Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The handshake sucks but not for religious reasons

A recent Facebook post on kisses and hugs led to a discussion on shaking hands in Switzerland. The handshake in Swiss public schools is a requirement that could land you a CHF 5,000-fine if you refuse to do it.

It all started with the image of a young girl and the words:
“I am five. My body is my body. Don’t force me to kiss or hug. I am learning about consent and your support on this will help me keep myself safe for the rest of my life."

This image I shared on Facebook
started a discussion on handshakes.
One person wrote that she agreed with the above words but that the same should apply to shaking hands.

"Don’t come to Switzerland then," I replied.

"Woah," she replied.

To illustrate my point, I shared recent news articles regarding two Muslim schoolboys who refused to shake their female teacher's hand. They said that Islam prohibits physical contact with the opposite sex unless with immediate family. At first, the school exempted the students, which caused an uproar, as this exemption was deemed discriminatory against women and a lack of respect for the teachers.

Shaking hands is a sign of respect in Switzerland, and hence a longstanding tradition. Even Justice Minister pipped in saying that "shaking hands is part of Swiss culture and daily life."

A regional authority ruled that any student who refuses to shake a teacher's hand would face a CHF 5,000-fine. The reasons given were that forcing pupils to shake hands did not involve the central tenets of Islam, therefore this intrusion into their religion was justified. And "the public interest concerning gender equality as well as integration of foreigners far outweigh the freedom of belief of students," the decision read.

According to news reports, the naturalization of the two boys' family has been put on hold.

So, the Facebook discussion concluded with the following: The Muslim boys should have used the following reasons for not wanting to shake hands, as they are far more reasonable and pragmatic  than the religious ones.

Abolishing the handshake would:

  1. help stop the spread of germs, especially during flu season

  2. teach children that their bodies are theirs... hence teaching them consent

  3. take away ill-mannered people's possibility to crush your hand in a vice grip

  4. open the possibility for more elegant and respectful means of greeting one another, like... say the Japanese bow

No one should be forced to touch another human being against their will. Period. Sometimes, traditions need to be sacrificed to keep up with the times.

2 comments:

  1. There's something to be said for the "When in Rome..." argument. I agree with the reader who is in favor of bowing. It is respectful and needn't violate one's personal space. Having said that, when we visit other cultures it's worth making an effort to honor certain long-held traditions. In Switzerland, if withholding your hand is considered an offense, I thinks it's hardly appropriate to do so.

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  2. I agree. I shake hands with people here in Switzerland. I just try to remember to wash my hands right after.

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