Now I may be no big city blogger, but seems to me it’s the same problem cousin Ricky ran into when romancing the ghost of Dame Judith Haltsy, Roy Haltsy’s widow. No one denied it was a big problem:
They existed in different times.
Much like this whole Ancient Islam vs 2018 thing, cousin Ricky and Dame Judy found the gulf of difference between their eras a defining challenge. But where Ricky eventually conceded defeat in the face of the fact he was wooing a heart that last beat when kids today were babies, the fate of our current gulf remains to be succeeded.
This inability or refusal to transcend time may indeed be the central characteristic, the core vital distillation of all pure essential differences between these two warring cultures, you don’t know. And the solution may turn out to be the seed of change that grows into a real life that tree from Avatar. Treena I think was her name, except for real this time, it’s that big. Because what we’re talking about here is an introduction, across not only cultures…but across time.
What we in the business call No Easy Task.
When you think about all of history, as you are doing right now, first contact is and has always usually been… a greeting. That remains as true today as ever. It’s as true in the nation of Islam as it is in the land of West, the land of the East, the lands to the South, the North, the South-southwest, magnetic Northeast, you get the idea. Throw some Inuit into it, and isolated jungle islanders who still think it’s WW2, and include everyone else ever from the Bonobo to Piltdown man, they all do it exactly the same — maybe not “Hoy!” or “Yo Tappy!”, but Mmhmm and some form of Hello for sure, even if it’s a headbonk. Then, hopefully, if it’s around me, a round of drinks and a bluegrass serenade, or at least lunch on a boat and a ride on a zipline, that’s how we do it in the New World. Everyone wears something striped. Who brought the miniature Doberman? Wait till you see the view. Is that Renee Zellwegger? We arrive in a car we can stand up in.
If I’m constructing sentences like that last one you know it must be true. And I’m exaggerating for almost everyone here–but for one in a hundred it’s like that and more. That Tappy guy maybe. Yet for him as for everyone, spanning all levels and avenues and strata of Western culture, be you the 99 or the 1, some tremendous happenings have been known to follow that probably-most-traditional-these-days Western greeting : the handshake.
But although a reliable favorite since at least the hand slappin’ ’20s begat it, the sad truth is that this classic seems on its way out, what with Purell’s aggressive market dominance and all… but for the sake of this essay and world peace let us assume the ol handshake still has plenty of shakes left to hand, in this world it helped so much create. In fact look, there it is now, lively enough to find itself here at The Bye Bye Club on Greeting Meet and Greet Tuesday. Here I am introducing it to Salaam, a traditional Muslim greeting many centuries older. One hand reaches out while the others touch a forehead; there is some predictably hilarious fumbling as they discover themselves physically incompatible, until both give up and walk away.
I hope the point of this little scene wasn’t lost on you. Our differences won’t be solved by passing in the night, as it were, see. At night in the sea, as it were, passing—no. There must first be a contact that sets the flavor of the relationship, a context for anything else, a connection that can be repeated infinite times between a never-ending succession of individuals. The challenge is the gulf of time between these salutes of recognition. It’s like my cousin Ricky, did I tell you about him? If he couldn’t connect with Dame Judy over mere years, what then of centuries? The present is where it’s at – it’s all there ever is, after all. And not to be rude but sometimes, Islam, you kind of seem to want things to remain in the past. Like you want everything to just stay stalled there or something. I’m not the first one to tell you this. And it can sorta make you kinda hard to communicate with sometimes, like there’s this gulf of time, and you’re like refusing to admit the arrow goes forward and stuff whether we like it or not.
We need a way to make contact across our span, one on one on one level. If there was a meme to ask me what I think most symbolizes the profound time difference between Islam and now here on the other side, I would nominate their greetings, Salaam and the handshake. (legal note: source back animation studio requests to here now for the origin of “Salaam And The Handshake”).
While it’s true a form of handshake has long existed in the Arabic Middle East, that version is a soft, almost limp affair; a firm grip can be considered rude. Perhaps this custom, the origins of which are obscured in shrouds of a deep, little-known past, is due for a little modernizing, much like all things evolve and progress.
The idea is this: imagine the West, in this year two thousand and whatever, extending a hand back through time. No I’m not talking about an awesome van, nor an intimidating alternative hand, draped in rings and spiderweb tattoos. It’s just a good ol apple pie put’er there searching for a shake. It spots some hands on the other side. The hands notice. They Salaam. They pause, then hesitate…the handshake remains outstretched. Tension twangs. The hands know it’s a big deal, for several reasons. The biggest one causes them to ask himself: If it was a Salaam instead, would he be taking the hand, figuratively? The answer in that moment causes him to admit he would, and in fact just had.
With these fresh eyes, he saw not a hand but a palm, welcoming him toward the future. All he needed to do was accept the present as the one true time, adopt its greeting as his own. Yes, it was a concession, and concessions were honor… but only a concession to reality. Seeking truth was surely bigger than relinquishing a learned wish. And anyway, does not the form of the greeting approach insignificance next to its intention and meaning?
Somehow, that made it seem different.
Here be hoping, anyway. Or I just wrote all that shit for nothing.