Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shoe Heard Around the World

"This is your farewell--dog!"

This is a gift from the Iraqis,
This is the farewell kiss you dog.
This is from the widows, the orphans
and those who were killed in Iraq
(update 12/15/08)

Those were the words yelled by 28 yr old Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi as he took off his Western imported Nikes shoes and hurled them at a stunned President George W. Bush. The image of the act, which caused the US president to twice duck as if in mortal danger, has made its way around the world. And, depending on who you read, Mr. al-Zaidi is either crazy or a hero. Perhaps as he sat watching the man who was responsible for the wrecking of his country, Mr. al-Zaidi's thoughs were on the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died since the invasion; or maybe he was thinking of the 4 million refugees this war has created; or it could be he was dwelling on the deadly sectarian violence that was inflamed by the occupation; or perhaps his mind was on the senseless destruction of his nation's infrastructure. In truth, those are a fraction of the about 1000 other things that could have occupied Mr. al-Zaidi's mind. Whatever the case, in a bout of sanity (because its the rest of us that accept such affairs as normal who are truly "crazy"), he had a moment of heroic bravery. And in a country where to hit someone with shoes is a deep insult and sharp rebuke, he chose to react through a culturally appropriate theme. Ironic that this same act of defiance was used in April of 2003, that time on the statue of Saddam Hussein--which as it came toppling down was beaten with shoes by jubilant Iraqis.

At least that's how I'd like to imagine it. Who knows...

What's without a doubt however, is that the image of him hurling his weapons of choice in such defiance and anger will go down in history (already Iraqis across the country are picking up their shoes in solidarity), and speak volumes on the legacy of George Bush, his failed doctrine of preemptive war, and the sheer humanitarian madness he has inflicted on the lives of people such as Mr. al-Zaidi. And it should forever put that arrogant mantra (that only an imperialist could utter)--"the grateful Iraqis."

George W. Bush threw bombs at him. He threw back shoes. A fitting farewell.

More in an article below from NYT (Update 12/15/08)

December 15, 2008

Brother Explains Shoe-Tossing Iraqi Journalist’s Anger

By Riyadh Muhammad

In Sadr City, Maythem al-Zaidi stands before a photograph of his brother Muntader al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush. (Photo: Johan Spanner for The New York Times)

BAGHDAD — The brother of Muntader al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush during a joint press conference on Sunday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said Monday that he was “proud of his brother — as all Iraqis would be.”

Muntader al-Zaidi remains in Iraqi custody. When his brother, Maythem al-Zaidi, 28, called his cell phone at midnight, a man claiming to be one of the prime minister’s bodyguards answered. Maythem al-Zaidi said that the bodyguard threatened, “that they will get us all.”

Hitting someone with a shoe is a particularly strong rebuke in Iraqi culture. Although the president was uninjured, the incident overshadowed media coverage of the trip in the Arab world. And it has transformed Muntader al-Zaidi into a symbolic figure in the debate about the American military’s presence in Iraq.

Maythem al-Zaidi said his brother had not planned to throw his shoes prior to Sunday. “He was provoked when Mr. Bush said [during the news conference] this is his farewell gift to the Iraqi people,” he said. A colleague of Muntader al-Zaidi’s at al-Baghdadiya satellite channel, however, said the correspondent had been “planning for this from a long time. He told me that his dream is to hit Bush with shoes,” said the man, who would not give his name.

Muntader al-Zaidi appears to have a long-standing dislike of the United States presence in Iraq. He used to finish his reports by saying he was in “the occupied Baghdad.” His brother said that he hates the occupation so strongly that he canceled his wedding, saying: “I will marry when the occupation is over.”

The correspondent for Al Baghdadiya, an independent Iraqi television station, had previously been detained in November 2007 for two weeks by “a particular party” — his brother didn’t reveal whether American or Iraqi –- after videotaping the scene of an improvised explosive device that targeted an American Humvee. He was held again two months later for several hours by the American army without charges, his brother said. Other reports said he had been kidnapped by Shiite militants.

Muntader al-Zaidi was the head of the student union under Saddam Hussein and he earned a diploma as a mechanic from a technical institute before becoming a journalist. He worked at al-Qasim al-Mushterek newspaper, an Iraqi daily founded after the 2003 invasion, then he joined al-Diyar satellite channel, an Iraqi channel founded after the war. Two years later, he joined al-Baghdadiya satellite channel, another Iraqi channel, which is based in Cairo.

Maythem al-Zaidi contacted a judge to ask him if what his brother did is a crime under Iraqi law. The judge told him that he might serve two years in prison or pay a fine for insulting a president of foreign country unless Mr. Bush withdrew the case. “If they manage to imprison Muntader, there are millions of him all over Iraq and the Arab world,” Maythem al-Zaidi said.

Maythem al-Zaidi said has been contacted from about 100 Iraqi and foreign lawyers offering their services free of charge — including Saddam Hussein’s lawyer Khalil al-Dulaymi. When asked if he will accept Mr. al-Dulaymi’s services, he replied, “Why not, we are all Iraqis.”

The Rusafa office of Moktada al-Sadr organized a demonstration in Sadr City to support the shoe thrower. Across Iraq, everyone seems to have an opinion about the case.

According to his brother, Muntader al-Zaidi is “a calm man.” Both of his parents are dead, and he has 10 other siblings. Maythem al-Zaidi said that his brother is politically independent, but several people who know him mentioned that he was a Baathist who turned into a Sadrist after the war.

Meanwhile, al-Baghdadiya satellite channel’s Baghdad bureau chief is not responding to reporters to comment on the incident and he prevented all his staff of doing so.