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Germany

The Iranian-German Diplomatic 'High-Five' That Shook The World

DIE WELT (Germany) AL ARABIYA (U.A.E)

Worldcrunch

BERLIN - Call it the, "high-five heard "round the world." The simple sporty gesture, exchanged between German Parliament Member Claudia Roth and Alireza Sheikhattar, the Iranian Ambassador to Germany, has set off a wave of controversy.

Through a spokeswoman, Roth, co-chair of Germany's Green Party, said she reacted out of politeness to Sheikhattar's raised hand during a pause at the Munich Security Conference earlier this month. But now that a video has emerged of the exchange, both are in hot water over the greeting. According to the Arab news channel Al Arabiya, critics in Iran are accusing Sheikhattar of having offended the laws of Islam for having touched the hand of a woman, Germany's Die Welt reports.

A spokesman for Ambassador Sheikhattar said that the gesture was “a mistake” – the Ambassador had intended to give Roth a friendly wave and was then “taken totally by surprise by her gesture.”

Devout Muslims never shake a woman’s hand, although the Koran does not expressly forbid men and women from doing so. Right after the incident, an embassy spokesman said: "In principle, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ambassador never shakes a woman’s hand, nor has Ambassador Sheikhattar ever shaken Ms Roth’s hand before."

Video of the encounter shows the beaming 60-year-old ambassador not only holding out his hand but accepting Roth’s gesture without discernible irritation.

But the German politician is also facing criticism from her own supporters, Die Welt reports. Roth had explained the gesture by saying she'd been in contact with the ambassador by letter to ask if his government would allow Iranian film director Jafar Panahi to travel to the Berlinale film festival. However, on Internet forum some have accused her of shaking the hand of a “mass murderer” – a reference to Ambassador Sheikhattar’s alleged human rights abuses when he was governor of Iran’s Kurdish areas in the early 1980s.

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Ideas

Calmez-Vous, Americans: It's Quite OK To Call Us "The French"

A widely mocked tweet by the Associated Press tells its reporters to avoid dehumanizing labels such as "the poor" or "the French". But one French writer replies that the real dehumanizing threat is when open conversation becomes impossible.

Parisians sitting on a café terrasse.

Parisians sitting on a café terrasse.

Dirk Broddin on Flickr
Gaspard Koenig

-Essay-

PARIS — The largest U.S. news agency, the Associated Press (AP) tweeted a series of recommendations aimed at journalists: “We recommend avoiding general and often dehumanizing 'the' labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college-educated. Instead use, wording such as people with mental illnesses.”

The inclusion of “The French” in this list of groups likely to be offended has evoked well-deserved sarcasm. It finally gives me the opportunity to be part of a minority and to confirm at my own expense, while staying true to John Stuart Mill's conception of free speech: that offense is not a crime.

Offense should prompt quips, denial, mockery, and sometimes indifference. It engages conflict in the place where a civilized society accepts and cultivates it: in language.

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