Muntazer al-Zaidi had plotted his shoe-heaving for months, discussing it openly in the newsroom, according to colleagues.
So far it looks like a good career move. Job offers to host Crossfire on Al-Baghdadia Television may be forthcoming. According to programming director Muzhir al-Khafaji, Zaidi is an "open-minded man."
He now enjoys the accolades of the Arab world (while the restraining journalist next to him is reviled), and a note of sympathy has even crept into a few American reports on his deed. They report that he and his family have suffered much during the American occupation. Was Bush running the "risk" of minimizing the seriousness of his complaint by shrugging the incident off? a correspondent on MSNBC pondered.
Bush described the incident as a "sign of a free society," sort of like, he recalled, the time a Falun Gong member crashed a press conference at the White House. Iraq is evidently catching up to the free world.
But, alas, Iraq's old brutality, at least in some ways, stubbornly persists. Al-Zaidi, noted a few reporters, did get "beaten" as he was dragged away and the primitive propagandistic instincts of Iraq's Prime Minister kicked in: he wanted all footage of the incident confiscated. Reporters also noted that Zaidi is looking at possibly two years in jail, not for trying to bean Bush, but for embarrassing Maliki.
Bush acquitted himself well during the incident. He has crashed on his mountain bike a few times and choked on a pretzel, but even reluctant historians will have to acknowledge that his athletic side has proven helpful at several crucial moments during the war on terror. Before the eyes of the world, as Mark Steyn has written, he was able to throw out first pitches at baseball games effectively and now he has calmly dodged Zaidi's pair of shoes.
The Secret Service, however, looked pretty leaden. What happens to an agent who fails to take a shoe for the president? A kernel of a Clint Eastwood-style movie might be contained in this. Zaidi was screened, according to the Secret Service, but perhaps a more astute team would have looked into his eyes and seen his sole. That he managed to get two throws in, with only Maliki's hand to protect Bush, is astonishing.
Heretofore Helen Thomas and Adam Clymer had posed the greatest threats to Bush. But how could he have anticipated this burst of media bias? An administration famous for requiring passengers to take off shoes before boarding planes will now have to ask reporters to do the same before asking questions.
The thrown shoe holds great cultural significance, according to the press. It signifies that Bush is regarded by the Arab world as lower than the dirt on Zaidi's shoes. "It is the farewell kiss, you dog," Zaidi yelled.
Like a phone thrown down, a thrown shoe does offer a note of finality to a relationship gone awry, and Bush's press relations have been marked by nothing if not rancor. "Throwing the shoes at Bush was the best goodbye kiss ever," Musa Barhoumeh, editor of Jordan's independent Al-Gahd Arabic newspaper, told AFP. It vividly "expresses how Iraqis and other Arabs hate Bush."
Western freedoms, however, do come in handy at times, and Zaidi's editorial bosses are busy invoking them to call for his release from jail. "Al-Baghdadia television demands that the Iraqi authorities immediately release their stringer Muntazer al-Zaidi, in line with the democracy and freedom of expression that the American authorities promised the Iraqi people," they announced in a statement. "Any measures against Muntazer will be considered the acts of a dictatorial regime."
The beneficiaries of Bush's "freedom agenda" once lifted blue fingers (after voting) to celebrate the new Iraq. But historians in tallying up his legacy are more likely to record with enthusiasm Zaidi's thrown shoe.
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