Sensitive Hands

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This topic contains 16 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Simon Paynton 2 years, 3 months ago.

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    David Boots

    Apparently it is serious misconduct to attempt to shake hands with a female muslim. The story is set out here.

    I am guessing I will take some heat on this but I am backing the sacked academic who entirely failed to emulate the swiss. If he was sacked for making a complaint of discrimination then that is illegal under NZ law. If he was sacked for behaviour being ‘culturally or religiously inappropriate’ then we also have a problem.

    I have employed hindus, muslims, catholics and jews. Am I, as an employer required to tailor my behaviour to each of their sensitivities? And isnt it racist or at least bigotry to make that assumption on my behalf? And is it fair to other staff that these special allowances are not universal. Why should they bear the burden of covering for a staff member who is away from work on some flimsy religious excuse?

    Surely this is a nonsense stand taken by the university. And one I suggest they will regret.



    The article nuance is that the academic who was fired was well aware of the custom of not shaking hands with females of Muslim religion, and attempted to provoke a discrimination charge.  I somehow doubt that hand shaking is an integral part of the schools education process, and it would appear, from the article, that the academic was trying to make a social point.  It would also appear that it was an abuse of authority- as the academic had seniority over the students.


    Simon Paynton

    Am I, as an employer required to tailor my behaviour to each of their sensitivities?

    – I think you are required to, depending on the sensitivities.  I think that if something causes genuine cultural or religious offense, we shouldn’t do it.


    Simon I think a lot of the time offense is taken rather than caused. However if the lecturer decided to “hassle” the woman because she is Muslim and in a premeditated manner, then I agree with the college tackling him on the issue but not on the sacking. That is too much.

    It  does seem to me that in recent years, especially in the halls of academia, that people are almost waiting to find offense in something, especially when it comes to bullshit cultural appropriation. Now I am about to give my opinion on Islamophobia so if anyone feels they might be triggered by my views please stop reading now.

    Islamophobia is a made up offense to stop criticism of the extremes of the religion of peace. Critiquing an idea is not an attacked on people. It is an attack on an idea or “ism”. It deserves no legal protection and is less worthy of (my) respect because it seeks such protection. If it cannot stand on its own merits it deserve to become extinct.

    I used to run an employment agency in the pharmaceutical industry and found that I could always get Muslims to work during Christian holidays. I noted that my clients always (without exception) wanted me to send them back as often as possible because they were top class. Some even tried to poach them from me as full time staff. I never had one complaint about them or from them. And no special requests during Ramadan, unlike the Catholics who would get annoyed if I sent them jobs offers for “holy days”. They assumed I should have known they were Christians and should have known better.


    David Boots

    It would seem that it might have been a stunt or an attempt to make a point but that doesn’t do away with the problem.


    Having a religious sensitivity is not a disability. It shouldn’t get you preferential treatment and it shouldn’t be an exemption from complying with cultural norms and laws.


    Whether I am aware of that cultural sensitivity (or privilege) would seem to me to be irrelevant. It is a cultural norm that people in NZ shake hands. Someone is entitled to offer to shake hands. To be dismissed for doing so is the absolute height of ludicrousness. And regardless of the mens rea of the alleged offender.


    Lets look at where this goes. If you can lose your job on the basis of ‘offending’ a religious person then we are all in big trouble indeed. There is no end to what causes offence to a theocrat. My clothes, my speech, my lack of observance and certainly my non-belief. It is difficult to even keep track of this nonsense. Moreover, what offends one group of delusionals might not offend another.


    I find it quite scary that any atheist could support such an idea. You do all recall that this stuff is just made up?



    The man, a University of Auckland academic who has not been named, was fired after he was found trying to make a Muslim woman shake his hand before making the complaint according to an email from vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon.

    Mr McCutcheon said the man did it intentionally knowing it was culturally and religiously inappropriate to ask the Muslim woman to make physical contact with him knowing he was not a close relative or her husband.

    This, at a center of education.  Not nice. What if someone snuck some pork into a Jewish persons sandwich?  Would that be ok?


    I have zero respect for any religious belief. All beliefs are open to criticism. I respect a person’s right to believe whatever they wish to believe and I will fight to defend a theists’ right to believe in the god of any religion but I will not endow any particular belief with any respect.

    I would be totally against another student facing any kind of disciplinary action by the college authorities if he (or she) was accused of doing the same thing as the lecturer was. My problem is with him, as a figure of authority in her life deliberately targeting her because she is a Muslim or because she has certain customs. She is entitled to respect, whatever her beliefs. He targeted her, from a position of power rather than challenge her belief. She would have felt more intimidated than offended (imo).

    When I eat in Mosques I cover my tattoos but if the same people can see them on the street I don’t give a shit if they are offended. That is because I have not given offense. They have taken it. I wear t-shirts informing people that “I blaspheme all gods except their god” and this has upset and annoyed several people which makes me very happy.


    One of the “rules” we have in Atheist Ireland is that “You have rights, your beliefs do not”.


    David Boots

    I strongly suspect that ‘he targetted her’ is not an accurate description. Remember that this is the view of the institution – we have not heard from him. As atheists we support evidence based reasoning spiced with a little skepticism.

    My own view point is that the University sided with he theocrat on the basis of expediency. Who would you rather deal with – a lone person who you can write off (and character assasinate) or the well funded and organised theocrats?

    But even if it is true – it simply doesnt matter.

