As one of the more independent-minded European countries, Switzerland is now doing the unthinkable with their Muslim population: denying citizenship for failing to integrate into Swiss society.
One recent example involves two Muslim sisters, ages 12 and 14, who refused to take school swimming lessons because of the presence of boys. They said their religion prevents them from participating in compulsory swimming lessons with males in the pool at the same time.
The girls live in the northern city of Basel. They had applied for Swiss citizenship several months ago, but their request was denied because the sisters did not comply with the school’s curriculum.
“Whoever doesn’t fulfill these conditions violates the law and therefore cannot be naturalized,” Stefan Wehrle, president of the naturalization committee, told TV station SRF.
Wehrle said the case in which citizenship is denied for failure to comply with a school program will set precedence for future cases.
In 2012, a Muslim family was fined $1,500 for refusing to allow their daughters to participate in swim classes. The matter worked its way up to the Supreme Court, which ruled that no dispensations from swimming lessons should be made on religious grounds.
In another case, the Swiss naturalization board denied citizenship to members of another immigrant family because they wore sweatpants around town and did not greet passersby, which indicated they were not sufficiently assimilated.
The German-speaking Muslim family, originally from Kosovo, had their citizenship application denied in part because of complaints that they preferred fleece and cotton blends (sweatpants) to denim (jeans), according to local media.
According to USA Today, “The Basellandschaftliche Zeitung newspaper reported that while the family met many of the requirements for Swiss naturalization such as being familiar with the customs and geography of where they live – the village of Bubendorf in the canton of Basel-Country – a committee of residents overseeing the process ruled that they were nevertheless insufficiently Swiss to be given passports.”
In May, Swiss education authorities ruled that students who refuse to shake a teacher’s hand – a Swiss tradition – could be fined up to $5,000. The decision came after two teenage Muslim boys refused to shake their female teacher’s hand on religious grounds.
Some are praising the actions of the Swiss, pointing out that Switzerland is more concerned about maintaining its national identity and culture than bowing to political correctness. “They like their society the way it is and don’t feel obligated to change it to suit random schmoes, even if they get called ‘racist xenophobes,’” notes one observer, adding it’s a move “which no doubt has American immigration officials baffled.”
Others have criticized the nation for refusing citizenship to people who have lived in the country for a long time, are gainfully employed and fluent in one of the three national languages (German, French, Italian).
Swissinfo, an information website about Switzerland, says that to be naturalized there the “person must be well integrated, familiar with customs and traditions, law abiding, and pose no threat to internal or external security.”
The Swiss value full integration into society more highly than knowledge of national politics, history or language. Candidates for citizenship must demonstrate they respect local customs and traditions and are well assimilated into their communities. Local village or town councils make the initial decisions on naturalization applications, since they are most familiar with whether a candidate is considered an upstanding member of the community. If denied, the application will not be forwarded to the state (canton) and federal authorities for further processing.
Denial of citizenship is not limited to Muslims. In 2014, an American who has lived in Switzerand for nearly 40 years was denied citizenship because authorities said he could not name any of his Swiss friends or neighboring villages. The naturalization commission ruled, “The applicant’s answers have shown that his motive for naturalization is not about integration but about the personal advantages it offers.”
The American, Irving Dunn, did not deny the charge, telling a newspaper: “It can be expected that persons mainly want personal advantages from citizenship,” such as the right to vote and live indefinitely in Switzerland.