No Handshake, No Passport, France Tells Muslim Woman Seeking Citizenship

To what extent should immigrants be required to follow the social customs of their adopted country? To me, it depends on the custom in question. I wouldn’t fault a Muslim migrant in the slightest for declining to drink alcohol at a colleague’s birthday party, even if everyone else is imbibing away. I wouldn’t think twice about a Hindu friend preferring vegetables over hamburgers at the neighborhood’s 4th of July cookout.

But when an immigrant refuses to shake hands with someone of the opposite sex? In that case, it’s virtually impossible for the refuser to start and maintain a fruitful relationship with the people he snubs. He will get seriously off on the wrong, um, foot with fully half of all his colleagues, bosses, customers, neighbors, officials, et cetera.

Aside from the presumed hostility (though none may be intended) and the obviously violative, inequal treatment, refusing to shake half the population’s hand impedes that person’s chances for employment and advancement, making it a bad idea even if all we cared about were the effects on him.

The matter is relevant again after France decided not to grant citizenship to a Muslim woman who wouldn’t shake hands with male officials at a naturalization ceremony.

An Algerian woman’s refusal to shake hands with male officials at a French naturalization ceremony is sufficient grounds for denying her citizenship, France’s top administrative court has ruled.

In its decision — issued on April 11 but reported only this week — the court … said that the woman’s refusal “in a place and at a moment that are symbolic, reveals a lack of assimilation.”

The woman, who has not been identified, married a French citizen in Algeria in 2010 and filed for French citizenship five years later. At her naturalization ceremony in 2016 in Grenoble, in southeastern France, the woman refused to shake the hands of a local state official and of a local elected official, both male, citing her religious convictions.

French officials told her that was not acceptable and withdrew the citizenship offer. The woman appealed but got nowhere:

… the court ruled this past week that the decree was legal. The ruling was based on a law that gives the government two years after a foreign spouse files for naturalization to oppose the request, on grounds of “lack of assimilation, other than linguistic.” The court also ruled that the decision was not detrimental to her freedom of religion.

We’ve been there before. Faith-based sexism was also the vital factor in the 2016 case of two Muslim boys in Switzerland who refused the customary start-of-the-day handshake with their female teachers. Hemant chose the side of the boys; I don’t concur for reasons I explained above, but his posts on the subject, and the discussions that followed, are worth revisiting (if you don’t mind slogging through the more than 1,500 comments).

Similar events to the one in Switzerland also played out in the Netherlands, starting in 2004, when a Muslim clergyman in the Dutch town of Tilburg, imam Ahmad Salam, refused to shake the hand of the Minister of Integration, Rita Verdonk. Other than bad publicity for the imam and his faith, there were no repercussions.

Later, a Muslim teacher in Utrecht was suspended from her job for not wishing to shake the hands of boys and men. An appeals court upheld the suspension and noted that handshaking is

“a standard greeting form that is compatible with common good manners in the Netherlands.”

The same fate befell a Muslim man who had applied to be a client manager for the port city of Rotterdam. He was rejected when he explained that he wouldn’t shake the hands of any women. A court ruled that handshaking was a required part of the job.

Those who, in the wake of that case, cried racism and Islamophobia, perhaps should take into consideration that Rotterdam has a Moroccan-born Muslim mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb. He derives only the tiniest part of his great national popularity from the fact that — shocker! — he doesn’t have a problem with shaking people’s hands.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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