23 februari 2010

Refuse to Shake Hands with a Woman and Get 6,000 Euros (Hugin)

Earlier this month, a 28 year old Muslim from Skåne was awarded just over 6,000 euros by a Swedish judge because he had refused to shake hands with a woman. One can wonder whether the woman maybe should praise herself lucky. After all, she wasn't convicted for racism for the simple fact that she thought she could shake hands with a Muslim man.

More than four years ago, Alen Malik Crnalic entered a course with the Swedish Public Employment Centre (Arbetsförmedlingen, AF) in order to find a job. In May 2006, he was on an interview in Älmhult for a trainee job as a welder, and during that interview, he refused to shake hands with the CEO of the company. The CEO happened to be a woman, and as an active Muslim, Alen Malik Crnalic says he's not allowed to touch women outside his own family. Apparently, he also avoided eye-contact with the CEO during the interview, and rather stared to the ground.

It should probably not come as a surprise that Alen Malik Crnalic didn't get the job. According to the company and the Public Employment Centre, he wasn't qualified for the job. Later he also lost his employment benefits. Alen Malik Crnalic didn't agree with that, and instead appealed the decision to the National Labour Market Board (Arbetsmarknadsstyrelsen, AMS). The Board rejected his appeal, but then it was picked up by the Ombudsman for Discrimination (Diskrimineringsombudsmannen, DO), and brought to court. There, the judge overruled the National Labour Market Board's decision, and awarded the man a 6,000 euro compensation. According to the judge, the claim by the man that he cannot shake hands with a woman because of religious reasons is valid. He should therefore have gotten the job even though he refused to greet the company's CEO, and the Public Employment Centre should not have canceled his unemployment benefits either.

Interviewed by the Swedish public broadcaster SVT, the CEO of the company repeated that the man didn't get the job because he simply wasn't qualified for it. She also added that she felt insulted by the man's behavior, since he shaked hands with everybody else during the interview except her.

The Ombudsman for Discrimination Katri Linna on her side welcomed the court's decision. In a comment, she said that it is unreasonable to cancel somebody's unemployment benefits simply because he refuses to shake hands with a woman in accordance to his religion and beliefs. According to her, Sweden is a multicultural country now, and has to accept that people have different ways to greet other people. One could wonder though what would have happened if the CEO had refused to shake hands with a Muslim job seeker because of her religion or beliefs, or where the discrimination would have been if the CEO had been Muslim and the job seeker a woman. To be honest, I'm not sure whether I should shake hands with Katri Linna if I would ever meet her, because you never know whether maybe it could be insulting to Muslim job seekers in Älmhult…

Somebody who certainly didn't agree with the judge's decision is the liberal conservative politician Bo Frank in Växjö. Asked for his comments, he says the female CEO should feel humiliated – and she does. In Sweden, people greet each other shaking hands, he says, and immigrants who want to live and work in Sweden should do that too. After all, integration is not just something for politicians and Swedes, but for immigrants too. The Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna) should not get a monopoly on what 90% of the Swedish people think, he added, and confirmed that he agreed totally with what Nalin Pekgul from the Social Democratic Women in Sweden (S-kvinnor) had said a day earlier on Swedish public television SVT. His remark that the Sweden Democrats are probably the ones the most happy with the judge's ruling was echoed many places in the press and on the Internet.

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