Theres The Rub: Shoe story

By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:44:00 12/17/2008
Filed Under: Protest, Politics, Charter change, Personalities

George W. Bush went on a surprise visit to Iraq to say goodbye. He got the surprise of his life.

While holding a press conference with the Iraqi prime minister to announce plans for a withdrawal of US troops by 2011, an Iraqi journalist seated near the front row threw his shoes at him, shouting in Arabic, “Here’s your goodbye kiss, you dog!” The first one Bush ducked, while the second one sailed past him, but barely. The shoe-thrower was Muntadhar al-Zeidi, a 28-year-old TV reporter, who deeply resented the American occupation of his country and mourned the hundreds of thousands of deaths it had caused.

Iraqi security wrestled him to the ground and dragged him to prison. For his deed, he got the ire of the authorities, who called him a barbarian. He stands to get two years of jail for insulting a foreign guest as well as Iraqi officialdom.

But it is doubtful if the jail term can be carried out. Because, for his deed as well, he has become a hero to his people.

His network has refused to apologize for his actions and demanded his immediate release, saying he was only living up to the democracy the Americans claim to have brought to Iraq. Demonstrations have broken out in various parts of Baghdad, the demonstrators throwing shoes as well at American convoys.

“Al-Zeidi’s shoe is the most famous shoe in the whole world!” gushed Fawzi Akram, a legislator.

Certainly, it has become a luminous symbol of protest for the entire Arab world. In Arab culture apparently, throwing shoes at someone is the highest form of insult.

It is also from where we stand, who are not steeped in that culture, a most expensive one. I searched the Internet for stories about whether Al-Zeidi was wearing his usual everyday shoes or had made it a point to wear old and appropriately smelly ones, but could not find any. I don’t know that many of us will agree to part with our Hush Puppies or Doc Martens to express our disgust at our own overstaying ruler. But Al-Zeidi can at least look forward to a bright, and fairly comfortable, future. His shoes have now been elevated to the status of relics, and could fetch a fortune if sold. At least if he can still claim ownership of them.

Indeed, if he can find it in his heart to separate America from Bush, he can look forward to a bright and profitable career as a pitcher in US Major League Baseball. His throws were not that bad, and almost found their mark. The footage shows he was aiming for Bush’s face and would have been most happy had his missiles landed there. Alas, Allah was most forgiving.

Al Zeidi’s “goodbye kiss” has a couple of things to say to us.

The first, and less obvious, is that journalists are human beings, too. From all accounts, Al-Zeidi has no relatives who died from the American invasion or the uprising it spawned. Indeed, from all accounts, he is resentful not just of America but of Iran, whose interventions in his country he fears as well. Nor is he fond of militants who abducted him last year and beat him up before releasing him. He is just someone who has seen, and having seen, felt the need to do something about what was wrong. He is just someone who has heard, and having heard, felt the need to give voice to what was right.

A journalist is supposed to be objective, neutral, and dispassionate. None of that means he or she may not feel emotion. None of that means he or she may not be stoked to rage. None of that means he or she may not protest injustice and oppression.

That is the reason I do not attend press conferences, least of all in Malacañang. I do not own too many shoes.

The second, and more obvious, thing Al-Zeidi’s act of defiance has to say to us is, why in hell don’t we do something like that? As far as I know, over the last few years only a couple of Filipinos have done something akin to it, though their actions have not produced the electrifying or iconoclastic effect Al-Zeidi’s has done.

One is Maria Theresa Pangilinan, who heckled Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo while she spoke at the graduation ceremonies of Cavite State University a couple of years ago. Pangilinan’s protest then has something very much to say to us now. She shouted, “No to Cha-cha!” [No to Charter change], aised a banner saying the same thing, and shouted the words a second time. She was allowed to graduate, but was berated by people who presumed to be her superiors but were in fact her inferiors. She remained unapologetic for the deed.

Two is Mar Roxas, who shouted in last Friday’s rally, “P—ng ina! Patayin na ang Gloria Forever Cha-Cha na ito!” [SOB! Kill this Gloria Forever Charter change!] Like Pangilinan, Roxas was upbraided by Malacañang for lacking good manners and right conduct. But like Pangilinan, Roxas has remained unapologetic, saying that if Malacañang wants to see people who thoroughly lack good manners and right conduct, it should look at its occupants.

I don’t know that any people more revere tradition and demand respect for elders and those in authority than the Arabs. But that they have risen as one to extol someone who has transgressed that in the name of all that is right and just and true, it speaks volumes about their capacity for wisdom, too. We can do no less. There are limits to politeness when you are being impolitely screwed. There are limits to gracefulness when you are being gracelessly strangled.

Al-Zeidi sent his powerful message to someone who was leaving and who wanted only to revise history and be remembered for having done something good. Here, we have someone who refuses to go and wants only to revise the Charter and continue to wreak evil upon the world. It’s time we dropped the niceties. It’s time we collected our shoes, or the equivalent of them in our own culture (feel free to make your suggestions) and hurled them at the source of our hellish torments, while shouting:

“Here’s your kick-out kiss, you dog!”


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