There is something of a kerfluffle looming, might even be a rumpus. A Swiss canton (and it is the cantons which decide, not the nation) has decided that a Muslim couple are not actually Swiss enough to gain Swiss citizenship. The specific point is that they discriminate a little too much between men and women, something in violation of the more general gender equity idea.
Well, OK, surely we can all take interesting sides in the general argument, should men shale hands with women they are not related to by either blood or marriage and so on? Or even perhaps there aren’t any interesting arguments either side here. What is interesting though is, well, who should get to decide who gains citizenship? And upon what grounds?
The Swiss city of Lausanne has blocked a Muslim couple’s bid to become Swiss nationals over their refusal to shake hands with members of the opposite sex.
The municipality said it refused to grant the couple’s citizenship application over their lack of respect for gender equality, Lausanne mayor Gregoire Junod told AFP.
He said a municipal commission had questioned the couple several months ago to determine if they met the criteria for citizenship, but had determined in the ruling made public on Friday that they missed the mark on integration.
He refused to divulge the couple’s nationalities or other identifying details, but said they “did not shake hands with people of the opposite sex.”
They also “showed great difficulty in answering questions asked by people of the opposite sex,” he said.
One possible answer is that they’re simply islamophobic gnomes and be done with it. Another might be, well, why do you want to join a society whose values you don’t share?
But the proper and interesting question is, well, who gets to decide who should be a citizen?
Note that this is not about being a refugee, nor claiming asylum. Switzerland generally does pretty well on those. It’s about who is now a part of our community, who is “us” not someone outside the community to which we owe duties of care and so on?
The answer the Swiss have decided upon is that the local community that the would be are joining is the group that gets to decide who may join. And it’s very difficult indeed to see that it shouldn’t be this way. Swiss taxation, Swiss government services, Swiss politics, is all resolutely local, at the canton level for near everything. Why shouldn’t the current community therefore decide who may join it on that legal basis?
Leave aside the specifics of Islam, gender equality and all here. Why shouldn’t it be local people deciding who are locals? We can think of more than one Northern town which would be a little different if that had held here in the past….