[This blog welcomes guest bloggers and would like to hear from individuals who question the view that circumcision has a place in HIV/AIDS prophylaxis. Today Guy Desormeaux provides insight into his discussion with a close friend after the release of the Auvert study. The views of guest authors are their own and may, but do not necessarily, reflect the views of the author(s) of this blog.]
Recently (early April) I received a rather disturbing e-mail from a friend, a woman whom I have known for many many years. I would like to share it and my answer to it, and ask for other people’s thoughts on it in the comments of this post.
This is a difficult situation when it is someone close. I wonder if I haven’t been too harsh, but I feel that I have to react when someone takes a position as far off the mark as hers. I think that it is important to discuss how to deal with this kind of situation, as I think that it may come up more often with the new debate on HIV and circumcision going around.
Her e-mail presents itself as a question, but is really a statement of position. There are at least five false presuppositions she makes in asking her question — six if you count the premise from which she asks it. It may serve as a typical example of the position many will take. The way she asks her question shows that she was just waiting for something to justify her former professional activity (as a nurse) and soothe her discomfort with it, a sort of I-told-you-so or “gotcha,” ammunition to shore up her own feelings rather than any real interest in a free exchange of ideas. These are her five errors which may serve as a lesson in faulty thinking.
1. It poses an Either-Or choice between stopping circumcision and stopping AIDS, a completely false opposition, much like those who give us a choice between our constitutional rights and national security. We want both! There is no opposition between the two. It is the kind of choice that one would only present to a slave.
2. It does not in fact recognize the harm caused by circumcision or that it can be, in the case of infant circumcision, a human rights violation.
3. It makes the assumption that people opposed to circumcision do not take the AIDS crisis seriously. Yet much of the energy of the movement against circumcision and for the integrity of the human body has come from the gay community and other communities which have been hardest hit by AIDS.
4. It pits society against the individual, with the old argument of the “greater good” justifying the violation of human rights. I always liked what Karl Marx said, that “the individual IS (my emphasis) the social entity,” and I hold this principle very dear. NOTHING justifies the violation of the human body.
5. It assumes the validity of the WHO (and UN) recommendation without knowing anything about it except for having read a few paragraphs in the newspaper.
And with these five false presumptions, here is the text of her letter:
This may be a surprise since you haven’t heard from me in a long time, but I wanted to ask you how you feel about the recent World Health Organization findings/recommendations re: circumcision in Africa based on apparently solid statistics indicating a definte connection between circumcision and a reduction in the spread of AIDS.
As a human, I sympathize with your sense of circumcision reflecting a serious abuse, both physical and emotional. As a nurse, and given the horrendous outcomes of HIV/AIDS, I have to question which is more important, both to individuals and society, stopping circumcision or stopping AIDS?
I appreciate your insights on this question,
In the interim exchange of e-mails, she asked me to send her the studies. At least she did that. Here is my final response in the form of a hand-written letter, which I have retyped here:
Here is the original Auvert report. I will also send a collection of articles on the same subject as soon as I acquire them. They are even worse. I realize that I haven’t fully answered your original question about weighing the one against the other, AIDS against circumcision.
Even if there were some truth in the conclusions of the study, that still does not justify the violation, the forcible altering, of the human body in infants. In a sense it is the wrong question and it shows a failure to understand the seriousness of the harm caused by circumcision. [Editor’s Note: see previous posts on this site and the pdf files of a recent study documenting the harm.]
I certainly am aware of the gravity of AIDS in that I live at ground zero, the San Francisco area, and countless acquaintances and a few good friends of mine have died from it. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence here that circumcision may actually increase the spread of sexually transmitted diseases by causing chafing which comes from removing the protective cover of the foreskin.
I think that a lot of people are falling in behind this bad science in that it is a way to avoid facing the painful reality, the true horror of the harm caused by infant circumcision. Many Jews and Muslims are latching onto it, as are medical personnel who have participated in circumcision, some men who have been harmed by it, or parents who have circumcised their children, all trying to avoid the pain of what has happened. But the harm is permanent, lifelong, and devastating. There is no way of avoiding it or pretending that it didn’t happen or that it isn’t that bad. All that we can do is admit that it has happened and then go on with life, making sure that it never happens again. Being in denial only makes it worse and perpetuates it.
Read these articles at your leisure. I hope that you will see
the underlying racism and dehumanization of these “studies.” Had they been performed on Belgians or other Europeans, the authors would never have gotten away with it. It is an imperial project and it exudes the deepest contempt for its subjects. The conclusion was set before the study was even begun. No one ever has the right to treat other human beings like particle physics. This is a glaring example of what Karl Marx said, that “to have one basis for Science and another for Life is A PRIORI a Lie.”
What we are experiencing today is not just a complete collapse in political thought, but also of scientific thought. That is what we are facing and there is nothing to be gained and all to be lost in going back into the comfort zone of pretending that all is well. These spurious “studies” are really a cover-up, even if unacknowledged by their authors, of the failure of our supposedly best medical minds to truly deal with AIDS. What we really need to do is to defend life and life’s dignity, wherever we find it, and work for entirely new grounds in our social relations, which are also our relations with nature. THAT is the kind of arduous intellectual and spiritual labor that so few of our “learned” classes are
willing to do.
Hoping you’re well.
For an end to medical superstition and cruelty and for a society in which we understand ourselves as fully human, in body and in spirit,
If any of you have any thoughts on this, please let me know what you think in the comments.