The debate over circumcision is moving, indeed has moved, towards how, not whether, to implement the procedure. The HIV/AIDS research and advocacy community is a powerful force when it comes to rolling out mandates, particularly mandates it sets for itself.
Activists concerned with male circumcision, particularly its use and misuse in the United States and other English-speaking countries, cannot afford to work as before, in virtual isolation, through self-organized, single issue groups and organizations. If said activists choose to continue in the old way, their views will be marginalized and ultimately fail to have a vital influence in how this is going to happen.
I urge the leaders in the so-called “intactivist” community to formulate a plan to join the major HIV/AIDS organizations and give voice within these groups to their ethical and scientific concerns. I would suggest that activists go local and put their time, effort, and money into these groups to gain a voice. It won’t be enough to simply show up at functions, fund-raisers, and gatherings with pamphlets, signs, and slogans.
Rather it will be necessary to show a genuine interest in abating the HIV/AIDS threat. This means understanding the bigger picture, the developing epidemic, and the desperation that has allowed male circumcision to gain a toehold now after 25 years of this disease. Most importantly, activists will have to offer an alternative to this approach. This means formulating a policy regarding HIV/AIDS, which is now more than a mere disease. It is a social phenomenon as much as a scientific and medical problem, with its own momentum, logic, and mores.
Male circumcision’s decline in the United States has largely been a development of increased awareness of children’s rights, a greater skepticism towards all professionals’, not least doctors’, unsubstantiated opinions, and a cultural phenomenon of looking askance at unquestioning conformity of all kinds. No countervailing force has existed to any degree except inertia.
Activists now have the full force and funding of the HIV/AIDS community against them — or at least moving against them at an angle — whose power was borne of a rebellion against prejudice, indifference, and outright disdain for those most affected by the disease. To oppose male circumcision outside the context of HIV/AIDS organizations could easily be seen as embracing these quite rightly rejected social realities.
No one knows how this will play out. There are many, many social and scientific problems in the world with the power to impact the course of the disease and “male genital mutilation.” From climate change to economic problems, peak oil to unpredictable wars of choice: all have the power to send events in unpredictable directions. However, when the vaccine initiatives get involved in male circumcision instead of vaccines, you know where we’re headed. I’ll have a post on that issue later this week.