Do you remember Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the shoe throwing journalist? He first made the news last December by throwing his shoes at President Bush during a press conference in Bagdad.
His defense lawyers later quoted him as saying, “At that moment, I saw nothing but Bush, and I felt the blood of the innocents flowing under his feet while he was smiling that smile.” I have to admit this statement resonated with me. How many times have I been tempted to throw something myself when I saw “that smile?” But my shoes? I found this confusing until I learned that throwing one’s shoes in Arab culture is considered the lowest possible insult you can give a person. Even to show the undersides of your shoes is to convey disrespect. This is because the shoe is considered unclean, which is why Arabs always remove their shoes before prayers. You might recall too, that when the statue of Saddam Hussein was brought down, the Iraqis struck it with their shoes. And it turns out that Arabs have been itching to get their shoes on the Bush family since the first gulf war. Way back then a mosaic of Bush senior’s face was laid into the flooring of the Al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad, right in the front entryway, so that anyone walking through the lobby would be obliged to walk over it. It has since been removed by U.S. soldiers but, in hindsight, the fact that something like that was put there to begin with ought to have rung a few alarm bells with the folks who handle our international affairs.
And so should what’s been happening with this shoe throwing incident. For those of you who might have somehow missed the already over-publicized story of al-Zaidi, you’ll be happy to know that Bush ducked the flying shoes and avoided injury, while security guards quickly wrestled al-Zaidi to the ground and hauled him off to jail. Al-Zaidi was convicted in February, and sentenced to three years in prison (which was actually the minimum of what could have been a fifteen year sentence).
But the most interesting part of this story is that al-Zaidi has now become a kind of a celebrity (dubbed the “Shoe-icide Attacker” by the media). Arabs from all over the world have been protesting al-Zaidi’s detainment and praising him (some even with poetry) for his daring actions. According to a poll conducted by ABC News and the BBC, 62% of Iraqis consider al-Zaidi a hero and 84% of Sunni Arabs support him. Hanan Mahdi, a 22 year old Iraqi woman spoke for her country’s men and women when she said, “Muntadhar makes us proud of ourselves.” Sheik Suhail al-Iqabi called al-Zaidi’s incarceration “a verdict against the Iraqi people who refuse the American occupation.
And support for al-Zaidi is not limited to Arabs. Men and women everywhere are endorsing his behavior. Many people feel that it was a justified political statement. In January, more than 200 American protesters took off their shoes and tossed them over the fence of the White House.
Even al-Zaidi’s shoes have caused a ruckus, with orders pouring in from all over the world to buy them from the Turkish manufacturer who makes them. I’m waiting for the shoe designers to jump on this and start chucking their shoes down the runway toward the audience.
This media frenzy has hit the internet with full force. Jokes and other references to the incident are popping up everywhere, and most of them seem to support al-Zaidi. Take a look at this, one of the many little short video entertainments out there, called The Flying Babush.
Other sites are calling for supporters to send their old shoes to Bush.
Being a shoe girl, this story has captured my attention. I’m not even sure where I stand politically on the matter, but I will say that I think public opinion of the things we—or more specifically, the government officials who represent us—do, does make a difference in what happens to us.
But aside from that, sacrificing a perfectly good pair of shoes is just plain crazy!