The Handshake was belated but not historic
Yet do we really believe that if The Handshake had not happened this week the well-entrenched political dynamic in the North would have been altered by one iota?
“An important symbolic addition to the iconography of reconciliation on this island and between Ireland and Britain,” this paper’s leader suggested.
“Ho, hum,” as former editor Douglas Gageby used to say to express scepticism.
A trawl through websites offering a tour of great handshakes of our times leading up to Wednesday’s event (BBC, CNN, Real Clear Politics) came up with notably similar lists: Hitler-Chamberlain (1938); Stalin-Churchill-Truman (1945); Kennedy-Khrushchev (1961); Nixon-Mao (1972); Begin-Sadat (1978); De Klerk-Mandela (1990); Reagan-Gorbachev (1995); Rabin-Arafat (1991); Mugabe-Tsvangirai (2008).
It’s difficult to argue with the “historic” status of any of them, except perhaps the last whose promise has hardly been fulfilled, but what they share above all is that they represented landmark turning points, moments marking a fundamental shift in the politics of great conflicts, for good or ill.
That McGuinness-Queen Elizabeth (2012) should be included in such a list, even as a more modest “non-global” but Irish “historic” occasion, strikes me as reflecting a strange perspective.
Will it even merit a chapter in the “Definitive History of the Irish Peace Process” when Lord Bew or my colleague Deaglán de Bréadún come to write it? A page? A footnote, perhaps?
A short digression: there is nothing like a bit of pseudoscience to add pseudogravitas to a debate, and in this context I am struck by the 2010 research of one Prof Geoffrey Beattie of the University of Manchester and his elegant formula for the “perfect handshake” (PH): PH = square root (e2 + ve2)(d2) + (cg + dr)2 + Pi2 + (vi + t + te)2 + 2
The 12 variables, expressed in terms of strength or appropriateness from one to five, include, among others, eye contact (e), verbal greeting (ve), strength and vigour (s,vi), the hand’s dryness, texture, position (dr, te, p), and duration (du). The quality and genuineness of the smile (du) is also assessed, the “Duchenne smile” – smiling in eyes and mouth, plus symmetry on both sides of face, and slower offset.
Unfortunately applying this exhaustive technique to McGuinness-Queen (2102) is not possible because of the former’s insistence on doing it all behind closed doors. From the photographs, however, it is possible to see the broad, maybe forced smiles, direct eye contact, gloved half-grip, and limited bilingual verbal exchange, and to conclude, with a small margin of “scientific” error, that it was a “good”, not “perfect”, handshake.