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The famously conservative Indonesian information minister, Tifatul Sembiring, has taken to Twitter "to argue that America’s first lady, Michelle Obama, was entirely to blame for a televised handshake between the two that has left him open to charges of hypocrisy." The Obamas are in Indonesia today as part of a high-profile tour of Asia.

Sembiring, who loves to flaunt his strict observance of conservative Islamic practices, normally refrains from any physical contact with women to whom he is not related. But Michelle Obama didn't seem to know that when she reached for the minister's hand, and that's when the trouble began.

Once the wait for President Barack Obama's return was over, Indonesian anticipation turned to another question: Would a conservative Muslim government minister shake the first lady's hand?

He says he did, but not by choice. Footage on YouTube shows otherwise, sparking a debate that has lit up Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the blogosphere.

Sembiring, apparently scandalized or at least embarrassed, defended his honor on Twitter:

Sdh ditahan 2 tangan, eh bu michele nya nyodorin tangannya maju banget...kena deh. @unilubis jadi tersungging..☺less than a minute ago via ÜberTwitter

The New York Times' always-helpful Robert Mackey translates: "I tried to prevent [being touched] with my hands but Mrs. Michelle held her hands too far toward me [so] we touched." Mackey posts video evidence (below) and reports this interesting bit of Indonesian media drama:

That led Uni Lubis, a woman who is news editor of Indonesia’s ANTV, to suggest that perhaps a slow-motion video analysis of the handshake was needed, to reveal some hesitation not visible to the naked eye.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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