Friday, June 29, 2007

The value of a handshake

In my first real job, way back in the early 80s, my mentor taught me how to shake hands. I was a causal and undisciplined person in those days. I thought learning the art of the handshake absurd. 25 years later, it remains a valuable life lesson. My mentor was a wise man. he knew that the handshake was an important first step in developing business and personal relationships.

As I traveled abroad, I have learned the customers of other cultures. Many cultures use the western style handshake as a courtesy when doing business with Americans. I have grown used to the "dead fish" handshake of my Asian friends. I no longer offer my usual bone crusher.

A few years ago when I was working in France. I met a Muslim man from North Africa. We became friends. When I was invited to his home, I met his wife. As I extended my hand in greeting, he stepped between us while politely saying it was improper for a man to touch a woman in his culture. I remember thinking it odd that I was in the cradle of western culture, yet some ancient religious ownership game was taking precedent over a simple gesture of kindness. I thought it absurd then, and even more so now.

Mohammad Khatami, an Iranian Cleric and former president of Iran, was filmed shaking hands with uncovered women in Italy. The uproar and subsequent machinations are astounding. Iranians think the whole thing is a CIA plot.

The Iranian hardline daily “Kayhan”, run by Mr. Hoseyn Shari’atmadari, a high-ranking intelligence officer specializing in the interrogation of political and intellectual dissidents who is a senior advisor to Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, the leader of the Islamic Republic, suggested Khatami, had allowed himself to fall prey of a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) trap.

Say what? Khatami was simply pressing flesh and kissing babies, just like any other political figure in the western world. CIA? how absurd! My guess is that his sin was calculated to send a message inside Iran.

Laws against touching women, even if only forbidding the shaking of hands, exist  to suppress and marginalize women. When women are kept veiled behind the doors of their homes, they loose their voice in society. Theocracy is to blame. Iran is an Islamic Theocracy. Laws requiring the wearing of the veil and forbidding the touching of women trump human rights, especially when all a cleric need do is thump his Koran to get his way. It is a sad state of affairs made all the more absurd by Iranian conspiracy theories.


aidan said...

You make a number of excellent points in your post. I was reading an article in Der Spiegel a while ago about a female German politician who had occasion to make a diplomatic trip to Teheran. She was a fully accredited member of a German delegation and one would assume due the respect that comes with that position. Yet she also mentioned the refusal of men to shake her hand and also a refusal to make eye contact when she spoke to them. In one instance she was speaking with a prominent cleric and he resolutely refused to look at her. This is basically a way to diminish the woman's value and it also strips her of status. Nothing like the old ignore routine to remind you of your insignificance.

Iranian attempts to control women extended recently to a crackdown on dress styles and hairdos. Cops had the authority to stop a women in the street and hassle or charge them as the case may be, if they deemed their style to be 'unIslamic'.

Their embassies abroad also attempt to export their brand of religious fascism. This month the Bangkok Film Festival was pressured by Iranian embassy officials to withdraw an animated film named Persepolis. This cartoon based story explores the life of a middle class family during the Islamic revolution and is not overtly defamatory or abusive in any way. It's a tale based on the historical evidences. While the Iranian middle classes were relieved to see the shah gone, they were horrified by the emergence of a clerical dictatorship.

The film won a jury award at Cannes and has been widely praised by film critics. Anyway the director of the Bangkok festival agreed to pull the movie after being leaned on by the Iranians. Needless to say they cited "Islamophobia" as a reason for wanting the movie pulled - although there is no knowing if threats were also made. The director referred cryptically to "other considerations" when explaining his decision to withdraw the movie.

I know Hitchens and others have been slammed in some quarters for using the neologism "Islamofascist" - but it certainly applies when you look closely at some of the reports that come out of that country.

Mojoey said...

Aidan - the whole situation seems wrong. Universal Human rights apply to us all, not just the men who happen to be in power.

Anonymous said...

Don't make such a big deal out of a cultural difference. It's their way of respecting the other gender. You wouldn't understand, but in our culture it makes sense. And it goes both ways, men get the same treatment - so it has nothing to do with oppression of women.