Monday, December 22, 2008

Brown Shoe Diaries -- Lost in Translation

Muntazer al-Zaidi had a moonbat moment, the instant that he leapt to his stockinged feet and hurled two projectiles laced with ... well ... laces. His intended target was U.S. President George W. Bush. The scene was a press conference. Muntazer al-Zaidi had horrible aim. His payload missed its close-range target by at least a couple of feet. He hollered something about a dog, or maybe the plural thereof. Muntazer al-Zaidi was tackled and taken into custody by Iraqi security forces and U.S. Secret Service. Not since Richard Reid, the infamous Bugs Bunny Bomber as Rex Murphy once dubbed him, have shoes played such a significant (and comical) role in the global jihad.

Global jihad, you ask? Why yes. You see Muntazer al-Zaidi, the strikingly pathetic figure that he has become, wasn't simply a dispassionate shoe-leather journalist covering an international news event -- the Murrow of Mesopotamia. Rather he was, and is, an anti-American reporter for Al-Baghdadia TV with a real 'hate-on' for George Bush. And, in the hallmark fashion of all hackneyed reporters, this Communications graduate from Baghdad University willfully injected himself into the story -- the Rivera of the Rashidan. Setting aside for a moment the unbridled narcissism that it took to act out in this way, just what was he thinking? To answer that question, though, I would have to be able to walk a mile in his shoes.

The Gulf Daily News (Bahrain) notes: "Throwing shoes at someone is considered the ultimate insult in the Arab world and dogs are viewed as dirty and disgusting."

The court decided to keep Zaidi in custody, and after the judge completes his investigation of the case may send him for trial under a clause in the Iraqi penal code that punishes anyone who attempts to murder Iraqi or foreign presidents.

Such a crime could result in imprisonment of seven to 15 years, [spokesman for Iraq's High Judicial Council Abdul Satar] Birqadr said.

Zaidi's brother said he was hit in the head with a rifle butt and had an arm broken in the chaos that broke out after he threw his shoes at Bush and was leapt on by Iraqi security officers and US Secret Service agents.

Throwing your shoes at someone may well be the "ultimate insult in the Arab world," but looking at it from a vantage point outside of the Arab world, it looked vaguely comical -- more akin to a childish temper tantrum than anything else. And it attracted the immediate corrective disciplinary attention of the security nannies. (I wonder how you say 'don't tase me, bro.' in Arabic.)

Alright, so this wing-tipped wingnut became overstimulated, and unable to maintain a grown-up's control over his temper, flung his Buster Browns at the leader of the free world. Then to add further "insult" to lack of injury, he yelled something in Arabic that apparently translates into calling the president a dog, or implying that the president lies down with Lassie, or something in that vein. It doesn't really matter. The president doesn't speak Arabic, so the insult would have gone over his head -- right behind the flying shoes.

And speaking of insults, that "dog" thing (not to mention that "shoe" thing) doesn't translate well across cultures. In America, neither the shoes nor the dog constitute much of an insult. "Your mother wears army boots" is an insult. Do you suppose Mama al-Zaidi wears army boots? I don't know. Frankly, I don't want to know. That's a mental image I can do without.

Mind you, the speculation that this journalist could be tried for 'attempted murder of a foreign president' seems over-the-top -- almost as over-the-top as the temper tantrum of the 'booty-call' correspondent himself. Since when is a shoe a murder weapon? (Well, cleats or spiked heels maybe.) And the possibility that he could face imprisonment for seven to 15 years seems a tad harsh. After all, the president was never in any real danger. He was unharmed and appeared undaunted (although there are rumours that he was later overcome by an attack of the irrepressible giggles). However, if 7 to 15 seems harsh, it is sobering to reflect on what the repercussions might have been for this patent-leather protester in Saddam's Iraq.

Of course, the story gets sillier. (How could it not?)

The BBC interviewed al-Zaidi's brother Dargham who told them that Muntazer "deliberately bought dark brown Iraq-made shoes for the purpose from a shop in Baghdad's Al-Khyam Street," from Baghdad's own al-Bundy no doubt. Ah, the story of the shoes. While the Times of India reports that the "symbolism attached to the 'shoeing' has made Zaidi the face of rage against America," from Cairo to Riyadh and throughout the Arab world, the shoes have become even bigger than the tosser. With a discernible schadenfreude (or its Russian equivalent, if there is one), Pravda delights in reporting that al-Zaidi "had expressed the wish of millions of Iraqi citizens to insult the US tyrant," but then fixates on the bidding war for the shoes. It appears that the bidding reached as high as $10 million for just one shoe, if Pravda is to be believed (heh ... cough).

And of course, the "symbol" of the shoes have quickly gone viral in the Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS) community, both inside and outside the Arab world. But not all Arabs subscribe to the solipsistic, self-congratulatory echo chamber. The Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. explained that while throwing shoes at a foreign leader is considered an insult to the guest, it is a greater insult to the host -- in this instance, the Iraqi prime minister. In Kuwait, opinion is mixed. Some Kuwaitis found the shoe toss acceptable and understandable; some even rejoiced in it. However others found it to be disrespectful and unprofessional conduct for a journalist. As the Kuwait Times reported, a radio announcer even "joked about manufacturing flying shoes."

I think that U.S. President George W. Bush said it best: "So what if the guy threw a shoe at me."

And somehow, it all seems to remind me of this:

Currently, al-Zaidi is cooling his heels in an Iraqi prison cell, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He might have done well to remember the unofficial American motto emblazoned on the Gadsden flag, "symbolizing freedom and the spirit of '76" -- Don't Tread on Me! Oh wait, I'll bet that doesn't translate well into Arabic.

Some blogosphere send-up:

Gates of Vienna -- "My Kingdom for a Shoe"

Rantings of a Sand Monkey -- "Sock and Awe." (h/t Stubble Jumping Redneck)

Sean Berry -- "The Girly Shoe Man"

Global Voices -- "'Shoe'denfreude?"

Dust My Broom -- "Bush Reacts to Shoe Thrower"

BoingBoing -- "Iraq Shoe Tosser Guy: The Animated Gifs"

The Natural Truth -- "The Shoe 'Nuff Truth"

The Bucholz Discharge -- "Shoe Attack Lesson #1: Bush Has Mortal Kombat Reflexes"

Ezra Levant -- "Shoes Are Better Than Jackboots"

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