Should Europe be “Western” or “pluralistic”?

In the Netherlands there currently is much debate around Nacer Barazite, a professional football player from Morocco, who, having conceded an interview to a female sports reporter, refused to shake hands with her because she is a woman.

We would like to stress that it has not been reported that Barazite was unfriendly or impolite during the interview. He simply refused to shake hands. Allegedly, Mr. Barazite’s football club, Utrecht FC, had briefed all reporters at the beginning of this season that two of its players, among them Mr. Barazite, are “devout Muslims” who “for religious reasons” refuse to shake hands with women. The interviewer must have forgotten this.

Not being expert interprets of the Qu’ran, we were unable to ascertain where it says that men must not shake hands with women. Nor do we know whether that kind of interpretation of the Qu’ran is mainstream or eccentric.

This case once more highlights the dilemma of Western societies striving to be “pluralistic”. If we really want to take pluralism seriously, then we must accept that some people living among us adhere and practise beliefs that can seem rather eccentric – even if those beliefs appear to imply the superiority of one sex over the other.

But the question is: do we really want to be so pluralistic after all? Is shaking hands really a mere cultural issue, i.e. a matter of customary politeness – or is the refusal to shake hands with a woman not betraying a world-view that we should worry about?