A Hand for Tifatul

Gde Dwitya Arief | CRCS, Batch | Article

This article analyses the event in which our Communication minister Tifatul Sembiring greeted first lady Michelle Obama in Jakarta. As a conservative Muslim, Tifatul has made a big point of declaring he will not touch any member of the opposite sex who is neither his wife nor part of his family. However, when the US first lady, Michelle Obama, warmly extended her hand to greet him at a state function in Jakarta last week, he responded eagerly by reaching out and taking her hand. Sharp-tongued Indonesian Facebookers and tweeters criticized him as being hypocritical.

This article argues that greeting in a global social encounter is truly a delicate business. Tifatul, being a muslim and a statesman in a modern world, cannot help but acting in a modern way to respond to Michelle Obama.

Clifford Geertz, a prominent anthropologist who did extensive work involving Javanese Islam, once said that religion provides moods and motivations to human disposition. Religion is apparently not the only power that directs, for instance, how people shake hands. Talal Asad, another influential anthropologist, followed up on Geertz’s reasoning by pointing out the various powers that shape individual disposition. Tifatul’s encounter with Michelle Obama was hardly a religious one and certainly not in a religious situation.

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