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Profile: Muntadar al-Zaidi
Muntadar al-Zaidi was a participant or observer in the following events:
An Iraqi journalist hurls a shoe at President Bush. [Source: BBC]An Iraqi journalist throws a pair of shoes at President Bush during a press conference in Baghdad. In Arab culture, throwing shoes at a person, or showing them the sole of your shoe, is considered a grave insult—shoes are considered ritually unclean. During the conference, Muntadar al-Zaidi, a correspondent for Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya TV, stands up, shouts, “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog!” and hurls the first shoe. He then shouts, “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq!” and hurls the second shoe. Bush ducks away from the thrown shoes, and both miss their target. Al-Zaidi is wrestled to the floor by security guards within seconds of throwing the second shoe, removed from the room and beaten, and taken into custody where he is soon arrested. Bush brushes aside the incident, telling the remaining journalists, “That’s what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves,” as al-Zaidi’s screaming can be heard from outside the conference room. Bush flew to Baghdad for a surprise visit. During the momentary chaos after the shoes are hurled, his press secretary, Dana Perino, is struck in the eye with a microphone stand; the blow is accidental. Bush, in the last weeks of his presidency, says that the war in Iraq is not yet over, and more work remains to be done. He will later joke, “If you want the facts, it’s a size 10 shoe that he threw.” Other Iraqi journalists say the attack was symbolic, and note that Iraqis threw shoes and used them to beat statues of Saddam Hussein after his overthrow. Bush says being pelted with shoes may be one of the “weirdest” moments of his presidency. He is accompanied to the press conference by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. [New York Times, 12/14/2008; BBC, 12/15/2008; BBC, 12/15/2008; USA Today, 12/15/2008] Bush later compares the incident to the disruption of an earlier White House press conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao by a Falun Gong follower, and says it would be wrong to read the feelings of an entire country into the single instance. “I don’t think you can take one guy and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq,” he says. He notes that the other Iraqi journalists in the room “were very apologetic and said this doesn’t represent the Iraqi people.” [USA Today, 12/15/2008]
Others' Reactions - A former colleague of Al-Zaidi, Haider Nassar, explains, “He had bad feelings about the coalition forces.” Of al-Zaidi’s actions, Nassar says it is a poor way to establish his points. “This is so silly; it’s just the behavior of an individual,” Nassar says. “He destroyed his future.” [New York Times, 12/14/2008] Adil Shamoo, an Iraqi analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, says of the incident: “I think we should go beyond the shoe and think about the fact that the US should respect Iraq’s sovereignty in order to regain respect of the Iraqi people and the Arab world. I think Bush has increased terrorism against the United States and instablity in the Middle East because of his policies.” [Al Jazeera, 12/15/2008]
History of Shoes Used to Insult Americans - This is not the first time Iraqis have used shoes to insult American officials. Until the 2003 invasion, a likeness of Bush’s father, former President George H. W. Bush, was prominently featured in a floor mosaic near the front door of Baghdad’s Rashid Hotel; visitors would tread on it in symbolic punishment for alleged “war crimes” committed during the 1991 Gulf War. (The likeness has since been removed.) In 2004, the corpses of four American mercenaries killed and strung up on a bridge in Fallujah (see March 31, 2004) were beaten with shoes by local citizens. Posters of the current president, adorned with shoes, are common sights in many parts of Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been given the insulting nickname of “Kundera,” meaning shoe, by many Middle Easterners. [BBC, 12/15/2008; USA Today, 12/15/2008] In late January, an Iraqi orphanage will unveil a “shoe monument” in honor of al-Zaidi’s act (see January 29, 2009). Al-Zaidi will be freed from prison in September 2009 (see September 14, 2009).
The Bush ‘shoe monument,’ unveiled at an orphanage in Tikrit. [Source: CNN]A monument to the shoes thrown at President Bush (see December 14, 2008) is unveiled during a ceremony at an orphanage in Tikrit, Iraq. The monument is a sculpture created by Laith al-Amiri with the assistance of the orphans at the facility. Many people in Iraq and throughout the Arab world regard the shoe thrower, journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, as a hero, and many are calling for his release from prison. The monument is, essentially, a fiberglass shoe nearly 12 feet high and coated with copper. Faten Abdulqader al-Naseri, the orphanage director, says: “Those orphans who helped the sculptor in building this monument were the victims of Bush’s war. The shoe monument is a gift to the next generation to remember the heroic action by the journalist. When the next generation sees the shoe monument, they will ask their parents about it. When their parents will start talking about the hero Muntadar al-Zaidi, who threw his shoe at George W. Bush during his unannounced farewell visit.” [CNN, 1/29/2009]
The lawyer for Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, jailed in December 2008 for throwing shoes at President Bush (see December 14, 2008), announces that his client will be freed from prison on September 15. Many Iraqis and other Middle Eastern citizens have called for al-Zaidi’s release since his conviction and incarceration, and consider the journalist a hero for expressing his anger and contempt for the former president, though others consider the act a violation of the tradition of honoring the guest. Al-Zaidi is completing a one-year prison sentence for “assaulting a foreign head of state on an official visit to Iraq”; his term was reduced from the original three-year sentence, and he is being released early for good behavior. “We are happy, like any detainee’s family would be happy for the release of its son after the bitter time he spent in jail,” says the journalist’s brother, Dhirgham al-Zaidi. [CNN, 9/14/2009]
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