The Shoe Heard Round the World


As with any event that pushes history forward, when you click the play button over and over to watch Muntanzer al-Zaidi mumble something in Arabic that we now know meant “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog!,” the question inevitably arises – Why hasn’t this happened before?

BY AARON LAKE SMITH
Truthout/Perspective
INTERNATIONAL
Posted by Bulatlat

As with any event that pushes history forward, when you click the play button over and over to watch Muntanzer al-Zaidi mumble something in Arabic that we now know meant “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog!,” the question inevitably arises – Why hasn’t this happened before? Watch al-Zaidi rise from the back of the room. See the glimmer of recognition in Bush’s eyes and the animal instinct take over as he avoids the shoes coming at his head. The incident is like a deep whiff of smelling salts, causing the degradations of the past five years to flood back. Remember when the antiwar movement puttered to a halt after Bush declared Mission accomplished? How easily we were fooled into complacency.

It is at this juncture where our antihero appears. Bush had opened the press conference by saying, “The American people have sacrificed a great deal to reach this moment. The battle in Iraq has required a great amount of time and resources” to a crowd of Arab journalists – is it any wonder that shoes were thrown? There is only so much unreality people will put up with before frustration bubbles to the surface, breaking through the veneer of civility. Watching the footage over and over again, the video quenches some thirst I didn’t know I had. There is a spectacular power in al-Zaidi’s visceral response: the spectacular bleary front-page photos of the smooshed face of the president. Bush’s deft and effortless dodge out of the way, like a character in “The Matrix.” Who isn’t haunted by that bemused smile plastered on his face as al-Zaidi is dragged out of the room and beaten? When the front row of reporters apologize, Bush shrugs it off, seeming put off by their servility: “So what if a guy threw a shoe … it doesn’t bother me. And if you want some – if you want the facts, it’s a size 10 shoe that he threw … Do not worry about it.”

But rather than move on and pretend it never happened, amazingly, Bush returns to the shoe throwing. He turns it into a parable, crams it into his deluded concept of democracy, “That’s what happens in free societies, where people try to draw attention to themselves. And so I guess he was affected, because he caused you to say something about it.”

But while Bush lauds civil dissent with one hand, he crushes it with the other. In an opinion piece by the editorial board, The New York Times said: “Mr. Zaidi had been severely beaten by security officers on Sunday after being tackled at the press conference and dragged out. While he has not been formally charged, Iraqi officials said he faced up to seven years in prison if convicted of committing an act of aggression against a visiting head of state. No doubt he must face the charges – and punished if found guilty.”

“No doubt he must face the charges – and punished if found guilty.” Shame on The Times’ editors for giving such a de rigueur shrug for centrism instead of taking a stand. Al-Zaidi is looking at seven years in an Iraqi oubliette in the face. When will The Times have the courage to make the same call for Bush? True democracy requires us to be active participants. The lesson that can be gleaned from al-Zaidi’s rage is that the jelly-like stasis of the present can always be shattered; with a single act, all avenues of possibility widen. Outside of the week’s news stream talking points, many things are still possible. But al-Zaidi is not, as he has been lauded, a “folk hero.”

He’s just a guy who threw his shoes. It could have been any of us. And like all rebels who walk away from the cotillion of civility, he will be rewarded and punished by history. The biggest barrier to democracy is the fear of social transgression, the idea that democracy can be passively observed. We must be constant, active participants in our fates, rather than waiting for others that we can cheer on from the sidelines, to act on our behalf. Truthout/Posted byBulatlat.com

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