This much of the most over-the-top, obsequious outreach effort in memory didn’t quite go as planned: As James Thurber once observed: “You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward.”
Video of the offending handshake is available at the link to the article, and shows Sembiring wasn’t exactly running away in terror. But the event, and the very fact that it became so noteworthy within Indonesia, is revealing on many levels. “First lady’s handshake with conservative Muslim raises Indonesian eyebrow,” by Brett Michael Dykes for The Upshot, November 9:
Indonesia’s pious information minister, Tifatul Sembiring, is in hot water for touching the hand of First Lady Michelle Obama, in what he describes as forced contact. The politician flaunts his conservatism as a Muslim and claims to avoid touching women who aren’t family members, the Associated Press reports.
Indonesia — which has the world’s largest Islamic population, the vast majority moderate — had been debating how to handle encounters between the first lady and observant Muslim officials far in advance of the Obamas’ arrival in the country Monday.
C’mon, guys! Everybody look moderate!
Sembiring sought to deflect criticism by claiming Tuesday’s skin-to-skin contact was all Michelle Obama’s fault. “I tried to prevent [being touched] with my hands but Mrs. Michelle held her hands too far toward me [so] we touched,” Tifatul Sembiring explained on his Twitter page (according to a translation provided in the AP report).
Some local observers laughed at that idea, and one female reporter gleefully said he wouldn’t be able to avoid shaking her hand anymore, AP reported.
Video of the moment does seem to contradict Sembiring’s characterization of the encounter — but you be the judge. […]
Sembiring was part of a group of Indonesian dignitaries who greeted the Obamas in a receiving line when they arrived in Jakarta.
Most Indonesian Muslims hew to more moderate versions of the faith that permit casual contact between the sexes. As a result, some Indonesians have assailed Sembiring’s rationale for the handshake, suggesting that it’s an example of conservative Muslim hypocrisy to excuse the sort of conduct that he readily castigates in others. The minister has blamed natural disasters on moral failings and has joked about AIDS, the Associated Press reports….