When I was young, my second cousin, who is about fifteen years older than me, used to play with us during our summer holidays in Cairo and Alexandria. A few years ago, when I met him at a family gathering in Egypt, I was told that he would not shake my hand anymore, because I am a woman and he and his wife do not touch people of the other gender. At the time I felt a little irritated, maybe even insulted, and – to be honest – I ridiculed their decision. Maybe that is how Europeans are feeling now about the arrival of a great number of refugees with all their cultural peculiarities. Maybe that is why Switzerland has issued a law obliging students to shake their teachers’ hands if requested. Maybe that is also the reason why Germany is discussing the ban of the so-called ‘burkini’—a full-body swimsuit used by veiled women—from public baths.
Thinking about it now, I realize that my cousin did refuse to shake my hand, yet he never asked me to follow his example and stop shaking hands, neither did he ever force any of his beliefs onto me or even ridicule me for having my own cultural quirks. I was the one being intolerant and judgemental all the while considering myself superior for being secular and liberal. I hear people in Germany worrying about all the Arabs and Muslims coming here, because ‘we don’t want to apply the Sharia here’ or ‘soon we have to celebrate Christmas in a Mosque’ or ‘they just don’t want to integrate and learn our values’. I am confused: where are the mobs of Muslims demonstrating for an implementation of the Sharia in Germany? I haven’t seen any—none of the new-arrivals, none of the third generation Turks, Iranians and Arabs living in this country. Where are the veiled women throwing burkas over bikini-bearing Germans or at least boycotting public baths due to the unfamiliar nudity? Where are the Syrians or Iraqis or Afghans forming political parties to abolish handshaking in Germany? Last time I checked, it was Europeans forcing their allegedly superior values onto the newcomers, being intolerant of other people’s religious freedom, supporting racist, xenophobic generalizations about ‘the Muslims’, refugees, Arabs etc.. Last time I checked, it was Europeans who felt irritated and insulted, because someone asked for the freedom not to shake a hand without ever trying to make this a general law (by the way, I hardly know any Muslims who don’t shake hands). Continue reading