Thursday 24 January 2008

A simple handshake

[From Wikipedia]

A handshake is a short ritual in which two people grasp each other's right or left hands, often accompanied by a brief up and down movement of the grasped hands. Its origins are unclear, although Philip A. Busterson's seminal 1978 work 'Social Rituals of the British' traces its roots back to Sir Walter Raleigh, claiming he introduced the custom into the British Court during the late 16th Century.

The handshake is initiated when the two hands touch, immediately. It is commonly done upon meeting, greeting, parting, offering congratulations, or completing an agreement. Its purpose is to convey trust, balance, and equality. Handshakes possibly originated as a gesture showing that the hand holds no weapon.

In Anglophone countries, shaking hands is considered the standard greeting in business situations. In casual non-business situations, men are more likely to shake hands than women. It is considered to be in poor taste to show dominance with too strong a handshake; conversely, too weak a handshake (sometimes referred to as a "limp fish" or "dead fish" handshake) is also considered unseemly due to people perceiving it as a sign of weakness.

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Generally it is considered inappropriate, if not offensive to the initiator side, to reject a handshake.

Yesterday (24 January 2008) the media was full of images of Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis shaking the hand of his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

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Anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of the history of those two countries would understand the significance of the act, and of the visibility of the act. It brought back memories of the famous White House handshake between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on 13 September 1993:

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This famous first handshake was followed in 2001 by another between Arafat and the then Prime Minister of Israel, Shimon Peres:

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Again, the history of enmity between Israel and the Palestinians dwarfs anything that Northern Ireland can offer.

So why does the First Minister of Northern Ireland refuse, both publicly and privately, to shake the hand of the Deputy First Minister? The conflict/war/troubles is over, the IRA has declared and maintained a ceasefire, and destroyed its weapons, there is an internationally recognised Agreement between the two governments and the Northern Irish parties, and Paisley and his party are voluntarily participating in all of the institutions established by the agreement.

And yet, despite co-operating with Martin McGuinness in the government of Northern Ireland, despite giving tacit support to the notions of reconciliation and rebuilding, and despite calling himself a Christian, Ian Paisley consistently refuses to carry out the one simple act of shaking Martin McGuinness's hand. His refusal to do something so simple, yet so symbolic, speaks volumes about his commitment to peace, to reconciliation, even to Christianity. It is a disgrace and utterly indefensible.

"We could shake hands 24 hours a day, but if we don't get this province of ours into a ship-shape economic condition what good's the handshaking?" asked Paisley in May 2007. The answer is simple, Mr Paisley – the 'good' of the handshake lies in the simple symbolism of trust and co-operation than it encapsulates. A simple short meeting of hands will take years off the period needed for some of your supporters to come to terms with the new realities of Northern Ireland. As such, it will add immeasurably to the process of getting Northern Ireland 'into a ship-shape condition'. Your refusal to do it calls into question whether you really want Northern Ireland to enjoy a peaceful and prosperous future, or whether your main motivation is simply hatred.

1 comment:

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