Switzerland has a problem with Muslim immigrants who don’t immediately adopt their cultural norms.
They just denied citizenship to a Muslim couple because they didn’t shake hands with officials of the opposite sex during their interview and felt uncomfortable answering their questions as well.
The Swiss authorities said aspiring citizens must be well integrated into the Swiss community and demonstrate an attachment to Switzerland, its institutions and a respect for the Swiss legal order.
Officials stressed they were not rejected based on their religion but for their lack of respect for gender equality.
“The constitution and equality between men and women prevails over bigotry,” said Pierre-Antoine Hilbrand, who was part of the commission that interviewed the couple.
Upholding gender equality is a wonderful and important idea. But Muslim people not wanting to shake certain peoples’ hands isn’t an indication that they’re unwilling to accept women’s rights and gender equality in the country. Why not just ask them that question in a straight-forward way? It’s unclear whether they refused to shake hands for religious or cultural reasons, but either way, wouldn’t you want those people integrated into your society because they’ll likely change their thinking in the long run?
It’s not the first time this has happened in the country. Just two years ago, two boys refused to shake the hands of the female teachers as was custom. When the school made an exception for the boys, it created a lot of local controversy. Even then, the outrage was unwarranted. Just because students refused to follow a tradition didn’t mean they were purposely disrespectful or didn’t respect women’s rights.
As I said at the time, the boys’ actions weren’t all that different from U.S. law that permits students who don’t want to say the Pledge of Allegiance from doing so. (When atheists sit out, there are always critics who say they’re being disrespectful or unpatriotic. Neither of those are accurate.) No one should be forced to participate in a tradition that goes against their beliefs, regardless of how shitty their reasons are.
The same goes for these Muslims who will no longer become Swiss citizens. It’s an overreaction. It’s cruel. It also suggests a thin-skinned patriotism — that Swiss customs will somehow be in jeopardy if a handful of people don’t follow them immediately. The same thing happened this year in France, where an Algerian woman married to a French man was denied citizenship over her refusal to shake the hand of a male official. Courts upheld that decision on the grounds that she hadn’t “assimilated” into the French community. I guess even marriage doesn’t count as much as a handshake.
There was recently a case in Sweden in which a Muslim woman seeking a job as an interpreter was denied it because she didn’t want to shake hands with the male interviewer. She sued, and a Swedish court made the right call in siding with the woman:
Sweden’s labour court found the company was justified in demanding equal treatment for both sexes — but not in demanding that it be in the form of a handshake only.
Her refusal to shake hands on religious grounds was protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, it said, and the company’s policy in demanding a specific greeting was detrimental to Muslims.
The court also disagreed with the firm’s assertion that Ms Alhajeh’s approach to greetings would cause a problem for effective communication as an interpreter.
That’s the right attitude. A handshake with the opposite sex is by no means the only to show that you support gender equality and the laws of that nation. It’s absurd to punish people who don’t want to do it for religious reasons just as it’d be absurd to punish people who just don’t want to shake your damn hand.
Figure out another way to see if Muslims are willing to accept your country’s norms. And if cultural norms are so important, then all the more reason to accept people who aren’t on board with them just yet. They need time to see it in action, to acclimate themselves to a new system. It’s not going to happen overnight. But this couple was denied citizenship before they ever had a real chance to prove themselves worthy of it.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Scott for the link)