(PDI Editorial) Epitaph

For Muntader Al-Zeidi, the Iraqi expatriate journalist who threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush, it was meant to be the supreme insult. For the rest of the world, it reduced Bush from being the conquering hero into what most of the world truly thinks he is: a heel. The journalist who threw his shoes knew full well that among his people and in the Arab world, he was evoking the way Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad was pelted with shoes in ritual excoriation of the deposed dictator. By the same light and according to the same people, Bush is nothing more than a despot, too.

By all accounts, Zeidi attended the press conference of Bush and the Iraqi premier, Nouri al-Maliki, intending to do his job, which was to report on it as the correspondent for Al-Baghdadia television, an Iraqi-owned station based in Cairo. According to Maythem al-Zeidi the journalist’s brother, “He [his brother]was provoked when Mr. Bush said this is his farewell gift to the Iraqi people.” The irate journalist took off his shoes and threw them at the American president, shrieking in Arabic, “This is a farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq!”

The journalist’s colleagues suggest that he didn’t lose his cool, but rather, dreamed of giving his culture’s supreme insult to Bush. What is beyond dispute is that after being wrestled to the ground and manhandled, Zeidi was whisked off to detention, where he remains, his fate unknown. Meanwhile, as the Internet marketing term goes, the shoe-throwing incident has gone viral, and what was meant to be an American propaganda coup has degenerated into Flash animation satire around the world.

But there was more to the world lapping up the shoe-throwing incident instead of being bombarded with the media-managed sight of a lame-duck American president doing victory laps in Iraq. George W. Bush had a genuine tryst with destiny, a historic opportunity to channel global sympathy over the World Trade Center tragedy into a new partnership with the democratic world. Instead, he lurched into a campaign of imperial conquest and transformed the imperial presidency into a Nero or Caligula-like regime of hubris, obstinacy and incompetence.

Domestically, going into office as a pragmatic dealmaker, he settled into it as an uncompromising ideologue, betraying a marked weakness for cronyism and an uncomprehending insistence on plutocratic values in the face of economic challenges for an essentially blue-collar country. British historian Simon Schama marks the mishandling of Hurricane “Katrina” and the misery of New Orleans as the point of no return for Bush, domestically, while the world, of course, marks Bush’s decision to invade Iraq as the point in which global sympathy for America turned into global hostility.

But, of course, the Philippines has been out of lock-step with the world in this regard. Overall, this country remained one of the few places where Bush remained popular. Indeed, overall, it can be argued that aside from a few other places like Poland, the Philippines was one of the few places where Bush and his policies were viewed with an approbation Bush stopped enjoying long ago among his own people. Indeed, until a remarkable last-minute turnaround in public opinion took place, Filipinos seemed inclined to applaud a continuation of the Bush policies as incarnated in his party’s nominee, John McCain.

We don’t necessarily agree with those who suggest that what Filipino public opinion did, when Barack Obama’s election to the White House began to look increasingly certain, was to opportunistically jump off the McCain campaign and belatedly join the Obama bandwagon. But as Bush rides off into the sunset a disgraced and despised, and ultimately, failed leader, it is worth pondering why our country, overall, has proven to be rock-solid in its affections for a leader everyone else in the world seems to hate.

The colonial mentality seems unsatisfactory as an answer, for why would we feel the same as the Poles, who were never colonized by America? Rather it lies in something deeper, and it may be something that bodes ill for our own stability, particularly with regard to Mindanao. And it is: a Crusader mentality that lurks in our national heart, still.


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