    What does matter is the twin messages it sends. To muslims it says – regardless of other cultural norms you can do whatever you like with impunity. To non-muslims it says – be scared because we can take your job, your career and ruin your life if you do not oblige and submit to our culture.



    re: rights of belief

    Cheat sheet:

    The four rights (holding beliefs, expressing beliefs, acting on beliefs, imposing beliefs) are separate and are not interchangeable nor does having one right guarantee another right. One of these rights does not exist:

    • Right to hold a belief = unquestionable. No one can take that away from you.
    • Right to express a belief = as long as it doesn’t break any law (hate-speech, speech that incites to violence, speech that slanders someone, speech that commits perjury). This right does not protect you from paying a social cost for saying it (losing fiends, being openly critised, ridiculed, losing customers)
    • Right to act on belief = as long as it doesn’t break any law (actively being prejudiced, actively discriminating against someone, committing child abuse, committing violent acts). This right does not protect you from paying a social cost (losing fiends, being openly critised, ridiculed, losing customers)
    • Right to impose a belief on society = This is not a right. Despite some people believing so…it doesn’t exist. No one has a protected right to broadly impose their beliefs on those who don’t hold that belief.




    None of the above rights are equivalent. The first three are rights, the last one is not a right. Having the right to hold a belief does not guarantee you have the right to express it or act on it (especially if it breaks a law). Having a right to hold a belief does not mean you are protected from paying a social cost if you express it or act on it (losing friends, favor, customers). You never have the right to impose a belief.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by  Davis.

    Simon Paynton

    I just think that insulting someone’s religion can be like insulting their mother: for a lot of people, it’s not nothing.



    I just think that insulting someone’s religion can be like insulting their mother: for a lot of people, it’s not nothing.

    Yes. For sure. There is nothing virtuous about insulting a religion. However, it isn’t inherently wrong. The  “mother” example is relatable with religion in this sense:

    Someone’s mother is spouting racist nonsense and quite possibly is psychologically abusive towards her children

    Someone tells her son that his mother is “an abusive nasty bigot”.

    While it may not be virtuous to put things that way when describing his mother (there are less offensive ways to express this) it is not inherently wrong. There are cases where many would agree it is justified…perhaps even necessary. If people were prohibited from saying such things, freedom of speech would really just mean “protection of peoples feelings and radical application of slander laws” … which is no free speech at all when it comes to opinions. Insulting a religion which is racists and abusive is really no different. Expressing your take on their ideology may be mean but not inherently wrong. Yet laws in some countries protect the latter.

    In Russia, religion is given extreme special protection when it comes to the right of religious not to have their feelings hurt. While an orthodox christian can go around saying “gay men are an abomination and doomed to an eternity of suffering which they justly deserve”, we cannot respond saying “your religion is hateful and the justification of your beliefs comes from a ridiculous ancient book”. You can go to jail, and some people have, because of this. You  would think, this only applies in the cases where the language is hostile/agressive/nasty. This is not the case. Even expressing a tempered opinion “The homophobia found in the modern church is wrong and it is irrational to believe in a God” can still get you into trouble. The single sidedness of this law is so hypocritical it shines a light on how easily offended the religious can be, which also casts doubt on their own strength of belief…when police and courts must come involved when their precious beliefs are challenged (but a blind eye turned when they patently offend others). Someone who whole hardheartedly believes in pacifism and the protection of the marginalized (which is no more or less meaningful than the christian ideology) can withstand mean criticism, just as Marxist-communists withstand every day. Their beliefs are not as fragile. Yet some religious people cannot handle it. Just as when criticism of marxist ideology was prohibited by the government implementing (more than just a belief now but an imposed belief) it created a toxic society…you couldn’t give your opinion….so it is right now with religion in Russia. The church and Putin stand side by side and the church won’t accept some criticism.

    So insulting someone elses mother may be frowned upon, insulting someone’s ideology (communism or neo-capitalism or pacifism) is frowned upon…note there is no penalty for inisulting someone’s mother. However one class of ideologies/opinions are specially protected. Religious ones. The police and justice system are like kindergarten teachers….making sure that one group of people cannot say mean things to another group of people (skeptics towards believers)…while they can say what  they like (believers towards skeptics). Why?…because religion and stuff or something. As though religion is obviously an exceptional case (while other complex and sincerely and preciously held beliefs aren’t).


    Simon Paynton

    @davis – I feel it’s an interesting point that you make, that shows up a connection between culture and religion.  People within an entrenched culture don’t like insiders criticising that culture, because it rocks the boat.  Many cultures are very conservative, and when under threat from outside, just get more conservative.  When the culture wants to appear more macho, it seems like they often start bashing gays.


    Simon Paynton

    Also @davis I get your point about the difference between criticising and insulting.  The first is valid, necessary, and has to be done respectfully, without doing the second, but a lot of people conveniently don’t recognise the difference.

    I think that everyone thinks their own way of doing things is sacred – actually God-divined.  The extent of this depends on how conservative the culture is.



    I strongly suspect that ‘he targetted her’ is not an accurate description. Remember that this is the view of the institution – we have not heard from him. As atheists we support evidence based reasoning spiced with a little skepticism.

    You may be right. But is your strong suspicion based on evidence? The topic title “sensitive hands” leads me to suspect your mind was made up from the beginning to sell a euphemism and a biased perspective.

    Lets look at where this goes. If you can lose your job on the basis of ‘offending’ a religious person then we are all in big trouble indeed. There is no end to what causes offence to a theocrat.

    I think you have a good point here. I just don’t there’s evidence of a big fire to put out, here.


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