Shoe Fetishism...The Arab Way!

It was fascinating to watch how Iraqi reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi managed to achieve 'superstar' status in the Arab world in less than 48 hours.

He owes it all of course to his now infamous action of tossing a pair of shoes at US President George Bush at a joint press conference held in Iraq with Iraqi PM, Nouri Al Maliki. Like what he did or hate it, one could argue that al-Zaidi has given the Arab World one hell of a 'shoe fetish'!

Assuming you haven't heard yet, one Saudi citizen has actually offered to pay 10 million USD to buy the pair that was thrown at President Bush on Sunday, according to the leading Arab news channel, Al Arabiya.

You may also find it interesting to know that there is actually an Arabic Facebook group that was created 'In solidarity with the Iraqi shoe that was thrown at Bush'.

The group is only one of the 242 pages that were created in support of the 'Shoe of Dignity' (i.e. the Iraqi reporter's loafers) and 'The Hero' (that would be al-Zaidi) on the popular social networking site within 2 days, many of these groups already have between 2500 and 3000 members so far.

I have to admit, I am slightly jealous of al-Zaidi, and even more so - of his shoe! I have been reporting and writing for several years now and despite all my desperate attempts of obtaining attention I wouldn't even dare to dream of having my own Wikipedia page.

On the other hand, al-Zaidi's Wikipedia page was created within hours of the shoe tossing incident on December 14th and is already available in 5 languages: English, Arabic, French, Turkish and Farsi.

In addition, upon arresting him at the press conference there were large protests asking for his release in Iraq and about 200 Arab lawyers volunteered to defend him if needed! What irritates me is that all this attention is given to him simply because he is a journalist that tossed a shoe at a press conference.

But what really got under my skin, is the attempt of some writers to over-analyze the issue, I just can't believe what I have been reading that there are Western journalists actually asking if there is a special cultural meaning to this action among Arabs, I don't think it requires a genius to understand that shoe tossing, just like throwing rotten tomatoes or eggs, is a universally understood way of saying 'I hate your guts'!

As an Arab, may I also add that it isn't a thing that only happens in my region, allow me to refresh the memories of my fellow Western journalists and remind them of the infamous Nikita Khrushchev shoe-banging incident, which happened during the 902nd Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on 12 October 1960.

Back to al-Zaidi... my opinion aside, one has to give the man credit, after all he did manage to move the ever-so-numb, 'Arab Street'.

Now, here is a thought: Would the so-called 'Arab Street' have rallied to protect a 'real' journalist, someone like Seymour Hersh for example had he been prosecuted for revealing the atrocity of Abu Ghraib?

Isn't it ironic that the single most horrific story of Arab dehumanization at the hands of American troops in Iraq came from An American journalist (who happens to be a Jew by the way)?

I just interviewed Hersh for my newspaper's media supplement and he said I shouldn't be too tough on the Arab media, because the pictures and file of Abu Ghraib were only available for people inside the American system.

However, I believe that if our journalists were as good as investigating and writing stories as they were in shoe tossing, we would have perhaps uncovered a whole series of Abu Ghraibs or even more horrific stories, who knows?

The thing is, let us suppose Sy Hersh was an Arab journalist and did manage to uncover something as terrible as Abu Ghraib (assuming that free media exists in the Arab World)... would he have received the same 'star' treatment al-Zaidi and his shoe are getting today? I don't think so.

To be fair, obviously not everyone in the Arab World thinks that the shoe tossing was an appropriate thing to do, however, clearly many strongly do.

In my opinion, there is no question that there is a lot of anger towards America's foreign policy and towards the Bush administration in particular, but one has to remember it is this same administration that made it possible for Iraqis to toss shoes at a president in the presence of an Iraqi Prime Minister.

If this had happened under Saddam, al-Zaidi's would have failed to exist, let alone his Wikipedia page or Facebook groups.

As for President Bush, assuming that he considers himself the liberator of Iraq, I can't find anything better to say than that same piece of advice 'Batman' was given in last summer's hit movie, 'The Dark Knight', it goes something like this: "You Either Die a Hero, or Live Long Enough To See Yourself Become the Villain".

As much as it sounds silly, and as much as I would have preferred not to refer to popular culture in this article, but I think that quote from The Dark Knight is really spot-on; let us not forget that when Baghdad was 'liberated' 5 years ago, Iraqis were beating pictures of Saddam, not Bush, with their shoes.

Seems Saddam beating shoes are 'out of fashion' these days!

ADDITION: Seems a new video game is gaining popularity among many Arab internet users, the irony is when you translate its name to English, it would mean 'Beat The Bush' ! Here is the link