Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Sometimes when we touch, the dishonesty's too much 

It is nice to see a politician from another country have to spin the truth regarding greeting issues with an important international visitor:
A conservative Muslim government minister admits he shook hands with first lady Michelle Obama in welcoming her to Indonesia but says it wasn't his choice.

Footage on YouTube shows otherwise, sparking a debate that has lit up Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the blogosphere.

"I tried to prevent (being touched) with my hands but Mrs. Michelle held her hands too far toward me (so) we touched," Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring told tens of thousands of followers on Twitter.

While Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, the vast majority practice a moderate form of the faith. But Sembiring has flaunted his conservatism and says he avoids contact with women who are not related to him.
Somehow, this doesn't quite ring true to me, since, based on my experiences while a student at Princeton (where the First Lady was Class of '85) three decades ago, it would be extremely unusual for a female undergrad to initiate physical contact, unwanted or otherwise. There could well be a certain degree of receptivity, but the women were too smart and polite to, er, force themselves onto an unsuspecting and naive or pious man.

So, let's go to the video tape.

Mr. Sembiring has such a nice smile, it is hard to believe he is engaging in this diplomatic activity with great reluctance. Maybe he was just intimidated by the height mismatch, like a point guard trying to post up a power forward.

I obviously come from a different culture than Mr. Sembiring, but I have found that embracing contact with women who are not related to me has been a worthwhile experience.

I believe that Mr. Sembiring did the normal thing that politicians do in a receiving line, and then decided he should back and fill a bit to placate his base. The First Lady is caught up in a tempest in a teapot for which she bears no responsibility.

What would Dan Hill say?


By Blogger Neil Sinhababu, at Wed Nov 10, 01:46:00 AM:

Your comment re: your college experience substantially enriched this post.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Wed Nov 10, 07:09:00 AM:

Without making any snarky comments on how Mrs. Obama is likely VERY familiar with Muslim culture, I actually will give her credit for acting like a western woman and offering her hand, rather than curtly bowing because the Muslim minister would otherwise take offense at having to touch a woman.

I have always wondered why it is always the American who is expected to bend his or her cultural idioms to favor a foreign guest.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 10, 07:44:00 AM:

I have always wondered why it is always the American who is expected to bend his or her cultural idioms to favor a foreign guest.

Um....when you travelling outside the United States you are the the foreign guest and rules of diplomatic protocol--also known as international courtesy--apply.  

By Blogger Progressively Defensive, at Wed Nov 10, 11:05:00 AM:

To paraphrase Samuel Alito, "one is shocked when arriving to find out how many dirtbags are at Princeton." Princeton is persuasively stated the finest college on earth, but it, like Harvard, Yale (witness the recent anal-sex chanting thorught the girls dorm by a Yale fraternity), and any place imperfectly selective has very sleazy people attending. I do not speak of Ms. Obama in particular, but make that point which should be obvious. Maybe you did not meet them or if you did, they pretended to be exclusively well-mannered so as to appear so to you.

The handshake was either a misunderstanding or an assertive feminist gesture (which I think is fine; the Muslim could have politely demurred explaining his faith's prohibition).

But Ms. Obama has a problem of some kind. She full-on hugged Queen Elizabeth in what I'd consider a rude manner if it were ... well anyone other than a family member whom such contact was a well-established and welcome tradition built over decades. Ms. Obama knew as well as anyone that the royal family is not touched at all. And I don't think it's snobbery actually, but an insistence that their personal space is respected (as anyone's ought to be). I note, I don't think the royal family touch other people either. Anyway, Ms. Obama I think has some grudge or something where she believes she ought to be able to hug or touch others; I wonder how she'd feel if some creepy old hobo stinking of booze and drooling hugged her. (I don't compare Ms. Obama to a hobo, but point out that touching strangers is something generally to be avoided and presumed rude.)

To quote John Wayne in The Shootist, "I don't lay hands on others and I won't have them lay their hands on me."  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Wed Nov 10, 06:38:00 PM:

"when you travelling outside the United States you are the the foreign guest"

According to that logic, she should have been in a burka.

Nor does it explain all of the bowing and scraping that occurs in Washington.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 13, 10:10:00 AM:

Maybe it's just me, but Dan Hill looks like one of the GEICO cavemen.

Not that there's anything wrong with that...  

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