Original piece from German Daily Der Westen
“Es ist ein Schock”, Beschneidungsopfer aus Bochum erzählt
Thursday 22.11.2012 Bochum, Germany
By Andreas Eichhorn
Translated by Martin N.
Önder Özgeday suffers because he was circumcised as a child of ten. Only later he did he realize what was taken from him. An association of concerned individuals laments that the legislative process would not hear from victims. And the subject has been trivialized in public.
Önder Özgeday can still remember the day when he was circumcised. At the time he was ten. It was a small doctor’s office, a Turkish doctor who had cut many of his acquaintances. He had to undress, and a sheet was put up so he did not have to witness it all. Since only a local anaesthetic was used, he was aware of everything. “There was a lot of blood – and I remember the medical assistant looking scared,” he recalled.
On the way home the pain set in. The physical pain subsided with time, but it still haunts him to this day. Today Önder Özgeday is 29 and studying social sciences. In the weeks after the operation he had to take a powder bath every day. Nevertheless, his penis got inflamed and it was months before it finally healed.
Images that still recur
“These are the images that always come back,” says Önder Özgeday. He sits in his dorm room in Bochum – outside it’s cold and gray – and remembers how upset he was after the procedure.
“At the time, I thought that everything was proper.” He had trusted his parents and they had considered circumcision a given. “It happened primarily from Muslim tradition, though my parents were not particularly religious,” he says. In addition, a pediatrician had suggested it.
Circumcision victims find like-minded people on the Internet
But during puberty Önder Özgeday noticed that he had been modified. “It’s a shock when you look at other guys and realize just how different it’s supposed to be.” He developed mental problems, his relationship with his parents and his culture of origin suffered, and eventually he broke down.
On the Internet, he found kindred spirits. He realized that others had similar problems to his. And finally he made contact with the club “Mogis e.V.”, which advocates and campaigns for the victims of various forms of violence. Meanwhile, Önder Özgeday is feeling so strong once again that he is ready to fight for the right to physical integrity. He wants to tell his story, in order that the concerns of circumcision victims will be heard.
Opponents of circumcision were never really given a chance to be heard in the public forum, criticizes Christian Bahls, president of the association “Magis”. It was mainly just advocates for the right to circumcise who dominated talk shows and the current legislative process to legalize childhood circumcision – today is the first reading in the Bundestag. “It doesn’t get properly challenged”, adds Önder Özgeday. It angers and hurts him when he hears circumcision trivialized in public, and everyone saying it’s the right of parents to decide.
He is convinced of the illegitimacy of circumcision. For him, the fundamental right to bodily integrity is above all else about an individual’s freedom of religion. “Why didn’t I have this right?”
Moreover, in the current debate over circumcision one point keeps getting exploited. “We’re having the wrong debate. It hasn’t been about the welfare of children, but rather the practice of religion. “Circumcision may help against bacteria, it might discourage masturbation, it’s religiously mandated”—the arguments keep changing, but the goal remains: to legitimize and indemnify the practice of religion. In this instance one should be able to reflect, and institute reforms as appropriate.
He is happy whenever circumcision gets discussed
When Önder Özgeday browses the internet, he gets the impression that there are a lot of other men struggling with similar problems worldwide. But no one seems to be speaking out. “It doesn’t fit with the image of Muslim masculinity; you don’t go public with personal issues. Who wants to question his manhood?”
And so he’s glad when problems with circumcision are discussed at all. He believes many parents would opt against circumcision if they knew enough about it. His parents didn’t know enough, says Önder Özgeday. But since then, had they understood it, they might have approached it differently. The psychological damage is mending, but Önder Özgeday must live forever with the physical consequences of circumcision.
In may 2012 a Cologne (Germany) court ruled that circumcision is tantamount to bodily harm it led to a heated debate in Germany and eventually the Bundestag (parliament) passed new legislation endorsing religious circumcision. Önders personal feelings about circumcision also inspired me to a piece about different approaches to genital mutilation; A tale of two circumcisions.