The Handshake Project

Article by Cassandra Ng • Image Credit

Trust. noun. \ˈtrəst\ assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.

Who do you trust? Your family, your friends? Could you trust a complete stranger? These questions were at the heart of a social experiment recently conducted in Canada, where a young Muslim man stood blindfolded in downtown Toronto with a placard asking strangers for an embrace as a sign of reciprocal trust. The response from the community was overwhelmingly positive.

Handshakes and Hugs: Symbols of Solidarity

The Handshake Project was launched in the wake of clashes between government forces and Islamic extremist rebel groups in Muslim-majority Maguindano province. The incident, which left more than 60 people dead at the hands of Moro rebels, not only fuelled anti-Muslim sentiment within communities and contributed to a rise in incidents of hate speech on social media but also purportedly prompted the Philippines Congress to halt the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, threatening fragile peace negotiations and months of intensive inter- and intra-faith dialogue.

In an attempt to confront false stereotypes about violent minority groups and to promote understanding between communities, gestures of mutual respect and friendship were held up as symbols of solidarity. Youth leaders gathered in the capital city of Manila and urged passersby to shake hands, embrace, or write messages of peace to Muslim communities in the Philippines. By challenging individuals to display outward expressions of solidarity, these youth activists hope to draw attention to the peaceful struggle for justice by Muslims in Mindanao, and highlight the subtle ways that non-verbal discrimination can manifest to make some communities feel like strangers in their own country.

Confronting stereotypes of ‘us’ and ‘them’

“We can, and we must, break such barriers of ignorance and fear. Only by overcoming such prejudices -- when all Filipinos, non-Muslims and Muslims alike -- put their hands together in building mutual respect and understanding can we achieve lasting peace.” 
– James Alih, vice chairperson of the AYG

What would it mean for people to trust each other? More importantly, what would it look like for our society if we trusted each other, even those who may seem different to us on the surface? Trust not only affects the way people perceive communities that are ‘different’ to themselves, but also affects how these individuals view themselves through our actions. In a world where fears are often used to draw boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’, the successful launch of the Handshake Project reminds us of the importance of breaking down barriers of false stereotypes and reaching out to others with open arms. For it is only when we take that leap of faith that we find hope for a future with reconciliation and peace.

Members of a youth activist group hold a placard with positive messages in the Philippines’ capital city, in an attempt to promote solidarity between communities. (Source: ABS-CBN News).

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