Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Shoe of our Discontent

In a global media era, just how far can one pair of shoes go?

Muntadhar al-Zaidi–part Iraqi journalist, part shoe thrower–was arrested and jailed by US authorities after his now-infamous incident on Sunday. According to a Reuters report, while the Iraqi government called his shoe-throwing antics “barbaric,” the news station he represented was calling for his release “in accordance with the democratic era and the freedom of expression that Iraqis were promised by U.S. authorities.” Allegations of cruel and inhumane treatment, while likely untrue, have been a popular talking-point for regional media figures sympathetic to the Iraqi cause.
But there is another aspect of al-Zaidi’s actions that we in the US don’t ordinarily talk about. As reported by CNN and according to his brother, al-Zaidi does not only hate the US occupation of Iraq, but also “Iranian influence in Iraq.” Which begs the question: why aren’t we talking about Iran? At all? Seriously?

My job isn’t to freedom fight for disgruntled Iraqi citizens. I just so happen to believe, like they do, that our military is not a helpful influence in the region, period. But I do recognize it as a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario.

But this issue is a lot bigger to Iraqis than it seems to us here in the United States. To my American friends, this issue is comical; simply one small man throwing his shoes at another. But those who are familiar with the region know that the shoe in Arab culture is one of the dirtiest symbols around–even showing your shoe to someone would be like flipping them the bird in this country. Throwing your shoe at another man–much less the free and elected leader of another nation–is the ultimate symbol of insult in Arab culture. In other words–this is quite serious.

Not that Iraqi protesters need any more help, but it appears Zaidi’s actions may have been a real catalyst for anger. I have a feeling that Iraqis–with US troops on their doorsteps–will be a lot less likely to quickly forget Zaidi’s shoes. I worry about them becoming a symbol of resistance to the current Iraqi government, especially since Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki seems intent on harshly punishing Zaidi for his acts while the rest of the Iraqi population wants to see him set free.

I worry that the Western concept of equitable justice in this scenario–which would ultimately lead to the punishment of Zaidi–will fatally undermine any pro-US Iraqi government. I have no doubt that the Iraqi people believe in a fair system of justice for their country. But I also believe that that they see themselves as being unfairly oppressed by the United States, which will ultimately skew their concept of justice as it applies to situations involving US figures–especially the most visible, despised of all.

I hate to say it, but if the Iraqi government–regardless of any pressure from the US government–handles this incident insensitively, Muntadhar al-Zaidi will quickly become the Iraqi version of Patrick Henry, only instead of “give me liberty or give me death,” it will be the Iraqi people calling for the provisional government’s head on a platter.

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  1. spacemanspiff

    I seriously dig your style and posts.

    I’m glad you’re a Moose!

    Hope you keep bringing the knowledge.

    Not much I can add in my current state ( I’m teh resident stoner here) but I’ll stop by later to comment.

  2. With Obama in office – a respectable leader who is thoughtful, sympathetic and strong – the Iraqi people will have the opportunity to pivot in their views.  With the reduction of US troops in the country, with world opinion turning towards the US, with Ahmadinnerjacket losing his popularity-generator in the White House and impotently gnashing his teeth – with all of these things happening at the same time there is the chance to have optimism in the country.  And that changes everything.

    We are not, by nature, the right people to be worrying about the issues in Iraq.  We aren’t Iraqis.  Iraqis are at least as opposed to Iranian foolishness in their country as we are, and given an appropriate amount of support – and a big part of that is getting out of their faces – they will deal with it.

  3. anna shane

    law against chucking shoes in Irag, but an insult like that may be avenged with blood, so it’s generally a brave act. The guy got beat up and knew he would, and although the Iraqi people may wish to elect him president, he’ll have to get out of prison first.  So, it was a brave act of free speech and quite well aimed.

    The guy is already patrick henry and lef waliza, that polish union guy, and havel what’s his name, and every ordinary man who put himself at risk to exercise free speech, to speak truth to power.  

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