Swiss citizens have been outraged by the decision of a school board to allow Muslim pupils to refuse to shake hands with their teachers.
On Sunday the phone number and email address of Swiss school headmaster Jürg Lauener was posted to a German blog called Politicall Incorrect News after he decided to allow two Muslim boys to refuse to shake hands with their teachers, reports Die Welt.
It was the culmination of a row which has enraged the Swiss public for several days.
The school introduced a special new rule for their two Muslim pupils. They told the boys that it was acceptable for them to not shake hands with their teacher as the Muslims said they wouldn’t shake hands with a woman who they don’t know.
In Switzerland shaking hands is a very common way of greeting others at school, and Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said to Swiss media on Monday evening “the fact that a child does not give the teacher their hand, that is not acceptable”.
“The handshake is a part of our culture, it belongs to everyday life in Switzerland,” she said adding that it must be absolutely clear that there should be no question that integration must not be done away with in the name of religious freedom.
In the Swiss canton where the school is located, very few came to the defence of the headmasters actions. The cantonal Education Director Monica Gschwin said that she preferred to stay silent on controversial issues, but said the school acted appropriately. She said while the move may work in this case, that in the long run, “it does not provide a permanent solution,” and that she would rather see all students held to the same rules and standards.
The education authorities in the region are already planning to write a report to clarify the case at the school. They intend to include the question of whether there should be penalties for students or parents who argue with religious practices. Gschwind said, “the enforcement of rules of conduct requires possible sanctions, which must carefully be reviewed and clarified in advance.”
The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland weighed in saying that a handshake between man and women was prohibited in Islam and spokesman Qaasim Illi remarked, “after the sex attacks in Cologne, they asked Muslims to keep their distance from women; now they demand they get closer to them.”
The entire case has led to a national debate in Switzerland about Swiss identity and what it means to be Swiss. Politician Felix Mueri, head of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party claimed that the school’s decision was chipping away at the fabric of Swiss identity saying, “today it’s the handshake and what will it be tomorrow?”
The Swiss People’s party looks to propose a referendum to get the Islamic full face veil banned nationwide as it was in the town of Ticino . The author of the proposal said that the veil was contrary to western values saying, “no one should be able to compel another person to conceal their face because of their gender.” If passed the law would see those wearing the veil fined £6,500.