September 14, 2009

Iraqi shoe thower - symptomatic of ingrates

The Iraqi coward who threw his shoes at President Bush in 2008 is due to be released from a Baghdad prison tomorrow. While the sentence was arguably somewhat severe, it is his near canonization and the fanfare surrounding his release that is troubling.

Muntazar al-Zaydi, an unknown television reporter before the incident, is being hailed a hero among Iraqis, Arabs and Muslims for his insult to the president and commander in chief of the country that freed his country from decades of dictatorship under Saddam Husayn. Al-Zaydi screeched at Bush (in Arabic), "This is your farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq." At the same time, he threw both of his shoes at President Bush who was standing beside Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

In the Arab countries, calling someone a dog is a gross insult. Shoes are also regarded as an instrument of insult. Merely showing the soles to another is regarded as rude. I have heard Arabs shout at each other, "You are are shoes." (It loses something in translation.) The juvenile act of throwing the shoes at an American president is an extension of that sentiment.

Yet, Iraqis are embracing this coward as a folk hero. At the family home in Baghdad, there were celebrations in progress. There are posters that read, "Release the one who regained Iraqis' dignity." Iraqi dignity? They should be ashamed and embarrassed by al-Zaydi's actions.

Let's put this into some perspective. What do you think would have happened if al-Zaydi had thrown his shoes at Saddam Husayn. Or more to the point, would this "hero" have even dared to raise his voice to Saddam? I sincerely doubt it. When I lived in Baghdad in the late 1980's, it was impossible to find any Iraqi that did not profess adulation for Saddam - reports of criticism were dealt with swiftly and severely.

When al-Zaydi's release was delayed for a day, his family threatened to stage a sit-in and stop traffic outside the military installation where al-Zaydi is being held. How would that have been treated during Saddam's reign?

So, Muntazar, you criticize, insult and assault the man who engineered your right to do just that. You remind me of another ingrate standing on a corner in post-invasion Baghdad with a sign that read, "Where is my freedom?"

As I explained then, the mere fact that an Iraqi could hold up that sign is the answer. Hopefully, most Iraqis realize that without George Bush, they would still be living with the regime of Saddam Husayn. The Kurds in northern Iraq certainly do - perhaps the Arabs will at some point.

Celebrating this coward's actions are in insult to the memories of the over 4,200 American troops who gave their lives so that he could insult those troops' commander in chief.