Under mounting public scrutiny, Indonesian Information and Communications Minister Tifatul Sembiring has defended his decision to shake hands with US First Lady Michele Obama, a move that apparently contradicted his religious stance on touching women.
Tifatul, a conservative Muslim who has made several controversial remarks including on HIV/AIDS and sexuality, on Wednesday insisted that he would not touch (including to shake hands with) any woman who he was not directly related to, and that he was caught off-guard in the recent meeting with the First Lady.
Footage on YouTube displaying Tifatul shaking hands with Michelle has incited a debate that has lit up social networking sites including Facebook, Twitter and many local blogs.
Below are several excerpts of statements Tifatul made in response, via his Twitter account.
“Regarding the handshake with Mrs. Michele Obama, I emphasize that:
- My stance is not to shake hands with any woman who I am not directly related to.
- However, there are times when I have been caught off-guard or I have had to meet people who were not aware of my stance, especially during state events or as happened sometimes when after Koran recital gatherings when female participants rushed to shake hands with me.
- Under such circumstances, touching and handshakes are inevitable. I understand such situations, but it doesn't change my initial stance.
- That's what happened when I met Mrs Michele Obama as state guest. I tried a bit to hold [US President Barack] Obama’s hand longer to say some words. Then, when Mrs. Michele came forward, I call this as an off-the-cuff situation, I used both hands, as the Sundanese people shake hands.
- As I said earlier, I tried to use both hands [and not to shake hands with Michele], but she held out her hands too far toward me, so we touched.”