The Basler Zeitung, has learned that the family of the two brothers who refused to shake the hand of their female teacher at Therwil secondary school, in the canton of Basel-Landschaft, has applied for Swiss nationality.
The brothers, 14 and 15, requested exemption from handshakes for religious reasons and the school’s administration granted it, according to the newspaper Schweiz am Sonntag, which broke the story earlier this month.
The affair provoked a strong reaction. On Swiss-German television, Simonetta Sommaruga, a Swiss cabinet member, said “This is not how I see integration. We cannot accept this in the name of religious freedom. The handshake is part of our culture.”
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When interviewed, the two students insisted that requiring pupils to shake hands with teachers is discriminatory. “No one can force us to touch hands”, said one of them. The older one said “I learnt this rule watching a preacher on the internet. My father then confirmed it.” They explained that their intention was not to be provocative. It was part of following their faith.
One of the tests for Swiss citizenship is integration. Applicants are examined to decide if they are integrated into the Swiss way of life, are familiar with Swiss customs, comply with Swiss laws, and are not a security risk.
The Basler Zeitung says the family arrived in Switzerland in 2001. The father, an imam at the King Faisal Mosque in Basel, arrived in Switzerland from Syria as a political refugee.
Christine Gorrengourt (PDC) told the newspaper: “Those who refuse to shake hands with a woman can’t be naturalised”, while Georges Thüring, of the Swiss People’s Party and president of the commission that oversees local citizenship applications said: “I don’t think we can talk of integration in relation to handshake objectors. Personally, I would reject their request” adding that “as president of the commission, I assure you that the request will be examined properly, like any other.”
Basler Zeitung readers appear firmly against approving the family’s application. When asked in an online survey: should the family be granted Swiss nationality?, 91.7% of those responding chose ‘no’.
Swiss passport requested without a handshake (Baseler Zeitung – in German)
According to the Tribune de Genève, Basel’s cantonal immigration authority, has put the family’s nationality application on hold and organised a meeting with family members, who will be interviewed separately. It is not unusual for nationality applications to be put on hold while things are clarified. This decision was taken last week, said a spokesperson.