Thursday, April 12, 2012

Muslim Blasted For Not Shaking Hands With Women--10 Years After Orthodox Man Criticized For Same Thing

A Muslim lawyer has lost his case in insisting on not shaking hands with a woman:
Rotterdam council was right not to offer lawyer Mohammed Enait the job of client manager after he refused to shake hands with women, a court in The Hague said on Tuesday afternoon.

Enait had applied for the job at the social services department but said he would not shake hands with women on religious grounds. However, he would greet them in another respectful fashion, he said. 
When he was refused the job, Enait brought a civil case against Rotterdam council, saying the rejection was religious discrimination.

The court found the refusal to shake women's hands 'unacceptable' and that Enait is ignoring the equality between men and women, reports news website In addition, it would damage the relationship between the council and its clients.

In 2009, Enait was in the news for refusing to stand up in court when judges entered the room on the grounds that in Islam all men are equal.
Whether you think that Mohammed Enait was right for what he did or not, a similar issue arose 10 years ago in October 2002, when The New York Times resident "Ethicist," Randy Cohen gave advice about an Orthodox Jewish man who would not shake the hand of a woman client.

Here was the question he received:
The courteous and competent real-estate agent I'd just hired to rent my house shocked and offended me when, after we signed our contract, he refused to shake my hand, saying that as an Orthodox Jew he did not touch women. As a feminist, I oppose sex discrimination of all sorts. However, I also support freedom of religious expression. How do I balance these conflicting values? Should I tear up our contract? J.L., New York
And then Mr. Cohen went to work:
This culture clash may not allow you to reconcile the values you esteem. Though the agent dealt you only a petty slight, without ill intent, you're entitled to work with someone who will treat you with the dignity and respect he shows his male clients. If this involved only his own person -- adherence to laws concerning diet or dress, for example -- you should of course be tolerant. But his actions directly affect you. And sexism is sexism, even when motivated by religious convictions. I believe you should tear up your contract.

Had he declined to shake hands with everyone, there would be no problem. What he may not do, however, is render a class of people untouchable. Were he, say, an airline ticket clerk who refused to touch Asian-Americans, he would find himself in hot water and rightly so. Bias on the basis of sex is equally discreditable.

Some religions (and some civil societies) that assign men and women distinct spheres argue that while those two spheres are different, neither is inferior to the other. This sort of reasoning was rejected in 1954 in the great school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education, when the Supreme Court declared that separate is by its very nature unequal. That's a pretty good ethical guideline for ordinary life.

There's a terrific moment in ''Cool Hand Luke,'' when a prison guard about to put Paul Newman in the sweatbox says -- I quote from memory -- ''Sorry, Luke, just doing my job.'' Newman replies, ''Calling it your job don't make it right, boss.'' Religion, same deal. Calling an offensive action religious doesn't make it right. [emphasis added]
In response to "Ethicist" Randy Cohen, author and columnist Jonathan Rosenblum responded that The ethicist of the NY Times gets it wrong, writing in part:
...Frankly, in polyglot New York, I would have expected a message of greater tolerance for practices that at first strike us as strange. The real-estate agent, after all, did not ask anything of the woman. He did not request her to don a long skirt and shawl, as tens of thousands of ardent feminists do every year upon entering St. Peter's Cathedral. Nor did he withhold anything tangible from her. (Presumably she had no interest in holding his hand.)
At most, he engaged in a form of symbolic speech, the message of which both the letter writer and Ethicist misunderstood.

...Similarly, there was nothing inherently offensive about the agent's refusal. Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court correctly ruled that in the context of a long-standing history of Jim Crow laws, educational segregation conveys to black children an unmistakable state-sponsored message of inferiority, could not be more inapposite.

The prohibition clearly does not confer "untouchable" status on one sex or another.
By contrast, the agent made no statement, either implicit or explicit, showing any disrespect for the letter writer in particular or women in general. Strictly observant Jewish women also do not touch men, so the prohibition clearly does not confer "untouchable" status on one sex or another. Rather it proscribes physical contact between sexes equally.

...Interestingly, the Ethicist overlooked the most serious ethical lapse of all ― his own advice that the letter writer rip up a contract she had already signed. Nowhere in that contract did the agent undertake to shake the woman's hand. Rather, he agreed to faithfully represent her in the rental of her apartment, and by her own account he stood fully prepared to do so in a competent fashion.
The Ethicist thus advised her to renege on her own solemn promise in order to punish the agent for observing rules that he views as divinely mandated, but which the Ethicist confidently dismissed as merely "sexist" and "offensive."
It is a pity Mr. Enait did not have access to Mr. Rosenblum's advice in presenting his case.

On the other hand, considering that in the past Enait also refused to stand up in court for a judge on the basis of the equality of all men--ignoring the value of honor--may show that there was more than just the issue of general religious rights involved.

Maybe that is the key distinction between Judaism and Islam--Judaism has the concept of Dina D'Mechulta Dina: generally, when it does not contradict Religious Law, the secular law of the country you are in may be followed.

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