Apparently Obama’s visit to Indonesia was the highlight of the week for the media and the new media (ie. facebook, twitter and youtube). Since I’m not in the country, access to these new media outlets are the ones that are connecting me to the current affairs in Indonesia.
Of course, Obama’s visit was filling my twitter timeline, which was sad in one way because it really overshadowed the coverage of the Merapi Volcano and Mentawai Tsunami disasters on the news – which I believe still need and should always be monitored.
That aside, surprisingly what had the most attention in Obama’s visit was not the substance of his visit and the outcomes that arrives from it, but it was Tifatul Sembiring’s handshake to Michelle Obama (see video above).
For most conservative Muslims, if you are not a relative of the man, the woman are not allowed to touch the man. I often experience this if I get acquainted with a conservative Muslim men that I meet, and if I try to shake hands with them, usually they put their palms together and politely declined.
I believe people have the right to be entitled to their principles, and if not shaking your hand with a stranger is what you believe in, its alright. However, the outrage on Mr. Sembiring’s handshake was not the handshake per se, but his immediate remarks afterwards:
I tried to prevent being touched with my hands but Mrs. Michelle held her hands too far toward me so we touched.
If you’ve watched the video before reading this post, clearly he put his hands towards her rather than the opposite. Soon after, his hypocritical behavior was heavily criticized on facebook and twitter. It is ironic that Mr. Sembiring, as the Information and Communication Minister, is unaware of the power of this new media that he is trying so hard to curb.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but as an Information and Communication Minister, he does have the power to control which information that the government wants to convey, by controlling the very access to media and access to information that the government holds control of. This is why most authoritarian governments have a very powerful information and communication ministry or a similar one to that, as a tool to control the society. We’ve experienced this before during Suharto and his information minister then, Harmoko.
Now, in the age of web 2.0., apparently Harmoko 2.0 (Tifatul) can’t keep up with the development of the new media itself. He tried so hard to push for anti-pornography law in Indonesia (which in my opinion is also ridiculous) yet he can’t even control his own tweets, his own thoughts, which only led to his self-embarrassment and personal mockery such as this. He could’ve at least hired a PR to control his twitter account, following the last incident he made joking about how HIV/AIDS patients are mostly caused by homosexuality and it was due to the inappropriate use of their private parts.
Oh and Mr. Colbert, Indonesians don’t bang coconuts on our logs as a means of communication. However, if we still have Mr. Sembiring as our minister, we might as well bang these coconuts to his head just to make sure that he’s doing his job correctly. I wish SBY would reshuffle him, or better yet dispose him because he sure is a liability to the cabinet.