The meeting was the first time that Muslim leaders had joined alongside Jewish clerics in lobbying in opposition to the proposed ban and was an initiative of the Gathering of European Muslim and Jewish Leaders (GEMJL), an affiliate of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), which represents imams and rabbis in 25 European countries.
Video courtesy of jn1.tv
Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the FFEU, called for the meeting with the secretary general to demonstrate the joint concern of Muslim and Jewish leaders throughout Europe. "We thank the secretary general for his solidarity with the Muslim and Jewish communities," he said.
Rabbi Schneier asked the secretary-general to use his office to seek the appointment of a more tolerant and sensitive Chair for the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; the COE committee that has been responsible for this issue.
The present chair of the committee, Lilliane Pasquier, who argued recently in an op-ed in the Washington Post that "there is not, and cannot be, a 'right' to circumcise young boys," will be stepping down next week.
Mutual missionAcknowledging that he has received criticism for past public comments expressing opposition to any ban, Jagland nevertheless assured the delegation that the Council's response to the issue regardless of the results of further review would be in solidarity with the interests of the religious communities, saying: "Nothing in the final response of the Council will go in the direction of banning circumcision or equating male and female circumcision.
"The passion on this issue highlights a very important state for Europe whereby starting to limit the rights of minorities is a very dangerous avenue to pursue," he said. "Europe has always been a continent of minorities and whenever we have limited their rights it has always led to catastrophe."
The clerics, representing communities across Europe, expressed their concerns that the ongoing debates over the proposed ban had the potential to become an escalating problem.
Rabbi Michel Serfaty, a leading French rabbi and President of the Paris-based Muslim-Jewish Friendship League, said: "This limiting of religious rights is something that may start with Jews and Muslims and eventually it will affect everyone with sincere religious beliefs."
Seniad Koblicia, the chief imam of Norway in attendance at the meeting, said: "Efforts to ban circumcision will hurt our mutual mission to create a continent that thrives on dialogue so it is critical that we stand together if someone threatens our hope for peace and coexistence."
The secretary-general concluded the meeting by saying, "I know that circumcision of males is not only a part of your tradition but part of your life and addressing this issue goes to the very heart of how we will live together on this continent."