Things are slightly better today. We won the fourth one-dayer (cricket) against England yesterday! It was a really exciting game. Ross Taylor was amazing – back to his best. His outstanding performance makes him every Kiwi cricket fan’s hero today. I’ve put several tweets on his feat in the “Sports Tweets” below. So there’s a veneer of happiness in my life for a little while.

Not everything is coming up roses in New Zealand though. This morning, there was a story in the New Zealand Herald: ‘University of Auckland staff member fired for trying to shake hands with Muslim student‘.

This is the full text of the article:

A University of Auckland senior staff member has been fired after trying to shake hands with a female Muslim student.

The ousted staff member then filed a complaint of sexual discrimination against her after she refused to shake his hand.

A newsletter from vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon directed to all university staff said the academic had tried to shake her hand with the knowledge that it would be inappropriate.

“He did this knowing that she would consider it culturally or religiously inappropriate to have physical contact with a man who was not a close relative,” the statement read.

“When she declined to shake his hand, he made a complaint of sexual discrimination against her.”

A formal investigation had established his behaviour had amounted to “serious misconduct”.

McCutcheon said he had delayed advising staff of what happened in a bid to protect the privacy of the people involved.

“However, I believe it is important for all members of our community to understand that such behaviours have no place in the University and that if they do occur I will not hesitate to authorise appropriate investigatory and disciplinary procedures.”

I hope the staff member takes this issue to the Employment Tribunal. It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on here, but to me it seems that losing your job in this situation is an over-reaction. I smell outside pressure on the university.

In New Zealand it’s against the law to discriminate on the basis of religion, and it can be argued that is what the staff member who lost his job was doing. There’s no doubt he was wrong to try and force this student to shake his hand. But I think there’s more to it.

Although many think of New Zealand as the most secular country in the world, that secularism isn’t formally backed up in the law. We don’t have a constitution, there is no legal separation of church and state, religious institutions don’t pay taxes, most religious schools get state funding, there’s religious instruction in state schools, and we even still have a blasphemy law. Therefore, situations like this can occur and there’s little or no protection when they do.

Many, perhaps most, New Zealanders would say that the staff member shouldn’t have made a sexual discrimination complaint. Whether or not they agree with the staff member, it’s more about not rocking the boat. New Zealanders aren’t litigious. We tend NOT to make a stand. We’re a small country and our strength is in working together – playing as a team.

We have two people – a male senior staff member and a female devout Muslim student. We know nothing more about them. All we know about the situation is that the staff member offered his hand to the student to shake and she refused because he’s not mahram (a close male family member).

There is actually nothing in Islam that forbids men and women shaking hands whether related or not. From Islam Online:

…if we investigate the sahih (sound) Hadiths that are narrated from the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), we will conclude that the mere touching of hands between a man and a woman without desire or fear of temptation is not prohibited

The problem, as so often, is only if the the two people aren’t so old as to be sexually undesirable. But that’s not really relevant. As with all religions, different sects interpret scripture differently, and this women believes she shouldn’t shake hands with a non-mahram man.

And besides, no one should have to shake another person’s hand if they don’t want to, and they shouldn’t have to give a reason. (Though is seems clear that in this situation the reason was her religious beliefs.)

It sounds to me as if (and from comments on the NZARH Facebook website others agree) the staff member is a bit of an a$$hole who is known for being difficult. However, should that matter? You shouldn’t lose your job for being an a$$hole. If the behaviour is repeated and ongoing, and you’ve had written warnings to change, that would be different, but the report in the Herald indicates only one situation.

Another possible scenario that comes to mind (and I’m not the only one who’s thought of this one either) is that the student is an overseas student. One of New Zealand’s fastest growing export earners is education, and one of the fastest growing markets within that is Saudi Arabia. The university may be going out of its way not to upset Saudi authorities.

There is precedent for this supposition. Last year, six Saudi students were allowed to pass a tertiary electrical course at Unitec (also in Auckland) despite it being proven they were cheating. They apparently submitted exactly similar written answers to exam questions, but were unable to answer the same questions verbally. It appears there may have been pressure from Saudi authorities to allow the students to pass. The lecturer resigned in protest.

Here’s what the New Zealand Herald had to say at the time:

Six Saudi Arabian students at Unitec have been allowed to pass an electrical course despite cheating in their final exam.

The students submitted almost identical answers to half of the questions in the exam, but could not answer one of the questions verbally after their cheating was discovered.

Four of the students included a marker’s comment from an earlier exam paper in their answer.

