A firm Swiss handshake

By Andrew L. Urban.

Here in a nutshell is the insoluble conundrum of Muslim integration into Judeo-Christian society: two Muslim teenagers waiting to be granted citizenship in Switzerland, claim that their Islamic rules override the practiced traditions of their hosts.

This is what happened in April & May 2016*: two brothers, aged 14 and 15, who are sons of a Syrian political refugee granted asylum in 2001, had informed education officials in the northern municipality of Therwil that physical contact with women who are not family members violated their interpretation of Islam.

The two boys were then exempted by their school from a Swiss custom of pupils shaking teachers’ hands, with Therwil officials instructing them to avoid contact with male teachers as well to avoid gender discrimination.

But the compromise sparked a heated response from leading Swiss politicians including Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga who insisted that “shaking hands is part of [Swiss] culture”. The tradition of shaking teachers’ hands as a sign of respect is deeply entrenched in Switzerland.

The two students insisted that requiring them to shake hands with teachers is discriminatory. “No one can force us to touch hands,” said one of them. [There is no record of anyone pointing out that no one can force Switzerland to grant them citizenship, either.]

Swiss authorities responded with a firm handshake: parents of pupils who refuse to shake a teacher’s hand at schools in the northern canton of Basel-Country could now face fines of up to 5,000 Swiss francs.

Switzerland’s population of eight million includes an estimated 350,000 Muslims. Previous similar disputes have centred on Muslim parents who demanded that their daughters be exempt from swimming lessons.

Such quotidian cultural conflicts explain the fundamental objection by non-Muslim communities to Muslim mass migration. Unlike the friction between the various groups and ethnicities that have historically survived integration, Islam stands out as incompatible with other communities.

Irreconcilable differences between Islamic teaching and non-Islamic societies can only be papered over by a tolerance that Western societies are finding increasingly difficult to maintain in the face of the sheer volume of conflicts, supercharged by the violent overlay of terrorism.

Why do Muslims live in the West?

The brittle, unyielding nature of Islam surely means that no Muslim can comfortably coexist within a non-Muslim community. The immovable laws of Islam dictate, for example, often deadly intolerance of homosexuals, a cultural conflict that cannot be bridged. Likewise the demands for Sharia, for female genital mutilation and arranged marriages for young girls, the treatment of women generally as subservient human beings.

The obvious question is why do so many millions of Muslims (if they can) prefer to live in Western, primarily Judeo-Christian countries, where – even if religion is not the force it once was – the notions of tolerance, brotherly love, turn the other cheek and do unto others (not to mention do not kill) … are the accepted guiding principles and democracy is the prevailing political system. We should be asking Muslims within our societies to answer this question.

* Sources include Al Jazeera, The Guardian, BBC, ABC, SBS, Sydney Morning Herald, USA Today, The Washington Post, Jihadwatch

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