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Hand-shaking row over Muslim border inspector

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Hand-shaking row over Muslim border inspector
Border police at Hyllie station in Malmö. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
11:34 CEST+02:00
Swedish police have come out in defence of a Muslim border checks passport inspector, who stirred debate after he refused to shake his female colleagues' hands.

Sweden introduced police border controls in November last year in an effort to keep the number of asylum seekers down. To help officers carry out the checks, 72 trained civilian ID controllers were brought in.

One of these civilian inspectors recently sparked tension for not shaking the hands of his female colleagues, on the grounds that it violated his Muslim faith. Instead, he is said to have placed his hand over his heart in greeting.

But several employees took offence, according to Swedish state television SVT.

"He did not shake my hand when we said hello. I don't want to speak more about it, because I have chosen to hand it over to management," one of the female police officers working with the man told the broadcaster.

The man, meanwhile, accused some of his colleagues of discrimination.

A police spokesperson told The Local that the incident, which took place in mid-May, had been largely resolved.

"But the question as such probably lives on for many, because it's a very small issue that is incredibly huge, or a huge issue that is very small, depending on where you are on your life journey," said Ewa-Gun Westford.

She added that there had been no complaints about the man's work as a passport inspector, but that the row had led to national as well as regional police initiating discussions to address the general issue of reconciling religious faiths with gender equality.

"It took us in many ways by surprise. All parties are upset and sad, but we're trying to resolve it through dialogue. The police is Sweden's largest state organization, we want to and we have to embrace diversity," said Westford.

"I myself have been a police officer for 45 years and have been through most stages of discrimination as a woman and I'm sure I have different views than, for example, a young woman. But it's an important issue," she said.

The debate comes weeks after a Swedish Muslim politician and member of the centre-left Green Party chose to step down from his post after he was criticized for not shaking a woman journalist's hand.

"It is unacceptable. You can't have a man in the party who can't greet women in the same way you greet a man. I'm upset," Stina Bergström, a Green Party parliamentarian, told Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet at the time.

Earlier this year two schoolboys, aged 14 and 15, sparked uproar in Switzerland after they refused to shake the hand of their female teacher, because they said their religious faith prohibits physical contact with the opposite sex aside from immediate family.

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