´ July 3, 2016 -

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July 3, 2016

Sometimes something happens in your country that is a great illustration of a point that matters to people all over the world. So here’s what happened: in some Swiss school two Muslim boys refused to shake hands with their teacher in the morning. This escalated to a fully fledged political drama when the government decided to get involved and fined the boys. Despite the fines they kept refusing. And then it all went quiet, presumably because somebody must have noticed that there is no law in Switzerland to shake hands with anyone. So what’s going on? Two very different scripts are happening:

Script 1

If we let them do what they want more of them will come. If we let them not accustom to our values they will keep theirs and we will lose ours. Let’s discourage this once and for all by taking a powerful stance.

Script 2

I am not supposed to touch a woman who is not my wife, sister or mother. If I do God will think it’s bad and so will my community.

In our world we are told that either script 1 or script 2 will win. Whoever does not agree with this is either seen as naive, uninformed, idealistic or whatever other derogatory term fits the situation. But let’s acknowledge that there are several ways of reacting to this.

  1. We drag the case through all the courts. That is a possibility but before it is pursued it is vital to check in with the law otherwise we waste a lot of energy and other resources. This is a fact that a quality newspaper could point out.
  2. We investigate other ways that we can force them to comply. This is also a valid alternative however if we choose this we have to understand that repeating the same claims (they are morally wrong to not integrate and we ask them with ever rising voices to behave differently) will not get us there. Therefore we have to get into investigative mode exploring different ways of forcing people in legally sound ways. Also an avenue a quality newspaper could adopt.
  3. We acknowledge that there are some non-negotiable things like violence against women, marriage of minors or human rights where we will not budge. However shaking a hand is actually not a big deal. In fact it carries much less meaning for me than for those boys. After all, we don’t shake everybody’s hand in a large office or a class room and nobody is offended by that either. Contrasting situations in which the same behaviour results in different responses is also something that a quality newspaper could do.
  4.  We could learn about where the rule comes from and how it is applied in the Muslim community. While not everybody might be interested in doing this a media source could then go on and show that at least the rule has nothing to do with disrespecting a particular teacher. No need to take it personal. Instead it’s a rule designed to not trouble your own wife with jealousy or the man of the woman you are touching. Do I personally like this rule so much that I want to adopt it for myself? No. Do I think it’s possible to guard against jealousy in other ways? Absolutely. Would I wish the Muslims would take this in a more chilled way? Tentative yes. But does everybody in my own culture agree with me about these topics? Not at all. So why expect something from Muslims that your own nation cannot provide?
  5. We can carry on like we always have: getting really excited and hurling insults at each other. We can trade back and forth the same arguments again and again. We are of course free to do that. But the price we pay is that we make it very hard to get along with each other (liberal Swiss versus the conservative Swiss) and of course with immigrant Muslims. Now people are free to harbour fantasies about stopping immigration maybe even banning Muslims from entering the country. That will of course make us less safe and draw more attention to us from the likes of ISIS but we can try. However before that is the case, we have to find a way to respond to the situation as it is. And from where I stand option 5 is the least helpful of all.