

"Thus I regard the ban as potentially quite tyrannical."

But a ban on all female genital cutting is not "tyrannical" in your eyes because...


"On that note, I would warn people to think of the consequences of a ban. Would EU-appointed social workers be asking children to drop their trousers so they can check for 'abuse' and subsequently take the children into care?"

A direct allusion to Nazi practices during the Holocaust.

Tell us how the female circumcision ban and its enforcement, works, sir.
"This strikes me as way more destructive to families and harmful to the child than simple circumcision."

But you wouldn't have a problem when girls are taken into care?

Seriously, Mr. Curtis, are you not aware of your own cultural blindness and logical nakedness here?

"Other posters have insinuated Judaism and Islam are 'backward' religions, even akin to Satanism!"

Earlier you chided us for making "emotional outbursts," but you'll not be engaging in any of it here. 

Do tell us, what is your view of religions, societies etc. that encourage female genital cutting, or outright make it a requirement?

"This strikes me as completely intolerant and disrespectful of people’s abilities to decide how to live their lives. Shame on you."

Yes. Shame on those who dare place a ban on female circumcision, carving their heads on the holy day of Ashura, child marriage, child labor etc. How disrespectful and completely intolerant of people's abilities to decide how to live their lives. Why, child protective services ought to be abolished, as they do nothing more than meddle in other people's affairs.

"A ban on circumcision, with all the negative consequences for parental autonomy and religious freedom, is millions of times more ethically dubious than permitting it to continue."

But this is not true for female circumcision, right? Yes, throw out "parental autonomy" and "religious freedom" when it comes to customs that YOU disagree with, right?

Yes, all bans with negative consequences for "parental autonomy" and "religious freedom" ought to be lifted, as they are a million times more ethically dubious than permitting the actions they ban to continue.


A father slashes his child's head for the Holy Day of Ashura
Muslim women perform "sunat" (ritual genital cutting) on a girl
Child marriage in India

What ad hoc self-serving non-sense.


  1. Barry says: "Of course, when the child grows up and hits adolescence he may resent the decisions his parents made like many adolescents do."

    There is such thing as educating and raising children for an open future. You give them education, but you don't choose their career. You tech them family values and safe sexuality, but you don't choose their partners. Likewise, circumcision contradicts an open future, as you force them to have an unnecessary genital surgery that they may resent later. Not circumcising leaves an open future, so that when they are adults and capable of offering informed consent, they can make their own decisions.

    To circumcise a baby for non-therapeutical reasons you have to believe that a) the foreskin has no value to its owner, and b) your son has no right to retain non-vital parts of his own body. That is the moral fiber of infant circumcision promoters.

    Barry says: "I respect Kaynejack’s comment that at least discusses some evidence rather than the emotional spasms of other posters."

    Ethics are different from emotions. Science, and specially medicine, needs to be guided by ethics. Has Barry discussed ethics at all? No.

    "If 99.8% of circumcisions go ahead without even those slight hitches..."

    If 99.8% of circumcisions went ahead without any complication, this would mean that the United States would have a recognice complication rate of 0.2% * 1.2 million = 24,000 babies suffering complications every year. While this number is not even close to the real number, the idea that we can dismiss 24,000 babies suffering complications every year, some of which can be lifelong, disabling, or even letal, just does not seem proper of a decent person.

    Barry says: "disrespectful of people’s abilities to decide how to live their lives."

    And this is the real ethical issue, and where Barry's words play against him. Many of us wished to live our lives with our whole genitals, but someone disrespected this before we were strong enough to be able to effectively defend ourselves or remove ourselves from the situation. But that was, how did he put it? "Part and parcel of life"?

    I rest my case.

  2. BTW, Robert Darby, a medical historian and author of and the book "A surgical temptation" authored a paper on the children's right to an open future and how it applies to infant circumcision. Great paper by someone who has spent his time understanding the issue. Please visit:

  3. Mr. Curtis is a fool. Imagine the outcry if he was writing about FGM with those arguments! FGM supporters sound exactly like him. Intactivists haven't "broken the Internet". That's absurd. We are calling attention to a violation of human rights. Just like FGM. Just like gay rights. Just like all the other activists out there.

    Thanks again for another great post--and continuing to bring attention to the pathetic rag that is Wikipedia.

  4. circumcision... does no harm whatsoever... The highest quality studies referenced in the US National Library of Medicine say there is no adverse effect on sexual function, sensitivity, sexual sensation or satisfaction.

    "Thanks for telling me what I think", said a bunch of angry circumcised men (and their partners).

    I'll never understand why they cannot acknowledge at least the obvious falsehood of their claims; the very fact that there are so many people on the Internet complaining about circumcision is proof that there is dissatisfaction.

    I think Mr. Curtis's [supposed] surprise at the backlash is genuine. He's finally seeing that, yes, Vast Multitudes of People Do Complain!—regardless of what some study of the "highest quality" purports.

    It is enough that people think circumcision is damaging; that effect by itself is damage.