In an effort to encourage cultural assimilation, the Danish government is requiring all new citizens to shake hands with officials at the naturalization ceremony. The law is clearly aimed at Muslims, whose religion forbids touching members of the opposite sex. Martin Henriksen, a right-wing lawmaker belonging to the Danish People’s Party, told The New York Times, “If you arrive in Denmark, where it’s custom to shake hands when you greet, if you don’t do it it’s disrespectful… if one can’t do something that simple and straightforward, there’s no reason to become a Danish citizen.” Denmark’s integration minister Inger Stojberg echoed a similar sentiment, saying that the handshake is a “visible sign that you’ve taken Denmark to heart.”
Similar laws have gone into effect in countries like Switzerland and France that are also under pressure from right-wing influence, and it has prompted an understandably irate response from more moderate politicians. Thomas Andresen, mayor of Aabenraa, said, “It’s against my ideology and conviction to have to force other people to have body contact.” He’s even taking steps to find loopholes in the law, like having officials of both genders present at naturalization ceremonies. “I’d be sad to see us portrayed as a xenophobic country and a xenophobic people,” he said, “because we absolutely are not.” Other mayors, like Mogens Jespersen of Mariagerfjord, said they would accept a nod instead of a handshake.
One aspiring Danish citizen, Billy O’Shea of Ireland, is currently waiting for an answer to his citizenship application but says he will reject the citizenship if forced to shake hands. “Respect is something that occurs between equal citizens,” he said in an email. “We can’t shake each other’s hands if one of us are on our knees.”
Gaining Danish citizenship requires legal residence of nine years, financial self-sufficiency, and passing both a Danish language test and a Danish politics, history, and society test. All of that, however, could prove moot if the applicant refuses a handshake.
H/T: The New York Times