Muslim politicians in Southeast Asia appear to have a new technique to flout their pious credentials: refuse to shake hands with anyone from the opposite gender.
Indonesia's information minister famously made that vow -- only to break it in November when, during a highly anticipated visit from Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle extended her hand on live television. The minister accepted the handshake and instantly took on torrents of abuse from Tweeting Indonesians. (Many weren't opposed to male-female handshaking. They were just reveling in his hypocrisy.) He later insisted the handshake was "forced."
This week, in neighboring Malaysia, a female politician is the focus of a similar controversy.
Normala Sudirman, a candidate with a conservative Islamic party, has made the same vow. In a majority Muslim country, why is this a big deal? Because rival politicians from a race-based Chinese-Malay party says she's promoting an oppressive Islamization of the country. Modern Malays, her opponents argue, are "baffled" by her vow.
Devout Muslims insist that any contact between unrelated people of the opposite sex should be forbidden. Kissing babies, the other campaign trail staple, is totally acceptable.