Swiss School Gives In to Muslim Students, Sparking National Debate


Swiss citizens are outraged by a school board decision allowing Muslim students to refuse to shake hands with their teachers.

A headmaster’s decision sparked a national debate in Switzerland over Swiss identity and what it means to be Swiss.

According to Die Welt, a German blog, Political Incorrect News, published the phone number and email address of a Swiss school headmaster, Jürg Lauener, after he allowed two Muslim boys to refuse to shake hands with their teachers. And the Swiss public is outraged by this school allowing for a “special rule” to only apply to two Muslim students.

In Switzerland, shaking hands is the cultural norm for students to greet each other and their teachers at school. But, Lauener said two Muslim boys could not shake hands with their teachers or classmates.

In response, Swiss Justice Minister, Simonetta Sommaruga, told Swiss media that “integration” does not involve rejecting Swiss culture because of ideological beliefs; and:

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.”

The Swiss Education Director Monica Gschwin for that canton didn’t want to comment on “controversial issues,” but added that the school acted appropriately. The headmaster’s decision, “it does not provide a permanent solution,” she said, although she would like to see all children held to the same rules and standards.

As a result, education authorities in the region are hoping to clarify the situation at the school in order to determine whether penalties should be assessed for students and their parents who object to standard practices because of “religious” reasons. Gschwind said: “the enforcement of rules of conduct requires possible sanctions, which must carefully be reviewed and clarified in advance.”

Of course, the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland weighed in, asserting that Islam prohibits men and women from shaking hands (not boys and girls). And its spokesperson, Qaasim Illi, blamed recent events and the Swiss, saying:

… after the sex attacks in Cologne, they asked Muslims to keep their distance from women; now they demand they get closer to them.”

What does it mean to be Swiss?

Politician Felix Mueri, head of the Swiss People’s Party, claimed the school’s decision was another effort to destroy the fabric of Swiss identity:

Today it’s the handshake, and what will it be tomorrow?”

This also occurred in the wake of the Swiss People’s Party proposed referendum to ban the veil nationwide, as the town of Ticino did. The proponents argue, the veil is contrary to western values: “No one should be able to compel another person to conceal their face because of their gender.”

Giorgio Ghiringhelli, who wrote the proposal, explains:

Those who want to integrate are welcome irrespective of their religion. But those who rebuff our values and aim to build a parallel society based on religious laws, and want to place it over our society, are not welcome.”

If passed, the law would fine those wearing the veil £6,500 ($9,244).

April 16, 2016

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