Monday, December 22, 2008



Sunday, December 21 2008
ByChege Mbitiru

An Iraqi journalist has introduced new weapons in the Arab world’s arsenals: shoes. Unfortunately, what hurling a shoe at someone signifies doesn’t pack much punch in conflict.

Mr Muntadar al-Zeidi waited until US President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were about to shake hands at a news conference last Sunday. From a distance of about seven metres, Mr Zeidi threw the left shoe.

It barely missed Mr Bush’s cheek. He ducked the second, which like the first hit the wall. Mr Zeidi’s war chants included calling the president a dog. Mr Bush remained fazed.

Rightly, Mr Bush deserved unpleasantness. He lied about a need for US invasion of Iraqi. There wasn’t. By breaking all rules of military occupation, he bungled the job. He describes ruins as victory.

Nonetheless, Mr Bush had to appear in Baghdad. As US commander-in-chief, he has troops there. “You’re doing a hell of a good job,” was in order.
Moreover, a wobbly politician he hopes is crucial to the making of a first democracy in the Arab world, Mr Maliki, needs morale boosting.

“Don’t worry about it,” Mr Bush said of the shoe missiles barrage. “And it was amusing,” he later told an American correspondent. Of all the weird things he has seen during his presidency, the shoes hurling ranked as one of the weirdest.

Mr Bush inferred the incident resulted from his introduction of democracy in Iraq. He cited a man heckling China’s president in a White House lawn. Well, heckling and hurling shoes aren’t quite the same forms of expression.

In the Arab world, Mr Zeidi became an instant hero. Demonstrators calling for his release poured into the streets. A daughter of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi awarded Mr Zeidi a medal of valour. A Saudi Arabia man reportedly bid US$10 million for one of the shoes. Al-Jazeera web site received a record 3,500 talkbacks in response to the incident. Ninety per cent supported Mr Zeidi and condemned Mr. Bush.

One respondent said thus: “This journalist is one of the greatest men in the Arab world.” In Tehran, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati dubbed the act as “the shoe Intifada.” Shoe manufacturers might as well expect booming business in the Arab world.

Arab culture and traditions regard the sole of the foot as the dirtiest part of the human body and so the sole of the shoe bears the title. “You are a son of the shoe” is a great insult in Iraqi.

Whether holy writings prescribe hurling shoes as part of demonizing enemies, is another question. Anyway, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus prohibit wearing of shoes in places of worship to symbolise purity. Presumably, the shoe throwing by Indian Parliamentarians amounts to calling each other “dirty you.”

In the New Testament, washing another person’s feet qualifies as humility or submission. Seemingly, whoever hurls the shoe, displays its sole or has feet washed is imbued with righteousness and superiority.

Writing in Times Online, Mr Hugo Rifkind enumerated insults – some unprintable anywhere – in different cultures. He observed one needs to research to insult another effectively. In other words, if the person being insulted doesn’t belong to a culture, the insult is wasted. Hence, Mr Bush’s amusement.

A memorable show of insult was Iraqis 2003 piling of shoes on Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad after the US invasion. How the statue felt humiliated beats common sense.

Mr Gaddafi once pointed the sole of his shoe at former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Well, Mr Gaddafi packing of his nuclear assets to the United States remains the humiliation.

Insults might serve as catharsis for frustrations, which is the case in Arabs’ elevation of Mr Zeidi to heroism. Otherwise, as an Arab saying goes, “Insults should be written in sand and compliments engraved in stone.” The wind takes care of insults.