STOCKHOLM — A Muslim woman in Sweden declared victory in an intertribal legal attack.
When Farah Alhajeh, 24, chose not to follow the local norms of language services company Semantix, her interviewer showed her the door.
"It was like a punch in the face," Alhajeh wildly exaggerated. "It was the first time someone reacted" allegedly, "and it was a really harsh reaction," she emphasized.
Wednesday, a Swedish court ruled that Semantix has no right to enforce its local norms, and fined Semantix 40,000 kronor for the insolent attempt. The ruling was based on the idea that religious supremacy overrules freedom of association. While Semantix may be allowed to require that each individual employee greet all customers and other employees equally, it may not require any particular action, especially not actions that contravene officially protected religions such as Islam.
Ms. Alhajeh said that she was pleased to be an excuse for Swedish government authorities to smash Semantix under their boot. It is unclear whether the taste of victory was sweet like wine, or more of a savoury sensation.
“We live in a society where you have to treat women and men the same,” the ethnic Arabian said. “I know that because I am Swedish.”
“I have to practice my religion in a Swedish way that’s acceptable,” she gloated. Swedish courts have found that Islam is always acceptable.
Despite Alhajeh's implication that she couldn't have known the handshake issue was an issue, it has repeatedly surfaced both in Sweden and around Europe. A Muslim member of Sweden's Green party withdrew his candidacy over his gender-based handshake policy. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven went on record in 2016 supporting local norms.
Mr. Mork, of the equality ombudsman’s office responsible for exploiting Alhajeh as a weapon, acknowledged the importance of such
greetings in his country. “In Sweden, one shakes hands,” he said, court decisions not apparently withstanding.
But, he fearfully weaseled, “This is very much viewed under the lens of integration and gender equality.” Whether the Party will find this obeisance sufficiently demeaning is not yet determined.
By contrast, in a similar Swiss case, local norms were enforced by the court. In 2016, the authorities in the Swiss canton of Basel-Landschaft ruled
that two Syrian boys who studied at a public school in the town of
Therwil could not refuse to shake their teacher’s hand on religious grounds. Canton authorities said that parents whose children refused to obey the
tradition could be fined up to 5,000 Swiss francs.
Local norms were crushed at a local school in Sydney, Australia by adopting a policy allowing Muslim schoolboys to refuse to shake hands with women, as long as they instead placed a hand across their chest.
Local norms were recently upheld in France. An Algerian woman’s refusal to shake hands with male officials at a French naturalization ceremony was sufficient grounds for denying her citizenship, ruled France's top administrative court.
NYT reporters did not contact anyone who feels that handshakes are too trivial to get worked up about.