Exclusive: Nine Thoughts on the Iraqi Shoe-Thrower: The Arab World’s New Hero
by N. M. GUARIGLIA
December 22, 2008
There is something both mildly humorous and amazingly depressing about the Arab world’s beautification of Mr. Muntadar al Zeidi, the Iraqi journalist who will go down in history as the man who threw his shoes at George W. Bush.
First, some political observations: President Bush cannot catch a break on Iraq. Here he was, in his last visit to the war-zone that defined his presidency, in what should have been his own personal “victory lap.” Two years ago, amidst a deteriorating situation and to nearly everyone’s chagrin – including the incoming Commander-in-Chief – Bush authorized the military surge and new counterinsurgency strategy that put the war on its current successful trajectory.
He was in Iraq to thank the troops and officially oversee the acceptance of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqis; a binding treaty, overwhelmingly passed by the Iraqi parliament, which will compel his successor to abide by, and endure, a wartime alliance with our new allies in Baghdad. Despite the campaign rhetoric, the realities on the ground – and the geopolitics shaped by Bush and Nouri Maliki – have made it so that President-elect Obama will now, in all likelihood, handle the Iraq drawdown much the same way John McCain would have.
This trip was to be the icing on the cake. Instead, the theatrics of Zeidi will be remembered.
Second, the real-time response: aside from not catching a break politically, Bush the person looked quick, calm, and cool. He ducked the shoes and then joked about it. Zeidi missed at nearly point-blank range – twice. Weak.
Third, the domestic reaction: liberals who laugh and rejoice watching people throw things at the President of the United States – those who said “Too bad he didn’t hit him” – really need think twice the next time they indignantly whine that someone is subliminally questioning their patriotism. They also need to grow up and get out of the house more.
Fourth, the Arab world’s reaction: here is where the story gets interesting, and ironically discouraging. The Middle East is hailing this lame shoe-thrower a hero. Why? Because he “stood up” to big, bad Bush. So many strange psychological and cultural revelations can be derived from this fact alone.
The papers are telling us in Arab culture, to call someone a “son of a shoe” is the ultimate insult – kind of odd, but whatever – thus Zeidi, in chanting similar nonsense to Bush as the rest of the Iraqi press corps tackled him, showed the entire region he meant business. In essence, he did the tribe’s honor well.
I’m not quite sure how else to put it, other than: How weird. This is a part of the world where political failure is commonplace and engrained in the culture; a part of the world that has been helpless in thwarting the evil Bush’s vision for a constitutional Iraq; a part of the world that, despite its best efforts through Jihadist proxies and terrorist sabotage, has been incapable of expelling the heretic armies out of their beloved Mesopotamia…
All this and more, and yet an entire subcontinent is engaging in celebratory back-slapping… why? Because someone threw a shoe at George Bush – and missed? Can there be anything more pathetic than that? Is there a greater example of a demoralized cultural psychosis – on such a large scale – than this?
Fifth, the issue of bravado: real courage would have been throwing a shoe at Saddam (or Uday for that matter). Real “heroism” would have consisted of going back to Cairo, where this Zeidi fellow works, and publicly ridiculing Mubarak. He could have practiced journalistic integrity, and shown himself to be a consistent opponent of all forms of authoritarianism (particularly the dozen-plus dictatorships that surround him).
Instead, he chose to showcase his rage seconds after a symbolic handshake of democratic partnership between Baghdad and Washington. He opted to take on George Bush, because he knew he could get away with it and not face the gallows and dungeon-masters. After ducking, Bush should have thanked Zeidi for proving his point about Iraqi democracy far better than anyone else has to date.
Sixth, reports of Zeidi’s treatment are precious: faint-hearts in the Mideast are aghast that Iraqi security guards reportedly punched Zeidi a few times after restraining him; the implication being that parliamentary Iraq is no different than Ba’athist Iraq.
Oh, please. Is it possible for a war critic to assess an event in Iraq without deriving broad conclusions about the justification for the war itself? Zeidi threw his shoes at someone. In the process, he gave the White House Press Secretary, the petite Dana Perino, a black eye. In any city in the world, at any time, and in any setting, that’s grounds for getting rough up a bit. Fistfights happen when someone is being a jerk. Plain and simple.
Seventh, ironies abound: Mr. Zeidi is, as mentioned, a journalist – not exactly a profession Iraqis were free to pursue during the days of the Ba’ath.
Is there not something ironic watching members of the Sadrist bloc – who once captured and tortured Zeidi themselves – protest his imprisonment? Where were the calls for Zeidi’s release and fair treatment when Muqtada al Sadr’s goons had him locked away?
Where are the calls for releasing Arab secularists and democrats who stood up to tyrants, now rotting away in the damp cells of Cairo, Riyadh, Tripoli, and Damascus?
Eighth, the Arab world picks some extraordinary heroes: Samir Kuntar is one of the most infamous role models across the “Arab street.” Kuntar, the former Lebanese prisoner, is best known for committing one of the grisliest murders possible: killing a father in front of his four-year-old daughter, and then smashing the toddler girl’s skull with his rifle. Of course, the people he killed were Israelis, so it’s all good.
Kuntar was released from prison in July in exchange for the lifeless bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the two Israeli soldiers who were captured, tortured, and killed by Hezbollah in 2006 (the attack which sparked the 34-day war that summer, a fact that often goes overlooked by the BBC et. al.).
Kuntar presently hobnobs around the Middle East, meeting with impressed dignitaries and delegations, Palestinian officials, and “freedom fighters” alike. He gives the occasional O.J.-esque lecture, “How he did it.” ast month, President Bashar al Assad awarded Kuntar the “Order of Merit,” the highest medal for bravery and heroism in all of Syria.
Now, only the shoe-hurler rivals Kuntar’s celebrity. Aside from Iraqis, no Arab populace, in similar fashion, publicly champions the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi infantrymen who fought for plurality and democracy, crushed al Qaeda, defeated the insurrection, and brought peace to their country. They should.
Ninth, misplaced moral outrage: the last great innovations to come out of the Middle East have been the IED and suicide vest. Spain translates more literature annually than the entire Arab world has translated in the past millennium. The resource-rich Mideast, in its entirety, has a smaller GDP than some small European democracies alone.
In the Middle East, religious intolerance, gender apartheid, racism, sexism, homophobia, autocracy, totalitarianism, educational indoctrination, and all around political, cultural, and economical failure is the name of the game – the norm, not the exception. There were transnational cries for blood after a cartoon publication in Denmark, and yet cool silence in the aftermath of last month’s terrorist slaughterhouse exhibition in Mumbai – all on the insane basis of Islamic solidarity.
Has there ever been such a large swath of humanity with its priorities so bizarrely out of whack? Has there ever been a part of the world that has asked so much of others and so little of itself? Mr. Zeidi didn’t impact anything on the day he lost his shoes. He merely went barefoot and earned himself some time behind bars for trying to hurt a foreign dignitary, the guest of a sovereign Iraq.
The U.S.-Iraqi alliance is real and enduring. On the other hand, these 15 minutes of Arab psychological relief will soon end, and then it’s back to finding someone to sweep the streets, to create a middle class, and to beg the Jews for their dialysis machines.