Shoes — Not Roses — Greet Bush in Iraq

What do you do if you find yourself in the same room with the Commander-in-Chief of the nation who invaded and occupied your country, causing enormous destruction, death, displacement and misery to millions of your fellow citizens?

What you do when you realize that the invading leader has lied to the whole world about his reasons for crippling your homeland’s economy, for turning countless wives into widows, for stealing the future and hope from an entire generation of children, for turning every family into a story of tragedy and loss, turn real estate into graveyards, and for converting palaces into places of torture?

What do you do if that same man is directly responsible for the death and injury of millions of his own people and your countrymen; if he has instigated political divisions that have plunged your country into a deadly insurgency?

What do you do if this man shows no shame? He comes to your country during the last weeks before he leaves office, claiming (of all things!) to be a liberator and signing a deal to guarantee that his forces will stay to "help" your country along the road to peace and prosperity. But what about any guarantee against your natural resources (like oil) being robbed, or against your nation’s assets flowing only to the rich and powerful to make them even richer and more powerful?

On Sunday Dec. 14 Muntazer al-Zaidi, a twenty-something Iraqi journalist, spontaneously devised an appropriate way to bid a final farewell to outgoing American president George W. Bush by hurling his shoes at him during a press conference in Bagdad and calling him a dog.

If all the dogs in the world knew their species was vilified in this context they would probably howl in shame! But this Iraqi journalist’s action was hailed by millions around the world, including eight million in Britain and the U.S. alone who opposed their country’s invasion of Iraq and yet were ignored by their respective "democratic" governments.

In American culture, the throwing of cream pies, eggs or tomatoes at someone is considered the ultimate insult; in Arab culture, the throwing of shoes says the same. The shoes missed after Bush ducked and the young journalist was immediately wrestled to the ground by security guards, then frog-marched from the room.

Muntazer al-Zaidi was arrested and questioned as to whether anyone or any group paid him to throw the shoes. Perhaps his interrogators believed that only Americans can be patriots. Does the American administration still believe that Iraqis should have greeted Bush with roses?

Although al-Zaidi’s actions stirred up many headlines, other Iraqis also joined anti-U.S. demonstrations to protest at Bush’s farewell visit to Iraq.

"Throwing the shoes at Bush was the best goodbye kiss ever," said one Iraqi.

Colleagues of al-Zaidi, who works for the independent Iraqi television station Al-Baghdadia, said he "detested America" and the man who ordered the invasion of his country.

The Iraqi government, however, branded Zaidi’s actions as "shameful" and demanded an apology from his Cairo-based employer, who in turn was calling for his immediate release from custody. It is not known where al-Zaidi is currently being held.

"Al-Baghdadia television demands that the Iraqi authorities immediately release their stringer Muntazer al-Zaidi, in line with the democracy and freedom of expression that the American authorities promised the Iraqi people," it said in a statement. "Any measures against Muntazer will be considered the acts of a dictatorial regime."

Around 200 lawyers, including Americans, offered their services for free to free Zaidi. "It was the least thing for an Iraqi to do to Bush, the tyrant criminal who has killed two million people in Iraq and Afghanistan," said one Iraqi lawyer.

After the incident and during a demonstration in Sadr City (near Baghdad) protestors threw shoes at passing U.S. military vehicles, while in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, the crowds chanted the now-familiar mantra, "down with America."

"All U.S. soldiers who have used their shoes to humiliate Iraqis should be brought to justice, along with their U.S. superiors, including Bush," said Ali Qeisi, head of a Jordan-based Iraqi rights group, calling for Zaidi’s release.

"The flying shoe speaks more for Arab public opinion than all the despots / puppets that Bush meets with during his travels in the Middle East," said Prof. Asad Abu Khalil, a popular Lebanese-American blogger and professor at Stanislaus University in California.

An Iraqi lawyer said Zaidi risked a minimum of two years in prison if he is prosecuted for insulting a visiting head of state, but could face a 15-year term if he is charged with attempted murder.

In Cairo, Muzhir al-Khafaji, programming director for the television channel, described al-Zaidi as a "proud Arab and an open-minded man," saying he had worked at Al-Baghdadia for three years. "We fear for his safety," he told AFP (Agence France Presse), adding that the journalist had been arrested twice before by the Americans and that there were fears more of the station’s 200 correspondents in Iraq would be arrested.

"As far as I’m concerned, as he long as he hit him using a shoe it’s perfect," Cairo shoe shiner Ahmed Ali told AFP.

Now Egyptian singer Shaaban Adel Rehim is getting ready to record a song titled, "You’re Good for Nothing," which says, "Bush! You’re good for nothing. You deserve a thousand shoes for all that you have done for us. The shoe attack was as much of a surprise as your visit itself. The whole world felt elated and in celebration people stayed up all night."

Muntazer al-Zaidi’s shoes should be kept in an Iraqi museum to tell future generations the story of the American occupation and Bush’s handlers should insist that journalists at future press conferences take their shoes off.

Thanks to Internet technology, the flying shoes in Iraq received far greater world-wide publicity than even the footwear of a once-familiar Russian president during the Cold War era. During one particularly heated exchange at UN headquarters in New York on October 12, 1960, Nikita Khrushchev took off his shoe and banged it on the desk. Within a few days, his startling gesture was reported on black-and-white TVs and pictured on newsprint all over the globe. Both are historical events, loaded with memorable political protest.

And in case you’d like to try a little heroic role-playing yourself –” to spend some time in Al-Zaidi’s shoes so to speak — online video games have already appeared where you can test your own skills in aiming footwear at George W. Bush. Here is one :