Couple denied Swiss citizenship for bigotry

The municipality of Lausanne refused to grant citizenship to a Muslim couple holding Swiss passports because they did not shake hands with commission members of the opposite sex. 

Lara Bullens
Lara Bullens NewsMavens, Western Europe
Couple denied Swiss citizenship for bigotry - NewsMavens
Swiss passport. Swissemb.org

Why this story matters:

This is not the first time that Switzerland has gotten in a ruffle around handshakes. In 2016, a middle school in the north of the country allowed two Syrian brothers not to shake their female teacher's hand after they argued that doing so conflicted with their religious beliefs. The event set off a national debate, given that students shaking hands with their teachers is a deeply-rooted tradition in Swiss culture and a strong sign of respect. 

As a result, regional authorities overturned the school's decision and now parents of pupils who refuse to shake a teacher's hand at schools in the Basel region can face a fine of up to 5,000 Swiss francs (4,387 euros). 

Two major facts are not being addressed in this debate. First, that the Muslim population only makes up about 350,000 inhabitants in a country of 8 million.

Second, the vice-mayor of Lausanne Pierre-Antoine Hildbrand, who was on the commission for the couple's citizenship application, argued that: "It is an occasion to remind [the public] of the importance of gender equality and emphasise the fact that the constitution does not accept bigotry." 

Bigotry is defined as an intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself. Hildbrand's argument is hypocritical, as the commission's rejection of the citizenship request is a clear-cut example of bigotry in and of itself.

The municipality of Lausanne denied granting citizenship to this couple based on religious beliefs, although they prefer tending towards the gender equality argument. The decision does nothing if not further polarise the debate on integration. 

Details from the story:

  • The citizenship request was officially rejected on Friday the 17th of August
  • The couple came from north Africa, but the municipality never asked about their religion, even though it was clear that these two Swiss passport holders were Muslim
  • Although it may be clear that this refusal was a negative reaction to religious values, Lausanne’s municipality doesn’t want to give the impression that the citizenship rejection went against Islam
  • What they emphasised was the lack of respect of gender equality the couple demonstrated in an official or institutional framework
  • During the examination, the citizenship commission argues, the fact that the couple refused to shake the hands of the opposite sex and had a hard time answering questions from members of the opposite sex was a “decisive factor”
  • The rejection set off a debate on Twitter between the ‘tolerant’ and ‘secular’ (‘laical’) members of the Socialist Party in the canton
  • Ada Marra, member of the Socialist Party, argued that it was a “political” decision that didn’t respect the usual criteria for citizenship (length of stay in Switzerland, clean criminal record, etc.)
  • The couple now has three solutions: they can appeal within 30 days, apply again or abandon the citizenship application altogether
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