Their lecturer has resigned from Unitec in protest, saying the institution “places Saudi Arabian money ahead of the health and wellbeing of its staff”.

She said the seven Saudi students in her Level 4 course, which is a pre-requisite for an electrical engineering degree, “are worth $500,000 to Unitec over the next three years”.

About 100 of the 615 Saudis on student visas in New Zealand on April 1 were at Unitec.

Two officials from the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Auckland attended a meeting on December 9 [2016] when Unitec’s then engineering department head David Nummy started an investigation into the case.

But Unitec rejected the lecturer’s claim that it refused to fail the students because it would have lost income from their fees. It said the decision to let the students pass the course was “in line with responses to previous instances of misconduct”.

“Unfortunately academic misconduct in assessment events is not uncommon,” Nummy wrote to the lecturer on January 30 [2017].

Whether or not the student’s reason for refusing to shake the staff member’s hand were because of her religion, she shouldn’t have had to do it. No one should have to touch anyone else if they don’t want to. However, to sack somebody for complaining about it is not a reasonable reaction. I suspect pressure from Saudi authorities on the university, and if that’s the case, it’s not acceptable.

 

Political Tweets

Most of you already know about this, but Vox has a great way of explaining things clearly and concisely. Also, many who don’t want to read articles about such things will watch a short video.

 

This is a great graphic of the 2016 presidential election. Instead of counties, it shows actual votes.
(Via Ann German.)

 

Everything you never wanted to know about the Trump family history.

 

Trump, of course, is ignoring this.

 

I’m not the only one who opposes Trump’s tariffs! 107 House Republicans are with me!

 

Pre-Mueller Time Tweets

This article is really long. I listened to the audio, which is easier than reading but takes even longer. However, it’s an excellent profile of Christopher Steele (of Steele dossier fame) and the events surrounding him. If you’re interested in this topic, you won’t regret taking the time to read or listen to this article. (Via Ann German.)

 

Naughty boy!

 

Another naughty boy …

Human Rights Tweets

A good analysis of the anti-Semitism in the leadership of the Women’s March by Egberto Willies.

 

WTF is Wrong with the World?

This new section was going to be called “WTF is Wrong with the USA,” but to be fair, the rest of us do unbelievable stuff too. However, the first entrant is from the USA – southern USA of course.

Whoever thought that a lynching was an appropriate theme for an elementary school gymnasium? And apparently because of “southern heritage” there’s a lot of vitriol from the majority who want to keep it!
(Via Ann German.)

 

Weather Tweets

Vanuatu is already suffering under this. Something to look out for next week fellow Kiwis!

 

Space Tweets

We’re going to get even more amazing pics of space!

 

Sports Tweets

Celebrating Ross Taylor!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lego Tweets

A couple of projects Lego fans are trying to get Lego to take on. I’ll be including more of these in future.

 

 

Funny Tweets

Oh dear! (NSFW!)

 

Betty Bowers: brilliant as always …

 

Scenic Tweets

Beautiful city. Another place I’ve never been and want to go to.

 

Freshwater Tweets

This tweet is mainly about garden ponds, but there’s other stuff too such as grass snakes.

 

Marine Tweets

This is a disgrace!
(Via Ann German.)

 

Trigger Warning: Animal Predation

Octopuses are cool. But so are seals. And it’s a cool pic.

 

Creepy-Crawlies Tweets

A lovely mosquito?

 

Other Animals Tweets

It was signaled, and now it’s happened. Trophy hunters can now bring their tusks etc back to the US from Africa on a “case by case basis.” I don’t know what “case by case basis” means. Perhaps a donation to the re-elect Donald Trump campaign fund?

 

This is a b£oody huge sheep! We don’t get them like this in New Zealand, and we have millions – they outnumber people about 7-1. (It was more like 20-1 when I was a kid) Clever too!

 

More hedgehog cuteness. Note to blokes: just because it’s cute when a hedgehog does it, doesn’t mean it’s cute when you do it!

 

I give you the numbat!

 

Bird Tweets

That’s one smart bird!

 

Fascinating video of a vet repairing the wing of an injured owl.

 

There’s been an operation on the Antipodes Islands south of New Zealand to rid them of mice. The Department of Conservation recently returned to check on its success …

 

Dog Tweets

If this doesn’t make you go Awww, you’re completely heartless!

 

Cute pup.

 

Cat Tweets

And the cat lay down with the dog …

 

It keeps happening! The End of the World is nigh!

 

Kitty grows up. Isn’t this lovely?!

 

I hope it doesn’t have to wear that in front of other cats!

 

I want to snuggle it!


 

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