A story broke last week about a male intern on a Trollhättan company that refused to shake hands with his female supervisor since his religion prohibited him from doing so without promptly washing his hands. The man was told that his duties at the company required him shake hands with everyone, both men and women, but that they would facilitate for him to be able to wash his hands whenever he needed. The man still refused.
A discrimination case was filed to the city council. They ruled – get this – in favor of the intern, granting him a sizable amount in damages for religious discrimination. The supervisor, on her part, was handed a written reprimand for having the gall not to tolerate his refusal to shake her hand.
This is the destructive, Alice in Wonderland-crazy outcomes of misdirected multiculturalism: political figures so anxious about the damning label of political incorrectness that they rather surrender fundamental societal values in conciliation as soon as anyone waves the flag of intolerance. It is not about the presence of multiple cultures in society (descriptive multiculturalism) – which can be very positive – but about multiple sets of norms (normative multiculturalism), such as religious norms or laws that act upon certain groups within society.
In this case, the religious norms of the intern collided with the gender equality norms of the workplace. Gender equality which, of course, is a norm fought for and expanded on over generations in Swedish and Western society. By ruling in favor of the intern, this misogynistic norm of refusing to shake hands with women is not only validated, but validated at the expense of gender equality itself, and the rights e.g. of the supervisor not to be discriminated against (as she clearly was).
What kind of society sells out its own values like that?
I don’t have a clear answer. It’s in there somewhere with such Swedish mentalities as avoidance of conflict, fear to lose face, introversion etc. However, there’s also a deeper paradox at play here: this obsessive walking-on-eggshells not to offend anyone, that’s supposedly about tolerance, good intentions etc: well, is it really? Excusing or rewarding dumb behavior is something emotionally absent parents do to their children. They spoil and indulge them, instead of caring for them the hard way. Such treatment is lazy rather than loving and certainly don’t help in the long run:
We wouldn’t admit it, but I think there’s an element of cold, absent parenting, disguised as tolerance, in some of our societal responses to the voices of ethnic and religious minorities. We feel that we should like and care more about those new people that aren’t quite like us, but we really don’t, and this makes us feel guilty. So we overcompensate and act overly tolerant, over-protecting, spoiling and indulging. Seemingly loving, but emotionally absent, even passive-aggressive.
If this intern-guy is so backwards that he can’t even shake hands with a woman, it’s not indulgence and tolerance that he needs – but a firm but loving message that there’s no such thing as “rights” when it comes to dumb religious dogma. Snap out of it buddy.