Proposal to make handshakes mandatory for Danish citizenship criticized for targeting Muslims

Criticism of a proposal by Denmark’s ruling right-wing coalition, which requires a handshake as part of a citizenship naturalization ceremony, is growing because of its deliberate targeting of Muslims, some of whom place a hand on their chest during the ceremony for religious reasons[1].

Kasper Ejsing Olesen, mayor of Kerteminde, said, “It’s absurd that the immigration minister thinks this is an important thing to spend time on. Shaking hands does not show if you are integrated or not”. Several Danish mayors have vowed to ignore the measure if it passes in parliament[2]. For Mayor Ole Bjørstorp of Ishøj, the proposal contradicts freedom of religion, and thus is “unconstitutional”[3]. The head of monitoring for the Institute of Human Rights, Christoffer Badse, also expressed such concerns, telling Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that the proposal is contrary to human rights and freedom of religion[4].

However, while 52% of those surveyed in a recent opinion poll disagree with the proposal, hardliners support it[5]. Danish minister for integration and immigration, Inger Støjberg said, “A handshake is how we greet each other in Denmark. It’s the way we show respect for each other in this country”. The conservative party spokesman, Naser Khader, said “Some people would give their right arm for citizenship. I’m sure they’d also give their hand”[6]. Martin Henricksen, immigration spokesperson for the far-right Danish People’s Party (DPP) said a handshake at a naturalization ceremony amounted to “a compromise about acting with respect. That, in our view, certainly means shaking the hand of the mayor or other person conducting the ceremony”[7].

The debate around Muslims not shaking hands is not new in Europe. Earlier this year and after a high court ruling, an Algerian woman was denied French citizenship for refusing to shake hands with male officials. In August, a Muslim couple was denied citizenship in Switzerland for the same reason. However, in Sweden, a woman has won compensation after a prospective male employer ended her job interview when she refused to shake his hand[8].

In Denmark, this proposed measure is part of a larger citizenship bill proposed by parliament, under which applicants for Danish citizenship must also pledge to uphold Danish values and to “act respectfully towards representatives of the authorities”. It is part of a trend of increasingly hardline policies in the country which are considered to target Muslims specifically, including the recent ban on burqas and niqabs[9] and strict cultural assimilation laws[10].

In Denmark in 2015, a taxi driver won DKK 10,000 (currently about £1,200) in compensation after he was sacked for refusing to shake the hand of his female employer, perhaps representing how increasingly right-wing the country has become in the last few years. Even the left-leaning Social Democrats have adopted anti-Islam rhetoric, calling the religion a barrier to integration and saying that some Muslims did not respect Denmark’s judicial system and that some Muslim women were avoiding work for religious reasons[11].

[1] Quackenbush, 2018.

[2] Quackenbush, 2018.

[3] Henley, 2018.

[4] Gadd, 2018.

[5] Quackenbush, 2018; Henley, 2018.

[6] Quackenbush, 2018.

[7] Henley, 2018.

[8] Quackenbush, 2018.

[9] Quackenbush, 2018.

[10] Henley, 2018.

[11] Henley, 2018.

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Gadd, S. (2018) ‘Political opposition to ‘handshake’ law growing’. [online] 3 September. [Accessed 2 October 2018].

Henley, J. (2018) ‘Danish mayors vow to ignore citizenship handshake plan’. [online] 20 September. [Accessed 2 October 2018].

Quackenbush, C. (2018) ‘Opposition Is Growing in Denmark Against an Anti-Muslim’ Plan to Make New Citizens Shake Hands’. [online] 21 September. [Accessed 2 October 2018].